Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The S-Z of Summer Produce - featuring Ratatouille Salad

S...Scallions are never really out of season, but they are our onion of choice for salads in the spring and summer.  They keep their crunchiness and have a more gentle flavor than regular Spanish onions.  In second place is the red onion, ideal for a feta, watermelon and red onion salad

This recipe from British cooking queen Nigella Lawson makes an appearance at least weekly on our table during the Summer.  To get the right balance of flavors Nigella suggests macerating the red onion in advance - a posh way of saying chop them up and then let them sit in either citrus juice or your oil/vinegar dressing ahead of the other salad ingredients.  The acid in the dressing reduces the smell of the onion and renders a more subtle flavor. Try it!

This is THE season for delicious little cherry and grape tomatoes.  Nothing tastes so good as fresh picked tomatoes.  Michael Santoro, Exec chef at Talula's Garden on Washington Square suggests we are approaching the time for tomato-based salads and cold soups (gazpacho and the like), "tomatoes capture the flavor of the Summer season," says Santoro.

I'm not usually a fan of cold soups but am partial to a watermelon tomato gazpacho invented by Keri - an accidental but inspired pairing.  Keri used a standard gazpacho recipe but found it bitter; bell peppers can do that sometimes.  Necessity is the mother of invention--she was slated to bring a vat of the gazpacho to a summer party as a first course and needed to sweeten the stuff STAT, so she added a cup of blended ripe watermelon to the recipe.  The end result still lives on in our collective memory.  It was superb!

Umm. moving swiftly on to "V"..

Must be for vegetables in all their gloriousness. 

Now is THE time for vegetables - glorious Summer colors abound at the Market

Now is the time for eggplant, tomatoes and zucchini, all the basic vegetables that make up ratatouille.  One of our go-to salads for Summer is a ratatouille salad comprising grilled eggplants, tomatoes, zucchini and Spanish onions, but unusually served cold with a simple balsamic or oil and vinegar dressing.  A life-saving grill accessory is a vegetable basket.  It looks much like a colander but is grill proof.  To make the ratatouille salad:

* Take a selection of ratatouille vegetables; slice into quite chunky pieces
* Toss in olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper, 1/2 tsp of dried mixed herbs
* Throw in the basket and cook on a high barbecue until the vegetables become tender, but not too mushy
* Remove from grill, allow to cool
* Make up your fave dressing then toss gently and add chopped parsley. 
* Serve at room temperature - marvelous with any grilled meats, fish or seafood.

W... Watercress - gives an earthy bitterness to salads.  I think on the whole I now prefer to use Arugula or raw Spinach to give a salad an edge, however, watercress works perfectly with oily grilled fish such as grilled mackarel or sardines - it's one of the few salad vegetables that refuses to be overwhelmed by the fish!

X...We're stumped.  Any bright ideas or suggestions for what we might showcase for X..? competition here

Grilling vegetables transforms them - the charring add sweetness and crunch to them 

Yellow Squash--try it grilled and you'll erase all of those bad childhood memories of tasteless, overboiled, oversalted, and overbuttered mush that you associate with squash.

Z...Zucchini--See Y, above, only more so.

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