Summertime, and the Cooking is Easy

I’ve been chomping at the bit to write this blog for some time, but had to restrain myself until summer actually arrived. These are our favorite salads that we make over and over again – for picnics, for lunches on the terrace, and for cold suppers anywhere. Aside from being really delectable, they are ALL very easy to make — you won’t spend hours in the kitchen “dragging your tits over a hot stove”, as our friend Charles used to say.

These are not composed salads which can serve as an entire meal, but rather are meant to be part of a team for a picnic or buffet. While these four go together, any one of them would be happy with other players you might prefer to select.

Tuscan Bean Salad

This is my version of the famous tuna and white bean salad. Couldn’t be simpler, and the flavors are not muddied by unnecessary additions like olives and sundried tomatoes which, in my opinion, don’t improve it at all. It’s wonderful to take on a picnic, kids love it, and if by some remote chance you have leftovers, it can be trotted out a second or even a third time.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

 2 cans of your best cannelini beans, rinsed and well drained

1 can of tuna (see below)

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons chopped red onion

Dressing:

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon each lemon juice and red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper

I like to use the best canned tuna I can find – usually bottles of albacore packed in olive oil from Spain or Italy – but the salad will still be good even if you choose to use any-old-tuna packed in water. Make the dressing: Crush the garlic with a half-teaspoon of salt, add the oil, lemon juice, vinegar and pepper, stir well to blend.  Put the beans, parsley and onion in a serving bowl and add the dressing.  Drain the tuna, flake it, mix half of it into the beans and decorate the top with the rest of it. Taste to make sure the seasoning is right. 

Squid and Tomato Salad

This is a Richard Olney recipe from his Provence the Beautiful Cookbook.  Provided you have squid on hand, it’s a snap to make. Usually I use frozen squid, readily available in France and at Trader Joe’s in the U.S., but you can of course use fresh. Small squid remain meltingly tender if you cut them into rings and cook them over high heat for no more than a minute. Overcooked, they toughen and you end up with rubber bands.  I usually thaw the squid about halfway, cut it into 1/4 inch rings and then let it completely thaw in a colander.

Serves 4

Ingredients: 

2  ripe tomatoes cut into fairly large dice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 lb. small squid, 3-4″ long, cleaned and cut crosswise into rings

1 tablespoon chopped parsley and/or basil

Salt and pepper

For the vinaigrette:

1 small garlic clove

Pinch of coarse salt

1-2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1-2 tablespoon olive oil

Pepper

Put the chopped tomatoes into a strainer to drain for 20-30 minutes.

Heat the olive oil over high heat in a pan large enough to accommodate the squid in a single layer.  Pat the squid dry, throw them in the pan, and stir fry them over high heat for no more than a minute or until they have released their liquid and turned opaque. Scoop them into a salad bowl, adding salt and pepper to taste.  Reduce the liquid in the pan to a teaspoon or two.

Make the vinaigrette: Pound the garlic and salt to a paste (preferably in a mortar), add 1 teaspoon vinegar, one tablespoon oil and the reduced squid liquid.

Mix the drained tomatoes with the squid along with the chopped parsely and/or basil.  Pour over the dressing, toss well, add some pepper and check the seasoning. You may want to add the rest of the vinegar and oil.  It’s best if you can serve it immediately as the warm squid and the cold tomatoes make a lovely contrast.  However, it’s still certainly worth making if you need to save it for later.  It’s also delicious with pasta.  

Greek Beans

If you go into the kitchen of any simple taverna in Greece you are likely to find a pot of these green beans simmering gently on the stove.  I first encountered them almost fifty years ago and have been cooking them ever since, although I have recently changed how I make them.  Greeks simmer the tomatoes and beans together until the beans are tender which can take 40-50 minutes, but I have found that cooking the beans halfway first and adding them to the tomato mixture for a shorter cooking time works just as well. And the beans keep their color instead of turning a rather sinister  shade of green. They also usually start the dish with sauteed onions, but I prefer it with just olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, herbs – and of course the beans. I like to use young runner beans for this dish but any good quality green beans will be fine.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1- 2 tablespoons olive oil

3-4 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 1-14 oz. can

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon chopped parsley 

1 lb. runner beans, or use any best-quality green beans

Heat one tablespoon olive oil over low heat.  Add the tomatoes, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper to the pan and cook

slowly for about 10 minutes until you have a nice thick tomato sauce.

Meanwhile, top and tail the beans and cut them into about 1″ pieces.  Depending on how young and fresh they are,

cook them (uncovered) in boiling water for about 5 minutes.  They should still be crunchy.  Drain them and add them

to the tomato mixture and continue to cook, uncovered, about 10-15 minutes.  Check the seasoning and stir in the parsley and a little more olive oil.  At this stage you can add some chopped dill, basil or mint if you choose (not all 3).  I like these beans best warm but they are also good hot or cold.  And they last for several days in the refrigerator.

Jamie Oliver’s Watermelon Salad

This is a great hot weather dish – crisp watermelon and salty feta zapped with mint, lime and olive oil. Many variations have shown up on the Internet that add all sorts of unnecessary ingredients. More is not always merrier.  As with the all these recipes, I believe that keeping things simple and letting the chosen flavors shine through usually produces the best results. So I just go with Jamie’s original.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 cups watermelon, seeded, and cut into cubes

1 cup feta cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves

1 tablespoon olive oil

The juice of a lime or lemon

Freshly ground pepper

Mix all the ingredients together gently in a serving bowl.  What could be easier?

Note: I have somewhat arbitrarily said that the four recipes above each serve four. This would very much depend on whether you serve all four at once, and whether you add other bits and pieces to your “buffet” or picnic.  Any two of them would probably serve four not-too-greedy people.

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1 comment
  1. Molly Espey said:

    Those salads look sensational, Jake! we can picture you enjoying them on your lovely patio overlooking the pool and vineyard – perfect! As for trying them ourselves, we’ll have to wait till we get home to the hot as hell eastern US – here in London it has been like late autumn since we got here! still having great fun here tho, especially at the theatre, and hope all goes well for you and Brad in the s of France. xoxox molly

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