It’s the end of August people! We are in the summer season home stretch, so I don’t know about you, but I’m trying to squeeze every last drop out of the summer that I possibly can! I’m shopping for the late summer seasonal fruits and vegetables- NJ tomatoes, squash, zucchini, eggplants, peaches, nectarines, plums and other stone fruits. These vegetables and fruits are at their peak right now and at their most delicious. Really, how many times throughout the year have you purchased tomatoes in particular, bring them home and these hothouse versions of the fruit have ZERO flavor? I feel like I’m not eating a tomato, I’m eating a piece of cardboard! SO, now is the time to take advantage of beautiful, ripe, juicy tomatoes, bright in flavor and color that are fragrant and taste EXACTLY how a tomato should taste! Make some sauce, freeze it or make a savory tomato relish and save it to enjoy well into the fall. BUT, for right now, my mind is on minimal cook time (still!) with simple, beautiful ingredients that provide optimum flavor. Let’s close our eyes and pretend we are in the Amalfi Coast, do it with me….
One favorite side of mine is the Caprese or “three-color” salad- it’s simple, fresh, easy and makes a beautiful presentation as a side to ANY dish. Pick up some fresh salted mozzarella (at Top Tomato) slice it up, buy some vine-ripe or beefsteak tomatoes, assemble on a plate, drizzle with olive oil & balsamic or red wine vinegar (your preference) season with salt & pepper (generously) and chiffonade some basil. You an also add extras like tapenade, kalamata or regular black olives, toasted pine nuts (in a dry pan) & shaved or chunked parmesan. Chiffonading your basil is an easy way to add elegance to your dish. Simply stack a few basil leaves, roll into a tight cigar shape and slice thinly across. Voila!
I don’t think any instruction is required of the above, right? Just slice, arrange, drizzle, enjoy! One thing worth noting- if you do happen to get some STILL flavorless tomatoes, slice them up and season them with sea salt & pepper which will draw some of the moisture out and give them extra SABOR!
Another easy side dish I love for the summer is a ribboned zucchini crudo (raw) salad. Using a mandoline or simple vegetable peeler, you can transform your zucchini into something that you might see at a fancy restaurant. In fact, the first time I decided to make this salad, I was inspired by a French provencal version I had had at a fancy dinner party in Millbrook, NY (NO, it wasn’t Martha’s Stewart’s house, BUT close enough!) There are so many ways to vary this salad- you can add pine nuts, or walnuts, feta cheese or parmesan. It would be lovely with fresh mint OR basil, a little lemon zest, maybe some olives or capers as well, use whatever you have in your home! This salad is fresh, healthy and impressive (should you have guests over).
Ribboned Crudo Zucchini Salad
2 pounds small zucchini, trimmed
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, chiffonade or torn
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chiffonade or torn
12 Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, pitted and thinly sliced
Chunked or shaved parmesan- your choice, depending on what you like
Cut zucchini lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices with slicer or a vegetable peeler or your Benriner and transfer to a colander set over a bowl. Sprinkle zucchini with salt and toss to coat (you are essentially drawing some of the extra moisture out) Let stand 5 minutes, then rinse under cold running water. Transfer zucchini to a clean kitchen towel and spread in 1 layer, then gently roll up towel to absorb excess water and let stand 5 minutes more. Whisk together your dressing- oil, zest, juice, mustard and pepper in a large bowl until combined. Add zucchini, cheese, herbs, olives and toss to coat.
FINALLY, I’m going to try and sell you on the virtue and extols of a roasted red pepper salad. If you haven’t tried this at home and have only relied on roasted red peppers out of a jar, you are truly missing out! While pepper season is on the horizon (Fall), the freshness of this salad is right in keeping with my palate pleasing summer salad choices and is ALL around excellent. My mother used to make her own roasted peppers constantly when I was growing up- she preferred her version extremely HEAVY on the garlic, but she is a Spaniard and garlic is to a Spaniard what heroin is to an addict. Any opportunity to eat a roasted vegetable with garlic and olive oil, sopped up on a piece of crusty bread they love…but I digress.
It IS a great salad though and personally I love the experience of peeling away the charred bits of pepper after they have roasted and steamed- its kind of like peeling away the Elmer’s glue off of your hands as a child. There is some controversy regarding broiler usage and whether or not you should keep you oven door open to allow some of the heat to escape. I’ve heard this produces even roasting temperatures as opposed to increased continual rising heat, but I’m asking you to check your oven instructions, as I’ve ALSO heard of people melting their stove top knobs off of their ovens (that’s no good!) BUT always remember to keep an eye on any food you might be broiling as it can quickly go from roasted to CHARRED! While the peppers are steaming, post roasting you can work on other elements of your dinner OR you can make this salad first, throw it in the fridge and really allow the flavors to marinate.
Roasted Red Pepper Salad
4 Red Bell Peppers
1 Teaspoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon of Capers (rinsed & drained)
¼ Cup pitted Kalamata Olives- Chopped
½ Teaspoon red-wine vinegar (or Balsamic if you prefer)
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
Salt & Pepper to taste
Basil - Cut into chiffonade OR torn if preferred
Heat broiler with rack in top position. With bell peppers on a foil rimmed baking sheet, broil the peppers, turning occasionally until charred on all sides and tender, about 10 minutes. After broiled, transfer peppers to a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap, allowing to sit & steam for about 20 minutes. After steaming, remove the skins from the peppers.
Usually I just peel the skins off, but if you are having trouble try rubbing them with a dry paper towel. Stem, seed and cut each pepper into strips.
Arrange your peppers on a serving tray and drizzle with olive oil and vinegar, topping with olives, capers, lemon zest and basil. Season with salt & pepper to taste.
Enjoy your salads and the rest of your summer, we’ve only got a few weeks left of this bliss!