Because I am a cook who likes a comfy kitchen, Cousin Michelle’s hot weather advice has stuck with me for decades. She spent the summer months at her cottage in the South of France. A cook-from-scratch French homemaker, she lived by a warm-weather rule. Her culinary creed? Prepare everything in the cool of the morning for the lunch and dinner.
Her dishes featured summer’s delicious bounty, often showcasing salads. Here are three that highlight fruits and vegetables of the season. They can be prepared in the cool part of the day and served later.
Fresh Corn and Tomato Salad with Tapenade
A balance of flavors makes this summer salad irresistible, with super-sweet fresh corn contrasting beautifully with the salty brine of black olive tapenade. You can use your favorite store-bought tapenade if you have one, otherwise make the concoction from scratch. If you have a food processor, the tapenade comes together without any hassle.
The recipe comes from cookbook author Melissa Clark (“Dinner in French”). She suggests cooking the fresh corn in the husks in the microwave for about 5 minutes. Once cooled, she says to remove husks and silk, and then cut the kernels off the cob. It’s delicious that way, but I have also used raw fresh kernels to make this salad. Either raw or microwaved, it is delightful.
Yield: 4 generous servings
4 ears fresh corn
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups pitted Kalamata olives
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Grated zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon, plus more if needed
2 oil-packed anchovy fillets, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
Coarse salt, if needed
1. Microwave corn with husks intact. Four ears will take about 5 minutes. Cool completely, then remove husks and silk. Cut kernels off the cobs. Set aside.
2. Taste the sliced red onion; if it is burning strong, soak in ice water for 20 minutes; drain and pat dry with paper towel.
3. Tapenade: Combine olives, basil, parsley, capers, oil, zest, juice, anchovies, garlic, and pepper in food processor. Pulse to form a coarse paste. Taste: if it tastes flat, add a little more juice. Set aside.
4. Salad: In large bowl, toss corn kernels, red onion, tomatoes, and basil. Fold in enough tapenade to coat vegetables. Taste and add salt if needed. You will have leftover tapenade. If I am serving the salad with grilled or broiled chicken or fish, I spread some tapenade on it. Otherwise, spread it on sliced baguette and serve it alongside the salad. The salad can be made several hours in advance and refrigerated, well sealed.
Source: Adapted from “Dinner in French” by Melissa Clark (Clarkson Potter, $37.50)
Herbed Salad with Strawberries, Pistachios and Feta
This strawberry-adorned salad can be assembled a couple of hours in advance through step No. 1, keeping the strawberries separate; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The dressing should be kept separate from the salad either in the fridge or at room temperature — stir it before tossing it with the salad mixture and strawberries.
Yield: 6 servings as a first course, 4 as a luncheon main course
2 clean hearts of romaine lettuce, each about 7 ounces, cut or torn into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup fresh tarragon leaves
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, torn into pieces
8 to 10 strawberries, organic preferred, hulled, quartered
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons minced shallots
Salt to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Garnish: 1/2 cup toasted salted pistachios and 6 ounces mild creamy feta, such as French feta, cut into rectangles or triangles.
1. In large bowl, toss lettuce, tarragon, mint, and strawberries. For the dressing, in small bowl whisk lemon juice, honey, shallots and salt; while whisking, add oil in a thin steam. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
2. Add dressing to lettuce mixture; toss.
3. Divide salad among plates. Top with pistachios and cheese.
Green Salad with Prosciutto, Peaches, and Warm Balsamic Dressing
This summer main course salad is so plentiful, I use my big stainless-steel bowl to toss together the undressed ingredients. The recipe is adapted from “The Splendid Table” by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (William Morrow), a classic 1992 cookbook that captures dishes of Northern Italy.
The salad can be assembled a couple of hours in advance (without the dressing or peaches), covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated. Remove it from refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. The dressing can be prepared several hours in advance and warmed before serving. Add peaches before adding warmed dressing.
Yield: Serves 6 as a light main course, or 8 as a first course antipasto
1/2 medium-large red onion, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch crosswise slices
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 large head romaine lettuce, washed, drained
1 large head (or two small heads) red-leaf lettuce, washed, drained
1/2 small head radicchio, cut crosswise into 3/8-inch slices, slices cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts or coarsely chopped Marcona almonds, divided use
4 ounces shaved Parmesan cheese, divided use, see cook’s notes
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into bite-sized squares or rectangles, divided use
1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
1 cup lightly packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
Dressing: 6 large garlic cloves (cut into 1/4-inch dice), 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 yellow-flesh peaches or nectarines, pitted, cut into wedges
Cook’s notes: Sometimes I switch the cheese used in this salad. I omit the shaved Parmesan and add 6 to 8 ounces of burrata cheese pulled in bite-sized pieces to the top of the salad when I add the nectarines or peaches.
1. Soak onions in 1/2 cup red wine vinegar for about 30 minutes. Tear lettuces into bite-size pieces. In a very large bowl, toss lettuces with radicchio, half of the nuts, half of the cheese, half of the prosciutto, basil, and parsley. Pile onto a large platter.
2. Dressing: In medium skillet, slowly cook garlic in olive oil over very low heat for 8 minutes, or until just barely colored. Remove with slotted spoon. Turn heat to medium and stir vinegars into oil. Cook for 30 seconds and stir in brown sugar. Let it gently bubble slowly for 2 minutes, reducing heat as needed. Stir in reserved garlic, plus salt and pepper to taste. Set aside until warm but not hot. Don’t worry if the oil separates. Just remember to stir it before spooning dressing over salad.
3. To serve: Top salad with drained red onions (you can simply pull them from the vinegar — no need to blot) and scatter on rest of nuts. cheese and prosciutto. Add sliced peaches or nectarines to top of salad. Stir warm (not hot) dressing to blend (as much as possible — don’t worry if some of oil is still separate); spoon dressing over salad. Serve immediately.
Cooking question? Contact Cathy Thomas at [email protected]