Summer is the season of the salad, when cooking and turning on the stove seems like an act of pure masochism, akin to enjoying a root canal. But after you’ve been making different salads every day, do you start to get salad fatigue? I know I do. I mean I love cucumbers, but not every day, ok? And even if our orto has turned into this massive lettuce producer, I still need a break from all those leafy greens.
Fortunately, those clever Italians are used to hot weather and having tons of good vegetables around, so they get pretty innovative.
I love ‘pinzimonio’ which is nothing more than combining extra virgin olive oil (because you wouldn’t ever use anything else, right?) salt, ground pepper and perhaps a splash of balsamic vinegar in a bowl and then dipping cut pieces of raw vegetables such as fennel, carrots, artichoke, celery, green beans etc into the bowl. Whatever you have around, dip it into the oil, sip some fresh white wine, munch on a little bread and you have a light, clean antipasto dish.
Bagnacaoda, which is Piemontese dialect for warm bath, is an anchovy based variation on the pinzimonio. Using a small ceramic cook pot, over low heat, add about ½ cup olive oil, 6 cloves of minced garlic and let the garlic soften in the oil for about 10-12 minutes. Then add about 8 preserved anchovy fillets (either preserved in oil or salt, if using salt, remember to wash off the anchovy and remove all the bones first). Let this simmer until the anchovies break up and you have a warm garlicky mush. Serve the warm bagnacaoda along with a tray of raw and/or steamed vegetables for dipping. Traditionally cardoons should be served with a true bagnacaoda, but this is summertime and the cardoons aren’t in season, so don’t stress about them, ok? Just because I need to share, look at the cardoon flowers that have appeared in our orto…they are amazing! Bright purple spikes sitting on top of little alien pod thingies that balance on top of a really long stalk and are apparently irresistible summer homes for wasps. Who knew!
Or you could try the Italian way of serving vegetables at room temperature, marinated in a bit of olive oil. Here in the land of no air-conditioning, the trick is to get up early, boil a little cauliflower, sauté slices of eggplant and zucchini, roast the onions and peppers, steam the beans, then arrange everything nicely on a plate, cover and set aside mealtime. You did all the work during the cool morning hours and now you can relax and not have to worry about cooking vegetables when the kitchen is fireball hot.
You can also mix up the raw and the cooked. Warm, steamed flat beans that are tossed with a vinaigrette dressing, raw tomatoes and flecks of red onion is an excellent salad. You get the unexpected contrast of warm and cool, the still crunchy bean and the soft yielding tomato, what could be better?
However, I am not advocating that you use bottled vinaigrette! Make your own! I do believe that bottled salad dressing could possibly be the root of all evil, or at least the root of our problems with climate change. See, they take up a ton of space in the fridge, so if you didn’t buy them, you could have a smaller fridge and require less refrigeration which would reduce carbon gasses and global meltdown. So, you see, if it wasn’t for salad dressing refrigeration, the recent G8 conference would have been a relaxed gathering of world leaders instead of a climatic showdown.
Just in case: a general vinaigrette rule of thumb is 3 to 4 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. What oil or vinegar you use depends on your personal taste, the size of your wallet and what you currently have stashed in the cabinet. I have heard it said, that a woman who wants to keep her man, never gives away the secret to her vinaigrette. Since I’m married for around 150 years, I’ll share some of my secrets (not all…I’m not that crazy!). I use extra virgin olive oil almost exclusively, unless I use a nut oil. I keep a good supply of different vinegar flavors on hand because each vinegar has a different flavor and acidity and I like mustard so that shows up a lot when I make a salad dressing. But, please experiment, see what you enjoy and throw out those bottles of icky, old salad dressing that you have lingering in the fridge. If you think they are still good after 6 months….stop and ask yourself, what the hell did they put in it if I can still eat it?
I’m now getting off my soapbox and pondering what nibbles I can get from our orto to make tonight’s salad… I’m thinking a bagnacaoda would be pretty good for dinner.