When I purchased a mandoline for the kitchen a couple years ago, I thought that I had arrived as a home cook. I envisioned perfectly composed dishes with paper-thin slices of fennel, or potatoes, or beets, or whatever it was that I wanted to pass along the blade of the instrument. But in two years, I believe that I’ve used it about four times. And that’s because it’s kind of a hassle: it’s cumbersome, and the parts aren’t easy to clean, and it winds up being more of a bother than it’s worth. What I’ve discovered is that I’m okay with loose edges, irregular cuts and a little imperfection. I think that gets at the heart of home cooking.
But then there are those single-purpose tools that are neither cumbersome nor a burden. For instance, the julienne peeler. I just got my hands on this little dude, and I’m kind of smitten. How many times have we encountered recipes that call for julienned this or julienned that and have painstakingly done the work with a knife? And despite my protestations about too much perfection, it does a good job of making things look pretty.
I write about mandolines and julienne peelers because they’re rather helpful where salads like these are concerned. The goal is to marinate the summer squash, and the thinner your slice, the more effective the job. I first fell in love with a version of this salad at the lovely little restaurant called Evoe in Portland. The men behind the counter, both more chef than server, were smart and sassy and infinitely knowledgeable about simple, seasonal food. In fact, the food was so good that I walked around Portland in 95 degree heat in order to work up an appetite again so that I could stuff my face with a second round of their amazing dishes. And ever since, this simple salad has become a staple of my summer repertoire. There are so many ways to prepare it: take your choice of herbs, cheeses, acids (vinegar would do just as well as lemon juice), add some other summer produce if you wish, or present it in its simplest form. It’s classic and easy and perfect for a warm evening when there are better things to do than cook.
This Summer Squash Salad with Little Gems recipe is part of the July Seasonal Food Guide
SUMMER SQUASH SALAD WITH LITTLE GEMS
Yield: 4-6 servings
1 medium crookneck squash (about 5 inches long)
1 medium zucchini (also about 5 inches long)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh, chopped basil
1 teaspoon fresh, chopped oregano
4-6 little gem lettuce leaves, rinsed
a handful of cherry tomatoes, quartered
salt + pepper to taste
First, prepare the squash. As mentioned, you can use a mandoline or a julienne peeler to achieve slender strands of the raw squash. If you don’t have either of these, a vegetable peeler will produce long, slender ribbons that are equally attractive. Just run the peeler slowly down the length of the squash.
Next, gently toss the squash with the lemon juice and olive oil and enough salt and pepper to taste. Leave to marinate at room temperature for about an hour, tossing occasionally.
After an hour has passed, drain the squash so that there is no excess liquid.
Divide the squash equally amongst the little gem lettuce leaves. Top with crumbled feta. If serving as finger food, nestle the quartered tomatoes into the squash. If serving on plates, arrange the tomatoes around the salad. Best served immediately.