Salads al Fresco

It is that time of the summer when we have gone through our usual repertoire of salads, maybe even a few times over, and now it feels right to try something new – even if it is just a twist on an old theme. It seems so luxurious to dine “al fresco” with a varied parade of different salads to highlight the evening. There are myriads of salad recipes one can draw from, but the most fun thing about salads is you can experiment, swap out, substitute, elaborate to your heart’s content…or rather the possibilities your refrigerator or garden may yield.

Whenever I come across beautiful green beans at the market, I can’t resist buying them because I can just taste the classic Roman salad with green beans and potatoes. Boil two or three potatoes in their jackets until tender. Allow to cool, then peel. In the meantime, clean the green beans (I like to snip both ends and make sure there are no tough threads running through the beans). I cook them in boiling salted water until tender, drain, and then allow to cool. Slice the potatoes, slice some red onion and add to the green beans. Make a light vinaigrette with vinegar, olive oil, (dijon mustard if you like), salt and pepper. This salad is good cold the next day…and the next day (if there is any left!).

Another salad I have been toying around with is a “clean -up-your pantry” type in which almost anything goes. Have some canned garbanzo beans you bought during the quarantine hanging around in the back of your pantry? Any bean would matter, but the garbanzo bean beckoned to me mostly. This has been particularly delicious and again, quite versatile.

As you can see, I slice some fabulous cherry tomatoes from the garden, some tender cucumbers, and red onions. I dressed it with a quick vinaigrette of olive oil, balsamic vinegar or a splash of lemon, salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of fresh parsley. I have made this without cucumbers and tomatoes and added roasted and peeled red pepper strips instead. You will welcome leftovers the next day which you can add to a green salad. It is a refreshing and cool alternative on these hot days.

Lastly, I have a favorite salad I have been making most of the summer, a spinach-peach-almond green salad that goes well with barbecued meats.

Here I have a mix of spinach and Bibb lettuce, but any kind will do. I peeled and sliced fresh ripe peaches and threw on top a handful of toasted sliced almonds. I added the usual dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, freshly ground pepper…and a tablespoon or two of Amaretto liquor. The Amaretto is barely there to give the peaches a lift. I think if the spirit moved you, you could add some feta cheese or grilled shrimp to make this a one stop dinner on a hot day.

Today is Ferragosto, or Assumption Day, a major holiday in Italy that marks, not only the religious holiday of Mary ascending into heaven, but also the highlight of summer. The feast hails back from Feriae Augusti, the festival of emperor Augustus. Dare not get on the road before this holiday or get sick…..everything stops and beach resorts are packed! I wistfully think of past celebrations, of my family on holiday in Elba or other beach places. I sign off with my own greeting to you of a “Buon Ferragosto” and happy eating!

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

Here is a different, summery and lighter spin on gnocchi, the pillowy potato dumplings that my father adored. I committed the dreadful sin of buying already made packaged ones for the sake of speed. While it isn’t quite the same, you can get the idea from this recipe and adapt it to made-from-scratch gnocchi. This dish hails from Sorrento where ocean, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil all come together in perfect harmony.image_18970789423_o

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

Ingredients

1 package gnocchi

2 cups cherry tomatoes (I used heirloom ones)

1 8 oz. fresh mozzarella cubed

2-3 tablespoons butter

a handful of fresh basil coarsely chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Cook the gnocchi according to package instructions.
  2. While the gnocchi are cooking (and they cook very quickly), melt the butter in a saute’ pan until it is golden, almost brown. As the gnocchi come to the surface of the water, collect them with a slotted spoon and put them directly in the pan. Shake the pan, coating the gnocchi with the butter and keep adding gnocchi until there are no more coming to the surface. Add the cherry tomatoes and give the pan another shake. Add the mozzarella, but don’t let it melt. Place in a serving dish, add the fresh basil, salt and freshly ground pepper and bring to the table. Fast and delicious!