Joshua McFadden's Zucchini Salad with Tomatoes, Peanuts, Basil, Mint and Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce

Joshua McFadden Zucchini Salad

Berlin public schools let out for summer last week and the city emptied out almost immediately. The streets feel empty and quiet now, parking spots abound, rush hour is muted, the air is thick with the scent of the blossoming linden trees. The smell, heavily floral and intoxicating, hangs in our apartment too, the windows yanked open day after day in the hopes of catching a faint breeze. Hugo's school closes for summer tomorrow and next week the boys and I leave for Italy, where the heat has already scorched the grass yellow and my mother awaits us. 

I am desperate to be there, itching with anticipation, actually, after having skipped our annual trip last year in an attempt to regain my sanity a little and write. These days, I feel different. I want to soak up every minute with the children, hold them close, watch them flourish in their happiest place, wild mint crunching under their feet, skin salted from the sea. I cannot wait to be where I feel most free and held, listening to the cicadas sawing away from morning til night, eating meal after meal of drippy melons and tomatoes, the rituals of summer anchoring us so firmly to that place. 

Until we leave, my calendar is filled with dinner dates and lunches and a picnic and celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries. We fling our arms around each other again in greeting and to say goodbye, promising more time together when everyone's back again in August. It feels delicious and indulgent and restorative and frightening and wonderful; totally banal and strange as hell at the same time. We weren't allowed to hug for so long. Is it safe? Meanwhile, tomorrow I will have a rising fourth grader and a little one with just one year left in Kita. It is nearly July. Wasn't it just January? Time is flying. Carpe diem.

The heat means that we mostly eat things I barely have to cook. Melon and ham, tomato and mozzarella, beans and tuna, peaches gulped down over the sink. The other day, I made a wonderful salad from Joshua McFadden's Six Seasons of wafer-thin zucchini and a whole array of cherry tomatoes, roasted peanuts and spicy fish sauce. I'm not the biggest fan of raw zucchini - I really love its velvety softness once boiled - but here, the zucchini is cut so thin and then salted and left to rest for a while. The zucchini slices are silky and nicely sweet against the fiery, lusty sauce, the crunch of the peanuts, the fruity burst of the tomatoes. This is the perfect salad to be piled high into a plate and eaten for a meal on hot summer nights when appetites are low, but the belly growls and is in need of satisfaction. 

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Zucchini Salad with Tomatoes, Peanuts, Basil, Mint and Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce
Serves 4
Adapted from Six Seasons

3-4 medium firm zucchini
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup salted roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
1 bunch scallions, sliced on a sharp angle and soaked in ice water for 20 minutes
1 small handful basil leaves
1 small handful mint leaves
1/4 cup Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce (recipe follows)

1. Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, slice or cut the zucchini into thin slices, either lengthwise or crosswise. Toss the zucchini with a teaspoon of salt and place in a colander to draw out moisture for 30 minutes. Then blot the zucchini with a paper towel to remove moisture and excess salt. Place in serving bowl.

2. Add the tomatoes, peanuts, drained scallions, basil and mint. Pour over the spicy fish-sauce sauce. Taste and correct seasoning. Serve immediately. 

Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce
Makes about 1 1/4 cups

1/4 cup seeded, deribbed and minced fresh hot chiles (mix of colors, if possible)
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup white wine or rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar

Stir everything together in a small bowl until the sugar has dissolved. The sauce will keep in a bowl in the fridge for up to 2 months.

Diana Henry's Roasted Tomato, Fennel and Chickpea Salad

Diana Henry's Roasted Fennel and Tomato Salad with Chickpeas

About once a week for the past I don't know how many years, I've sectioned a fennel bulb into eighths, washed a handful of cherry tomatoes, put them in a baking dish with a good glug of olive oil (more is better here) and some salt and then stuck it in a 200C/400F oven until the vegetables are tender as can be and the tomatoes have browned and slumped, about 30 minutes, though I confess I've never really timed it. I also let the dish cool in the hot oven, which helps the caramelization at the end and then I basically eat the entire thing, unless my husband is around in which case I share. I love this dish so much that I nearly lick the baking dish. It's easy, it can be made all year long, since even the yuckiest cherry tomatoes come alive with this treatment, and it tastes ambrosial. If I happen to be lucky enough to have some nice sourdough bread around, I pair the vegetables with that for an easy little meal and life feels good.

I love a ritualistic vegetable dish like this that keeps showing up in my life over and over, that never gets old, that I don't even have to think about when I cook it. Like roasted broccoli, stewed peas, sauteed zucchini - the all-stars of my cooking life. These are the things that flesh out our dinner table night after night and that I imagine my children will remember, either fondly or not, when they look back at the food of their childhood. However, as much as I love these dishes and the comfort they bring me in both flavor and preparation, they are not necessarily stuff for company. They are humble, regular dishes, not show-stopping or even really conversation-worthy. When you're having people over or if you need to bring a dish to a potluck, I think you kind of need to up your game a little. Not a ton, but enough to make a bit of an impression.

Diana Henry Roasted Fennel and Tomato Salad with Chickpeas

Of course, my culinary hero Diana Henry has a recipe for precisely this kind of elevated salad that used roasted fennel and tomatoes as the base, but pumps it up with all kinds of crazy flavorings, like harissa and preserved lemon and balsamic vinegar. It comes from her book How to Eat a Peach and is quite a stunner. The addition of chickpeas makes it a slightly more substantial kind of salad and fresh herbs make it beautiful - the kind of thing you can plonk on a buffet table and feel secretly smug about. And also consume rather obsessively. Which is the whole point. One more thing I love about it: the flavorings are so bold and fresh but actually this salad is essentially seasonless, so you can serve it in spring, when people are crazy for asparagus and rhubarb, and you can serve it in winter, when big roasts and stews prevail, and in both cases it just kind of works. Pretty neat.

As luck would have it, I discovered a similar kind of special version of roasted broccoli dish that you need to know about (as in, my father literally said WHAT IS THIS WITCHCRAFT THIS IS THE BEST BROCCOLI I HAVE EVER EATEN when he had it), but I'll have to save it for next time. My camera, beloved and trusty documentation device on this blog since 2007, died a few weeks ago. Like, right in the middle of taking these photos, which is why I don't have a photo of the final dish (here's one from Diana, though). I thought it just needed a little repair work, but the camera shop guy told me it wasn't worth it - the repair would cost far more to do than the camera is worth. I was unexpectedly gutted, I have to admit. I loved that camera. I salvaged the lens and put it on my husband's camera, which is only a few years newer than mine was, but requires a whole new education. So bear with me while I figure that out. 

Note: This post includes an affiliate link and I may earn a commission if you purchase through it, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Diana Henry's Roasted Tomato, Fennel and Chickpea Salad
Adapted from How to Eat a Peach
Serves 6

For the tomatoes
10 large plum tomatoes (or an equivalent amount of cherry tomatoes, left whole)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1½ tbsp harissa
2 tsp sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the fennel
2 large fennel bulbs
Juice of ½ lemon
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ tsp fennel seeds, coarsely crushed in a mortar or left whole
Generous pinch of chile flakes
2½ tbsp olive oil
400g can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

For the dressing
2 small preserved lemons
2 tsp juice from the lemon jar
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1½ tbsp runny honey
5 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp chopped parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375 F). Halve the tomatoes lengthwise and lay in a single layer in a roasting pan or ovenproof dish. Leave whole if using cherry tomatoes. Mix the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and harissa and pour this over the tomatoes, tossing to coat well, then turn the tomatoes cut sides up. Sprinkle with the sugar and season.

2. Quarter the fennel bulbs, cut off the stalks and remove any coarse outer leaves. Pull off any tender fronds (reserve these) and cut each piece of fennel into 2.5cm thick wedges, keeping them intact at the base Add the lemon juice, garlic, fennel seeds, chile and olive oil, then season and turn everything over with your hands. Spread out the fennel in a second roasting tin and cover tightly with foil.

3. Put both trays in the oven. Roast the fennel for 25-30 minutes, until tender (the undersides should be pale gold), then remove the foil and roast for another 5-10 minutes, or until soft, golden and slightly charred. Roast the tomatoes for 35-40 minutes, or until caramelized in patches and slightly shrunken. Stir the chickpeas into the fennel and taste for seasoning. Leave both to cool to room temperature.

4. Now make the dressing. Discard the flesh from the preserved lemons and dice the rind. Whisk the preserved lemon juice with the wine vinegar, honey and olive oil, season and add the lemon rind and parsley. Taste for seasoning and sweet-sour balance.

5. Arrange the fennel, chickpeas and tomatoes on a platter, adding the juices from the roasting tins; there might be quite a bit from the tomatoes. Scatter any fennel fronds you reserved over the top. Spoon on the dressing. (Leftover dressing can be used on other salads or to zhuzz up mayo for chicken or tuna salad.)

Jenny Rosenstrach's Perfect Slaw

Dinner A Love Story's Asian Slaw

It was my father's birthday the other day and to celebrate, I used my Instant Pot to make the Korean-flavored brisket from Dinner in an Instant and it was astonishingly delicious and done in less than an afternoon. What?! (Yes, I am still in that annoying phase of Instant Pot ownership where I cannot get over how fast it is. People, meltingly tender, practically spoonable brisket! In less than three hours! I mean!) (I actually used Tafelspitz, because my butcher didn't have any Rinderbrust that day, in case any of you are in Germany and want to make this too, and it was great.)

To round out the meal, I made white rice and this slaw from Dinner: A Love Story, which isn't Korean per se, but Jenny also serves it with something called "Korean Tacos" so I figured it would do as a low-energy vegetable side and you might not believe it if you had only tasted the ambrosial brisket, but this slaw basically stole the show. Now I know why Jenny's Andy said their Korean taco meal really "was all about the slaw." This slaw is perfect.

It's fresh and crisp and perfectly seasoned, with rice vinegar and fish sauce and lime, and just the kind of thing you don't want to stop crunching your way through. You'll have to restrain yourself from spooning up the juices left in the empty bowl. I added chopped salted peanuts, because I correctly guessed that Hugo might be slightly more inclined to eat it if there were peanuts to fish out, and I urge you to do the same. Using Napa cabbage means the slicing is a cinch and you don't need to massage anything or make it in advance. You just dump everything in a bowl and go to town. (I made this two nights in a row and added thinly sliced celery to the slaw the second night, which I also highly recommend!) The cilantro is non-negotiable. WHAAAAAT.

I feel like calling this Perfect Slaw might confuse you because it's not cole slaw. But calling it Asian Slaw feels a little lazy? Vietnamese Slaw? Napa Slaw? I don't know. These are the kinds of things I waste time thinking about. Just bookmark it, commit it to memory (I already have) and soon it won't matter at all what it's called. Or you'll just be calling it Perfect Slaw too.

Jenny Rosenstrach's Asian Slaw

Note: This post includes an affiliate link and I may earn a commission if you purchase through it, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Jenny Rosenstrach's Perfect Slaw
Adapted from Dinner: A Love Story
Note: The size of Napa cabbage is a little subjective, so depending on your head of cabbage, you may need to increase the vinegar and oil to 1/3 cup each.

1/2 small head Napa cabbage, shredded
1/2 cup julienned carrots
1/2 cup julienned cucumber
1/2 bunch scallions (white and light green parts only), thinly sliced
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced (optional)
Handful cilantro or mint (chopped), or both
1/3 cup salted roasted peanuts, chopped

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
Squeeze of fresh lime juice
Pinch brown sugar
1/4 cup neutral oil

1. Place all slaw ingredients except for the peanuts in a salad bowl.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients, then toss with the slaw.

3. Top with the peanuts.

Cooking for Hugo: Avocado Cucumber Salad

Avocado cucumber salad

Hugo turns five this summer. Five! Wasn't he just born? Sunrise! Sunset! Sigh.

A silly little story: We still wake Hugo before we go to bed to take him to the bathroom one last time for the night, even though he doesn't need it anymore, even though he gets up by himself in the middle of the night if necessary and puts himself back to bed too. We can't bring ourselves to stop, I guess. Old habits die hard.

This has been Max's job since the early stages of my pregnancy with Bruno, but the other night, Max was away on a business trip so it fell to me to do it. A year ago, I could still lift Hugo easily into my arms. His legs still clamped easily around my waist and his head fell into my shoulder just perfectly. He was heavy and I wouldn't have been able to take a leisurely stroll holding him, but it wasn't ridiculous for me to pick him up. The other night, though, was a wholly different story. I was trying to pick up a boy, not a toddler, and I couldn't get a handle on his lanky limbs or his weight. It suddenly felt like I was trying to lift a horse. I awkwardly staggered to the bathroom with him and back, practically grunting with effort, rather than doing that cozy, capable, motherly nighttime glide. It was both funny and heartbreaking.

And not for the first time since January I found myself thinking, thank God I still have another baby.

But onto the matter at hand: I've long stopped cooking specifically for this practically teenaged Hugo, unless he's feeling out of sorts and in need of a steadying bowl of pastina before bedtime. (Whenever this happens, Max comes home from work, sniffs the broth in the air and promptly proclaims he'd like some too, go figure.) And Hugo's mostly a good eater. Left to his own devices, of course, he'd eat a diet consisting solely of cookies and chocolate, with Tic-Tacs thrown in for good measure (he's obsessed with them). He likes to complain about weird things like lentil soup and tomato sauce. And a few months ago, he specifically and solemnly asked me never to make polenta again. (Huh?) (I feel the need to clarify: I'd only fed it to him twice in his short life! But I guess when you hate something, you hate it.) But when I make Swiss chard* or salad with romaine hearts or boiled spinach with olive oil and lemon for dinner, Hugo proclaims that that's the food he'd like to eat every day for the rest of his life and devours three portions. (Not. Even. Kidding.) So largely we're in a good place.

The biggest slam dunk in recent months, though, has been the discovery of this little salad - a mixture of cubed avocado and cucumber, dressed with plain yogurt, lemon juice, dried mint and salt. It recently joined Hugo's other favorite vegetables in the hallowed three-portions-in-one-sitting pantheon. Actually, he can work his way through almost an entire bowl of this stuff. I found the original recipe, which includes mayo and scallions and Sriracha for a far more "grown-up" concoction, on Deb's site, and she, in turn, got it from Julia Turshen's Instagram. One night, when we had little in the house in the way of green vegetables besides a cucumber and an avocado, the reminder of that salad flitted across the nether regions of my brain. That night, I left out the Sriracha due to Hugo and the scallions due to Max and the mayo due to myself, plus I added the dried mint, because I'm having a love affair with it right now (more on that in another post!) and upped the yogurt, which, when you give the salad several good stirs, turns a gorgeous celadon hue. And lo and behold, we all went nuts for it.

Since then, it's graced our table weekly, even with the dire avocados us poor Berliners are subjected to (the rule seems to be that for every good avocado you get, you've thrown at least three rotten ones out), and Hugo and Max regularly battle over who gets to eat the last spoonfuls. It's funny, because I would have been deeply suspicious of this salad as a child, due to the creamy dressing, but all the elements really are very child-friendly - and the combination of them is pleasing to both grown-ups and little ones.

You hardly need a recipe, but here goes:

Avocado-Cucumber Salad
Serves 2-3

Take one firm-ripe avocado and cube. Cube half a peeled English cucumber. Combine both in a bowl. Add several large spoonfuls of whole-milk plain yogurt, the creamier, the better. Add a healthy pinch of salt, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried mint and the juice of 1/2 lemon. Stir well and serve.

*European Swiss chard seems to be, on the whole, sweeter and tastier than U.S. grown Swiss chard, so keep that in mind. Also, besides tasting good, the ritual of dousing boiled green vegetables in good olive oil (we decant it into a pretty glass cruet) and freshly squeezed lemon juice seems to add to the appeal to children.


Amelia and Teddy's Very Special Salad


That's where I am right now, friends. Just, oof.

You all know what my politics are. So yeah, after this clusternut of an election, I, like so many others, have been in a miserable pit of despair. First there was disbelief, a palpable pain, then came anger. So much anger. Bargaining didn't last long, though I tried it, I really did. Now I think I've arrived at the depression phase of grief, but it's all a bit fluid. I feel like I keep starting at the beginning. Each morning, I wake up and for a second, I've forgotten about it all. Then it hits me again and the disbelief-anger-depression loop begins anew.

And how are you supposed to blog when you feel like that? I find it easier to read other people's thoughts. And I'm grateful that some, at least, are able to find ways to productively channel their feelings as the days inexorably tick by. In case you want to read along, there's this and this and this, which helped the other day, day 13 of this bizarre new world, and this, which might have even made me crack a smile. (Today, I'm back to denial.)

I'm also grateful for fun distractions, like Amelia Morris's cooking show on in which her sweet little boy Teddy plays a starring role and her talented film-making husband Matt is behind the camera. I've always loved Amelia's videos on her blog Bon Appetempt, but her Amelia & Teddy videos, in which Amelia and Teddy attempt everything from miso banana bread to lentil soup to Ruth Reichl's Chinese dumplings, are just adorably, addictively good.

Easy salad

We do still have to eat, and many of us do still have to get dinner on the table every night for our families, even if we literally lose our appetite every time we look at the news. I'm lucky that in this house, a nice big salad with some bread and cheese counts as "cooking". We're big salad people over here, even Hugo. (And this pregnancy has me craving salad more than anything else. Weird.) Usually, my salads consist of either mixed greens and quartered tomatoes with a simple oil-and-vinegar dressing, or, if it's wintertime, I'll swap the tomato out for some chopped fresh oranges or clementines and some roasted chopped hazelnuts (always with the same oil-and-vinegar drizzle at the end). But the salad that Amelia and Teddy make in their "Easy Salad" segment really elevates the term into something pretty darn special.

"Easy" is a little misleading - to make this salad, you need boiled eggs, homemade croutons, chopped onions and grated Parmesan. But don't you need a little distraction? If so, it feels good to busy yourself in the kitchen with these mindless little tasks. Cubing a ripe avocado, marinating the chopped onion in lemon juice, grating the boiled egg... none of it is rocket science, but it keeps your hands busy and your mind off the state of the world. What results is the biggest, most satisfying Very Special Salad, whether you're eating it as a main course or alongside something else. What also results is the very brief soothing of your nerves. A nourishment of a different kind.

(Note that the photo up there shows a head of soft lettuce in the salad, which is kind of a mistake. Definitely stick with mixed greens and/or arugula.)


This is Thanksgiving week, so I know many of you are already planning your menus or the dishes you'll be bringing to your various potlucks, getting ready to travel, and gearing up for tense family interactions (and hopefully some really good ones, too). I hope your turkeys are juicy, your cranberry sauces puckery and your pumpkin pies smooth and spicy. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones.

Amelia and Teddy's Very Special Salad
Adapted from Amelia & Teddy
Serves 2 to 3

For the dressing:

Scant ¼ cup of freshly-squeezed lemon juice
Scant ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
¼ cup chopped yellow onion (optional)

For the croutons:

About one third of a sourdough baguette or peasant-style bread
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the bread into bite-sized squares. Toss these pieces onto a small baking sheet. Drizzle the pieces with olive oil, just enough so that each square gets at least one stripe of oil. Then, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Using your hands or a utensil, stir the bread around on the pan so that each piece becomes lightly coated. Pop into the oven for 7-10 minutes, or until lightly browned.

For the salad:

8 ounces of mesclun or arugula, washed and dried
1/3 to 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Homemade croutons
1 avocado, pitted and sliced or diced
1 super ripe tomato, chopped
1 hard-boiled egg, grated

Place lettuce in a large bowl. Top with Parmesan. If using, add the croutons, avocado, tomato, and/or egg. Pour over most of the dressing, toss, and taste. If it needs more dressing, add it.


Melissa Clark's Roasted Squash and Radicchio Salad with Buttermilk Dressing


I am in Boston right now, visiting my family, and it is Thanksgiving, of course, and we are invited to my father's second cousin Bob's house, where Bob's daughter Julia and her newborn daughter Sylvia will be present, so if you're doing the math, Hugo gets to meet his fourth cousin today, and how many of us can claim to have ever met our fourth cousin? Hugo has been "writing" shopping lists for the baby all week. We are all very excited.

My stepmother Susan and I have made two pies to bring - her fantastic apple tart, which, according to her notes, she's been making at least since the 1970s (it's a tarte sucrée shell filled with freshly made applesauce and topped with thin slices of apples decoratively arranged, then run under the broiler and glazed), and an experiment of sorts, a free-form galette filled with spiced, sliced persimmons (nutmeg, ginger, brown sugar, orange peel). 


What I'm really writing to you about today is salad. And while I understand that following the description of two Thanksgiving pies with a post about salad might seem, what's the word, unfair, bear with me. This is no regular salad.

I'm talking about Melissa Clark's recent recipe for a tangle of radicchio and arugula dressed with a tangy, garlicky, creamy dressing (buttermilk! tarragon! lemon juice!) and tossed with slices of delicata squash that have been roasted with honey and chile (or smoked paprika, as I used, in case you have small eaters in your home who don't want to eat 'picy things) until sweet and fudgy.

Sounds good, right? I am here to tell you it is even BETTER than you think it will be. We had it for lunch today (incidentally, it's sort of the perfect pre-Thanksgiving lunch, since it's fresh and satisfying without being too heavy) and basically spent most of lunch exclaiming, out loud, to each other, about how good it was. Bitter greens, sweet-spicy squash, creamy-sour dressing…you see what I mean? Oh, and roasted pecans, too! Soft, crunchy, cool, delicious.

I happen to think delicata squash might be the most delicious squash, sweet and nutty, and it's definitely the easiest to deal with. If you can't find it, I would substitute slices of kabocha squash (or hokkaido, for you Europeans). Melissa calls for smoky chile powder (like New Mexico or chipotle), which will give the squash some lovely heat. I substituted sweet smoked paprika, for that same smoky flavor, but no heat. Whatever you do, make sure you don't skip the dressing, which ties the slightly unwieldy and boisterous greens together with the squash wedges just beautifully. And the roasted pecans! If you don't have them, I guess you could use walnuts, too. Just don't skip the nuts entirely.

And with that, friends, I'm off to have a cup of tea and go give thanks, for, well, everything. For you too. xo

Melissa Clark's Roasted Squash and Radicchio Salad with Buttermilk Dressing
Serves 3-4

2 delicata squashes (10 ounces/280 grams each), halved lengthwise, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch half-moons
1 tablespoon honey
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
¼ teaspoon smoky chile powder or smoked sweet paprika
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
⅓ cup/80 ml buttermilk
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely chopped tarragon
1 large garlic clove, grated
1 small head radicchio, cored and shredded
4 cups arugula
⅔ cup/85 grams chopped toasted pecans (see note)

1. Heat oven to 425 F/220 C degrees. In a large bowl, toss squash with honey, 3/4 teaspoon salt, chile powder or paprika and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast, tossing occasionally, until tender and golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, lemon juice, tarragon, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt and the garlic. Whisk in remaining 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) oil.

3. In a large bowl, combine radicchio, arugula, squash and pecans. Toss in buttermilk dressing; taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Note: To toast pecans, heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until they deepen in color and turn fragrant, 7 to 10 minutes. Cool before chopping.

Laura's Grilled Eggplant and Zucchini Salad

My aunt Laura, my mother's sister, was with us for most of our holiday in Italy. This was a good thing for several reasons, not the least of which was the guarantee of good meals every single day. I don't say this to knock my mother, mind you. She, too, freely admits that with Laura around, the level of dining in our house rises several notches at least.

Laura made us juicy bistecca alla Fiorentina and insalata di riso (cold rice salad) and the very best roasted vegetables I've ever had (more on those in another post soon). We had four different kinds of ricotta and really delicious bread and peeled almonds for breakfast, and she taught me to stir an egg into Hugo's evening pastina and made meatballs that he would have happily eaten every day for the rest of his life.

Laura also proved the usefulness of a ridged grill pan, which I now am coveting and need to add to my arsenal right away. Laura used it for grilling meat, of course, but what really opened my eyes were the vegetables she grilled with it. Thick slices of parboiled potatoes, for example, to dress with olive oil and herbs like dried oregano, or long strips of zucchini and eggplant.

And best of all was the salad she made with the grilled vegetables. After the grilled vegetables (eggplant and zucchini sliced lengthwise, then grilled on the hot pan with no oil on both sides) cooled, she cut them into thickish strips and put them in a salad bowl. She added two garlic cloves, slightly crushed (not entirely smashed - the aim is the perfume the salad without making anyone eat raw garlic), a good amount of salt and a healthy glug of peppery olive oil.

You know how raw eggplant soaks up olive oil quickly and in cooking can turn sodden and greasy? Well, if you grill the eggplant first and then dress it, the olive oil can't penetrate it anymore. It simply coats the eggplant pieces and leaves them still delightfully chewy and toothsome.

The salad is perfect summer fare - easy to make ahead of time, best at room temperature, hearty and cooling at once. It goes very well with grilled sausages, but also with a cool ball of mozzarella leaking milky fluid alongside.

Once I've got a grill pan in my possession, I'll be making this all summer long.