Virginia Willis Blog

Chill Out: Summer Small Plates

Whew. Last week was a blur in NYC. I had a great time hosting Cooking Today for Martha Stewart Radio interspersed with various meetings and eatings. The meetings went great and the eatings were delicious. Stay tuned for more exciting events this fall!

Dining was mostly low key, but a couple of the highlights included lunch at Hunan Kitchen in Flushing, Queens. I’d read about it in Andrew Zimmern’s article in Sky Magazine. The Farmer’s Style Tofu was phenomenal and the Cumin Ribs were on fire.

This food was H.O.T.

My favorite two other meals were lunch at A Voce and dinner at Buvette. Really, really fine food by coincidentally, two female chefs, Missy Robbins and Jody Williams. Both chefs used great ingredients and the dishes were well-executed. What more could you want in a meal?

It was hot as blue blazes for a few days. I had forgotten the potent aromatic combination of subway and summer and the hot gust of wind that blows gale-like through the tunnel as the train is pulling into the station, like the breath of Satan. Before any New Yorkers get overly excited at my criticism, I loved living in NYC and still love to visit. There’s really no other place like it in the whole entire world.

One night, we went to see End of the Rainbow on Broadway. It was a breath-taking, amazing performance by Tracie Bennett. She absolutely becomes Judy Garland. (They’ve just announced it’s closing, so if you are able to go, I highly recommend it.) I knew we’d get home late from the theater, so I made a few cold salads that morning to enjoy with rotisserie chicken. At the peak of summer, when its so fiery hot, I prefer to eat smaller plates of room temperature or cold dishes.

This is a quick post, I’m on deadline for a few projects, but these refreshing summer small plates are so tasty I wanted to share. Let me know what you think!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

VA

Summer Squash Slaw
Serves 4 to 6

Although the end result will taste the same, the vegetables are much prettier sliced into julienne matchsticks on a mandoline instead of grated on a box grater or in a food processor.

3 small zucchini
3 small yellow squash
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Finely grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ cup pure olive oil
¼ cup chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, and basil

Using a grater or a mandoline, run the squash on the tool to slice, cutting away the colorful part of the vegetables into the white flesh. Stop when you approach the seeds and rotate the squash. In the end, you’ll wind up with the core of seeds to discard, compost, or save for another use. (Cooked they are fine, but I don’t care for them in this salad.) Combine the zucchini and yellow squashes in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon zest and juice, shallots, and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until creamy and emulsified. Add the herbs. Just before serving, pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss to coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately on chilled plates.

Cauliflower Salad
Serves 4 to 6

This unusual cauliflower is purple! If you can’t find it at your local farmer’s market of course you can use the more traditional white variety.

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon freshly chopped mint
Pinch cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, or piment d’espelette, optional
Freshly ground black pepper

Line two plates with paper towels. Prepare an ice-water bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water. Set both aside. In a steamer basket, cover and steam the florets for 8 to 10 minutes for tender-crisp. Or microwave, covered, with 1/4 cup salted water for 2 to 4 minutes for tender-crisp or 3 to 5 minutes for tender. (One 2-pound head of cauliflower yields about 8 cups bite-size florets.) Shock cooked florets in ice water. Remove to the paper-towel lined plate and pat dry. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add rice wine vinegar, soy saucec, and herbs. Toss to coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately on chilled plates.

Farro Salad
Serves 4 to 6

2 cups pearled farro
1/2 cup currants
Juice of 1 lemon, more if needed
2 tablespoons olive oil, more if needed
1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, and basil
2 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled sheep’s milk feta
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add farro and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain well in a fine mesh sieve and rinse under cold running water. Shake to remove excess water and transfer to a medium bowl. Add currants, lemon juice, olive oil, herbs, and scallions. Stir to combine. Once combined, then fold in the feta. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately on chilled plates.

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