When my beloved told me yesterday that we had to turn the clocks back this morning, it hit me like a small sack of lemons in the gut. But I haven't prepared!, I howled. I'm not ready for this to be the last time we still see daylight at 5:00 pm until next spring! But that's how it goes: one minute, you're tearing down a linden-perfumed street on a bicycle without a jacket, and the next thing you know, winter's knocking on your door. Don't worry, he said. November in Berlin is awesome. It's gray all the time.
He makes me laugh.
Now the time of panades and stews is upon us. We start making the Christmas cookie dough next week (it ripens on the balcony for a month), and Stollen isn't far behind. This year, I'd really like to make a proper English fruit cake and soak it in whiskey for at least a little while. There's apple butter to be made for presents and more yeast doughs to work on. Plus, I'm working on a potato dumpling recipe and goodness knows, you can't eat those on a regular basis as long as there are more than 6 hours of daylight available to you each day.
(I've grown soft, you see. 15 years of living on the East Coast of the United States has made me weak. Give me another couple years up here in this latitude and I'll be back to where I was when I was 12, giddy about the fact that I used to wake up in the dark and eat dinner in the dark. Who needs daylight, anyhow? Vitamin D is for suckers!)
I suppose at a certain point, then, we'll have moved on to sliced fennel salads or endive and blood oranges, staples of the winter table that somehow manage to balance all that heavy weight with some plain, sharp, bitter flavors. But until then, and as long as I'm still finding good, firm, fresh zucchini at the grocery store, I'll be making this salad which, in one soft green nudge, supplanted the carrot-harissa-feta salad of the summer (we seriously ate it all. Summer. Long).
This salad, well, it was love at first bite. Groan. What an idiotic expression, I know. But how else do I explain how hard and fast I fell for it with just one forkful? Imagine: zucchini steamed until soft and sweet as sweet can be, a spicy, garlicky dressing, the sharpness of olives and feta, the grassiness of olive oil and parsley. All in one bite, together.
It's Gabrielle Hamilton's recipe and was published in the first Canal House cookbook. With that kind of pedigree, it's no surprise, then, that it turned out to be so addictively delicious. We ate it for dinner one night with a few slices of bread, the kind of dinner that follows a rather biggish lunch, when you're not hungry for much, but you need something in your belly before bedtime. It was spectacularly simple; a riot of colors and textures in the bowl; a one-bowl salad that was far, far more than the sum of its parts.
You know when you start eating something and it sort of explodes in your mouth and your eyes widen and it's just so incredibly delicious and you try to put a figure on just what exactly is making the dish so darn perfect but you can't, so you take another bite and another and another and before you know it, in the blink of an eye, you are fighting rather unattractively to get another portion on your plate before someone else eats it and then you're wiping out the salad bowl with bread and eyeing your plate rather nervously - how did it empty so fast? - and scheming to make it again tomorrow and the day after and the day after that, too?
That is what this salad is like.
Soft Zucchini with Harissa, Olives and Feta
Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a light dinner with bread
Note: I've made a few small changes to the original recipe (using ground caraway, for example, as well as steaming the zucchini instead of boiling them, and using much less olive oil).
1/8 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons harissa paste
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
4 zucchini, sliced into thick rounds
Handful Kalamata olives, pitted
1/4 to 1/2 cup coarsely crumbled feta
Small handful parsley leaves, chopped
1. Put the ground caraway, lemon juice, harissa and olive oil in a serving bowl. Crush the garlic clove through a garlic press and add to the bowl. Whisk to combine.
2. Fit a vegetable steamer in a pot with an inch or two of water and bring to a boil. Steam the zucchini until tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. They should not be falling apart. Add the zucchini to the serving bowl and gently toss with the harissa vinaigrette while still warm.
3. Dress the zucchini with the olives, feta, and parsley. Serve immediately.