It has been documented many times over, but it always seems like there’s that one container of food that gets away from you, and by the time you find it, sometimes it is better just to throw the entire thing out, but I digress.
But, cooking does not need to be difficult. I can’t tell you how many times I heard that growing up, but as cooks, chefs and culinarians we are always trying to muddle the waters in an effort to bring our guests complicated dishes with subtle nuances of impossibility and the unlikelihood that it can be easily reproduced.
Sure, there comes a time when you have to clean a lobe of grade A foie gras and prepare a torchon to be seared and served with a morel demi, something that will take a little practice and understanding to nail.
But sometimes everyone just needs to take a step back and eat a normal meal. In fact, this time of year is the best in which to enjoy the bounty of our beautiful area in all of its wondrous simplicity; I’m talking about produce stands of course. There are so many around us, from the big, formal stands to the tiny mom-and-pop garden stands. And the fruits and vegetables that are available are astounding.
Of course, with produce at its ripest, it also reminds me that school is about to start. Sigh.
It’s always hard for me to kick off the school year, as any teacher will tell you after a summer of frolicking and frivolities. While we didn’t have much of those ourselves, summer break is still a welcome break from the grind as the school year starts with a lot of excitement, a little trepidation and a fair amount of curiosity as to who our new batch of students will be.
As I finished prepping syllabi and organizing my office yesterday, I made my way home down Route 50; my stomach rumbling as I had left my lunch at home. I stopped by Parker’s Produce in Pittsville (my apologies for the alliteration) and picked up some more tomatoes and yellow squash for a salad that I had made the day before for a barbecue.
The simplest of salads, this 4-ingredient dressing can be used on a tomato, onion & cucumber salad, which is always a Maryland favorite. The biggest differences here are that I grill the squash and add some good Feta cheese to top it off. There is just something about Feta and a sherry vinaigrette to make for a refreshing, rich and satisfying dish.
The light grilling on the squash adds a heartiness to the salad and allows it to stand up to the saltiness and richness of the Feta, and its these types of simple tricks that will elevate a simple salad into one that is a show-stopper.
As far as the sherry vinegar goes, hunt for a decent one, and not the cheap “house” ones they sell in a grocery store. You can buy a bottle of 20-year aged sherry vinegar online for about nine bucks, so it’s not hard to put together your cool little pantry stash.
As the salad sits in my refrigerator and the flavors marry a little more each day, it brings me joy in knowing that something so simple can do so much. It reminds me of my brain. We just need to take advantage of the local stands before growing season ends, as it is truly one of the greatest seasons to live here.
Grilled Zucchini, Hot House Tomato & Feta Salad
serves 6-8 people as part of a buffet
2 Fresh yellow squash
2 Fresh vine-ripe tomatoes
1 large red onion
1/4 cup Olive oil, for grilling and dressing
2 Tbsp. Sherry vinegar
Salt & Pepper to taste
8 ounces Good quality feta cheese
1. Cut the squash and zucchini into long strips from end to end
2. Brush with oil and season with a little salt and pepper
3. Grill on a hot grill or grill-pan until it is only about halfway cooked
4. Remove and place in a bowl and refrigerate immediately
5. Core the tomato and cut into decent size chunks
6. Julienne the onion and place in a bowl with the tomato
7. When the squash is cold, cut into sizeable chunks and mix with the tomato and onion
8. Make sure to add any liquid that came out during the refrigeration time
9. Add remaining oil and Sherry vinegar, or adjust to taste (it really depends on the size of all of the ingredients that you picked up from the market)
10. Be careful with your salt, as Feta is very salty on its own. As this salad sits, the flavors will marry
11. Adjust the seasoning one last time, adding some fresh herbs if that suits you, and top with crumbles Feta cheese
12. Keep cold until it’s time to serve