A phrase you will never see: Big bold summer squash flavor! Not gonna happen. Which is why I’ll take my warm weather squash raw, as in this Summer Squash Salad with Purple Basil, Shaved Parmesan and a Garlicky Lemon Vinaigrette. Very thinly sliced, please, so I can appreciate the mild flavor and crunchy texture, ideally accented by a summery dressing, like the garlicky lemon vinaigrette that tops this preparation. Throw in some shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano and I’m in heaven. And nobody even turned on the oven.
Back in the days when American salad was still imprisoned in icebergian shackles, my mother-in-law would pass a large wooden bowl during family gatherings, extending it to me with the gentle inquiry, “Salad?” To which I would reply, “Why?”
This was a Frick and Frack* routine we had worked out together and which she generously found funny. For the life of me, with alternatives like dinosaur kale with preserved lemon, garlic and anchovies, or any of a thousand cabbage-carrot-radish slaws with lime juice, nuac nam and fish sauce that flood the internet these days, I don’t understand why iceberg lettuce salad hasn’t gone the way of that other little side-dish horror show of the 1950’s, stewed tomatoes. Even my mother-in-law’s humblest summer gatherings — exemplars of tradition — are now likely to include sliced tomatoes, in season, dressed with a mustardy vinaigrette flavored with curly parsley, or layered with delicate rounds of fresh mozzarella, the platter drizzled with evoo and balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with basil leaves. You can have your (interesting, and tasty) salad and eat it too.
So, break out your mandolines – the squashes are coming, and even the most dedicated knife ninja will tire of trying to slice a pound and a half of them. The nasturtiums on this salad are optional, although farmers’ markets now seem to include edible flowers as a matter of seasonal course. Nasturtiums aren’t just a pretty face. They provide a peppery accent, as well as tarting up the presentation.
“Why, yes. Thank you.”
*Comic Swiss skating duo from the early days of the Ice Capades.
Summer Squash Salad with Purple Basil, Shaved Parmesan and and Garlicky Lemon Vinaigrette
- 1¼ pounds small tender squash (e.g. summer, zucchini and patty pans)
- 1 large bunch purple basil (we also used bush basil), enough for 1½ cups small or torn leaves
- 1 Meyer lemon
- 2 garlic cloves
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced into rounds, about 1 cup
- 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano shavings
- 15 to 20 nasturtium blossoms or other edible flowers (optional)
- Trim the stems off the squashes. Using a mandoline, slice the squashes thinly.
- Remove the basil leaves from the stems. Wash and dry well. Tear the leaves into large pieces. You should have 1½ cups.
- Zest and juice the lemon and put the zest and juice into a small bowl.
- Using a microplane, grate the garlic into the bowl. Whisk in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into a pitcher.
- Put the squash, scallion and basil into a salad bowl, season with salt and pepper and toss well. Add the Parmesan shavings and toss again.
- If using flowers, sprinkle the flowers over the top.
- Serve the salad with the vinaigrette and let people drizzle as they will. You’ll probably have some leftover dressing which you can use with the salad tomorrow.
I wish I’d known 40 years ago, when I had my first, (and last)* vegetable garden, that zucchini can be delicious raw. I planted peppers, tomatoes, onions, carrots, beets and even okra, but the only thing I really harvested was zucchini. It never let up. I’d come back after a day away and there’d be a squash the size of a newborn. Doesn’t Garrison Keilor warn folks to roll up their windows and lock their doors when parking in a small town in July and August, lest they return to their car and find a zucchini in the passenger seat?
I learned to make all kinds of zucchini things — from the ubiquitous zucchini bread of the 1970’s to Zucchini Parmesan and Zucchini Pickle, but it wasn’t until I traveled to Italy years later that I learned about shaved raw zucchini salad. This is a version of one we’re serving on a bluefish dish at Rialto this summer. We use a variety of squashes and shred a few squash blossom flowers into the mix. Be sure to use tender young squash. They’re sweet with a great soft and crunchy texture. Let people dress their servings themselves. This is a delicate salad that will will collapse into a lump if it’s dressed and then sits too long.
*I don’t have a garden. I don’t even have an herb garden and I don’t want one. I kill things. I know this is sacrilege these days for a chef. We’re expected to run our restaurants, make everything in house from pickles to cured meats and cheeses, and then to be sure to start the day weeding in our vegetable gardens, or better yet, on our farms. Oh, and don’t forget foraging for wild plants too. Basta! I’ve been buying from expert farmers for years who do an amazing job. I’m fine with that.
Thanks. This time of the year you have to work hard to make an ugly one. :-) Ken
Thank you, Lydia. Give it a try. Ken
I love raw zucchini in a salad and that looks scrumptious. Coming to my kitchen soon! Thanks, Linda
Thank you, Linda. I’m a recent convert–thanks to my wife. Ken
What a beautiful recipe! I love the simplicity of it, yet, like you both intimated, it’s not obvious. I think it’s time for me to get a mandolin. This is just too beautiful not to try. I love zucchini, but never really appreciated it raw. LOL re Jody’s Garrison Keillor reference. Love him. The next few posts on my blog have all been either inspired by yours or already done by you in some version. What is going on here?! Thanks so much for sharing. Have a great weekend!
Thanks! Regarding the confluence, great minds think alike. Regarding the mandoline, don’t spend a fortune. We own a big metal rig that Jody bought as a young cook–and it does wonderful things with its various attachments and arrangements. However, we also own an inexpensive ($35, maybe) Japanese affair that is more than adequate for 95% of what we do. Jody pulls out the big gun if she’s going to make roesti to go with a goose, or if she wants to make shoestring potatoes. Otherwise, it’s the cheapo–easier to use, easier to clean, takes up less space. Ken
Great advice. Thank you. I was looking at the cheap ones because I know me and gadgets (I’m excited about them at first then never use them) and my kitchen doesn’t have a ton of room. Chef Mimi had this whole post on a device that makes spaghetti out of veggies and i was so excited about it, but it was too big to buy if I wasn’t committed to using it at least once a month. I have like 4 square feet of usable space if you’re being generous. :) A cheap mandolin, totally doable.
What is the green herb that’s in your photos (I think it’s an herb), but isn’t mentioned in the text or recipe? Did I miss something?
I love your food and will do everything I can to replicate your recipies. Thanks for all your interesting and innovative dishes!
I think you’re referring to the bush basil. We used both bush and purple basil. You don’t see it terribly often, but once in awhile in a farmers’ market. The leaves are quite tiny, about the size of your little finger’s nail, but the flavor is quite strongly basil. Ken
Another lovely post. You have really captured the freshness of the ingredients, Ken. Great works.
Thanks, Conor. I’ve got to get Jody to switch up some techniques so she’s not doing so much chopping and mixing and pouring. Ken
Very pretty. We’ve been doing a shaved squash salad that we had at a restaurant in SC earlier in the summer. You’re exactly right about dressing it. You basically cannot except at the last possible moment or it’s pure mush. Oh, and I’ll take my blossoms on the side, too. Filled with mozzarella and herbs and dredged in cornmeal before frying. Sadly, though, it’s rare to find them at any of our otherwise wonderful farmers’ markets. Farmer friends say they just don’t sell here. I guess we need to start a campaign to educate Louisvillians!
There’s a Hmong family that farms the most interesting greens–as well as squash blossoms–that appears at our local farmers’ market. They even separate them into males in females, in case you have a preference! Ken
Now, that’s service! A college friend of Steve’s who is one of the farmers we buy from has promised us some in the next couple of weeks (though he didn’t promise to sex them). We’ve actually got some giant pumpkin vines with flowers growing out of our compost heap. But they’re kinda scary.
Pumpkin blossoms work too! In fact, aside from size, it’s difficult to tell the difference.
Your photographs put me to shame. So many beautiful, voluptuous images and very hunger-making, which I suppose is the point. Thank you for giving me a reason to buy a mandoline, and I do love the idea of a zucchini (I say courgette, let’s call the whole thing off) raw and finely sliced in a gorgeous, fragrant juicy heap. And I’m pleased you’re both freed from the tyranny of the garden. Sophie x
I’ve mentioned this before, Sophie, but I’ll repeat it–you have a way of spinning out titles of stories waiting to be written: The Tyranny of the Garden.
Thanks for saying nice things. Ken
I always know when I visit here, I’m going to be treated to a most appetizing dish. Todays’ was no exception. Such a great summertime dish. Where, though,can you find Meyer lemons this time of year? I’m lucky to find them in Winter but Summer? I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the photography that graces each and every one of your posts. It’s really quite beautiful.
Thank you, John. You know, Meyer lemons, which I buy at Whole Foods, have a way of showing up… whenever. So whenever, in fact, that I’ve never thought of them as having a season, but now that you raise the issue, I’m wondering about it. I’ve never seen anyone refer to “Meyer lemon season,” although after having looked it up I now see that while Meyer lemons grow all year, the majority of the crop is harvested during the winter. It makes me wonder if we’re getting aseasonal lemons or, as sometimes happens with oranges, they may be the product of various dark arts, including extended storage (up to four months). I’ll see if I can find out. Ken
The colors are amazing!!
Thanks, Elvira. It is easier to get something colorful in the middle of summer, and in all likelihood they’ll taste good together too. :-) Ken
With this creation, you find yourself in the realm of the senses again. . .
In the realm of the senses! Ha! I haven’t thought about that movie since university. I guess that’s a good thing, and I’ll take it as a compliment. Thank you. Ken
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