Saturday, August 31, 2013

What Grows Together, Goes Together: August Salads

Cooking this time of year is so easy, it's like cheating. When a friend praised my seasonal cooking efforts, she made it sound like some kind of special feat. The truth is, it's easier. Mother Nature does the food pairing for you. All I have to do is get the tomatoes out of the garden before the squirrels do. I keep hoping one of them bites into a cayenne pepper by mistake. Clearly the dog needs more outdoor time since her favorite pastime is waiting for the mangy tomato thieves to come down out of the trees, only to chase them back up.

I love our dog.

For the tomatoes we do get, or the ones we get at the farmer's market, I find myself following my own advice. "If it grows together, it goes together."

What's in season now: onions, green beans, and the nightshades — potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. Weekly, we have a pot of the Roasted Ratatouille from my cookbook, and the other favorite using most of these ingredients as well is the Caramelized Onion and Tomato Summer Salad. I've probably made these both 20 times. We love them, but once in a while change is good.

Or, at least I thought so as I eyed a huge skillet of onion caramelizing. Hmmm. I decided to change up the dressing for the summer salads a bit and found a new favorite: Creamy Caramelized Onion dressing. Like the Roasted Beet Dressing, you use the vegetable puree to add the richness to the dressing, not more oil or eggs or dairy. I could eat this one plain, or as a dip. Instead I used it as the dressing for the Summer Salad and put a spin on the usual German Potato Salad using heirloom potatoes, purple and green beans, caramelized onions and capers.

You can use the dressing on any salad as well, of course.

Caramelized Onion Dressing
One cup caramelized onions (recipe from my book, The Cleaner Plate Club, below)
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tsp. Dijon mustard, or coarse grain mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
Several grinds of black pepper

Into the blender it goes. Out comes creamy goodness. Use on the salad recipe below, or add tomatoes, capers to make the book's Summer Salad recipe.

German Potato Salad Redux
2 lbs. small new potatoes (we like rose fin, purple, and yukons)
1 lbs. green beans, blanched in boiling water for two minutes, then shocked in ice water
1/2 cup caramelized onions (recipe below)
2 Tbs. capers, optional
Salt and pepper to taste
2/3 cup of the Caramelized Onion dressing

Wash and boil the potatoes until fork tender. Remove from boiling water with slotted spoon. You can use the boiling water for blanching the green beans and save heating up your kitchen more. Allow the potatoes to cool. Drain the green beans. Toss in bowl with the caramelized onions and dressing. Add capers if using. Salt and pepper to taste.

This recipe is from the book. I call it Caramelized Onions because of the sweet glaze and golden color. They are actually onions "agrodolce" from the vinegar and sugar used in the recipe. Either way, they taste great. Leftovers are good on sandwiches as well.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or rosemary (optional), or use 3 teaspoons dried thyme
1. Combine the oil, sugar, vinegar, and salt in a large skillet with a lid over medium-high heat, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the onion and sauté for a few minutes to start the browning process.
2. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 10 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with fresh herbs, if desired, before serving.
Makes about 2 cups of cooked onions