Sure, you can combine diced peaches, melon and fresh berries in a bowl and call it a salad. Refreshing, yes, and great for a brunch or a picnic — but hardly a salad you’d serve as a first course for a dinner party. With a twist of the imagination plus some mixed baby greens, a flavorful vinaigrette and perhaps cheese or nuts, you can transform summer fruits into an impressive starter.
The first time I tasted a green salad with strawberries, I was dining outdoors on a summer day at Poggio, an Italian restaurant in Sausalito, California. Sweet berries, paper-thin slices of red onion and creamy goat cheese were presented on a bed of peppery arugula, all tossed with a hazelnut dressing — a wonderful contrast of flavors and textures.
I was hooked — and inspired to make similar salads at home. As I discovered, you really don’t need a recipe, and the simpler you keep things, the better. After all, the fruit should take center stage, be it strawberries, peaches, apricots or cherries. You can serve the fruit raw atop the greens or, to enhance the fruit’s natural sweetness, briefly roast or sauté it, or give it a turn on the grill.
These recipes will get you started, and all will make memorable first courses for dinner guests.
How can you improve upon the perfect peach? Grill it! Then serve it warm over arugula and crumble fresh goat cheese on top.
The ingredients blend in four-part harmony: intensely flavored roasted strawberries, crisp spinach, salty pecorino romano cheese and crunchy toasted almonds. The sprightly vinaigrette adds a grace note.
With this salad, more is better — quickly sauté a medley of stone fruits, then toss with watercress and a warm vinaigrette. Feel free to swap in spinach or frisée for the watercress.
1/4 cup hazelnuts
6 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups pitted and sliced stone fruit of choice, such as plums, peaches, apricots or cherries, or preferably a combination
3 Tbs. Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
5 cups stemmed watercress, torn into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup crumbled ricotta salata cheese
In a small, dry fry pan over medium-low heat, toast the hazelnuts, stirring constantly, until they are fragrant and just beginning to brown where the skins have flaked off, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and immediately pour the nuts onto a clean dish towel; they can burn quickly. Gather up the corners of the towel and rub the nuts together until most of the skins come off. Split the nuts by applying pressure with your thumb and index finger until the halves separate. Set aside.
In a fry pan over medium heat, warm 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add the shallot and sauté until golden brown, about 7 minutes. Add the fruit and sauté for a few seconds, just enough to coat the pieces in the hot oil. Remove from the heat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fruit and shallot to a plate and let cool. (Do not wipe out the pan.)
Set the same pan over medium-low heat. Whisk in the vinegar, mustard, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring, until the mixture bubbles and thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the remaining 5 Tbs. olive oil until smooth and emulsified. Taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.
Put the watercress in a large salad bowl. Add the cooled fruit and shallot and pour the warm vinaigrette over the salad. Toss to mix and coat well. Sprinkle with the cheese and hazelnuts and serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.
About the author: Kris was raised in Kansas on JELL-O and frozen fish sticks. She rebelled at a young age by learning to cook, whipping up a batch of fluffy scrambled eggs that impressed her family. These days, she’s an avid home cook who loves to host dinner parties for friends. Her favorite techniques are grilling in the summer and braising in the winter. Now she’s landed her dream job — editing all of the recipes for Williams-Sonoma.