We are just entering into the season of summer squash. This year the advent of the local crop coincided almost exactly with summer's official calendar start date. Last Saturday I brought home my first batch of tiny baby squash from the market (and immediately made one of my favorite pastas with it). We will now have abundant local squash for the duration of the summer and into the fall. Its season is long and, if the squash are harvested when they are small and tender, enjoyable.
Summer squash is wonderful cooked any number of ways. Grilled/broiled, roasted, sautéed, steamed, stuffed, puréed.... But of course, summer squash doesn't have to be cooked to be enjoyed. Next week I will be teaching a class that includes a recipe for a simple and refreshing summer salad featuring raw zucchini.
It is particularly important to seek out smallish (less than 4 oz. each) zucchini for this salad. To prepare the salad, the zucchini are shaved as thinly as possible into long ribbons. If large squash—which have more developed seed cavities and a more coarsely grained flesh—are used, it is difficult to produce beautifully thin, flexible ribbons. When sliced thinly, a large squash tends to want to shred. If the thickness of the ribbons is increased to produce intact lengths of squash, the ribbons won't be as flexible or as tender as they should be.
I didn't create this salad. I am posting it almost unchanged from one of my favorite cookbooks—The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey. It is almost identical to a popular salad published last August in Bon Appetit Magazine. Besides the zucchini, Sinskey's salad includes toasted almonds, Italian Parsley and shaved Parmesan. The Bon Appetit version replaces the parsley and almonds with basil and pine nuts.
I'm sure the salad from Bon Appetit is very good, but if an internet search is any indicator, it is currently the only shaved zucchini salad that people are making. Which is too bad, because lots of different combinations of herbs, nuts and cheeses would complement the zucchini quite nicely. Walnuts or Pecans would be good choices for the nuts. Aromatic marjoram or mint would be interesting choices for the herbs. Instead of the herbs a handful of baby arugula would be excellent. Pecorino, Aged Jack, Manchego or some other salty, aged grating cheese would be fine choices for the cheese. Part of what makes this salad special is its simplicity, so I hesitate to recommend too many additions....but if added judiciously and sparingly, other additions might include some finely minced garlic, a bit of smashed anchovy, a few minced capers or black olives, or pinch of hot pepper flakes.
The other difference between the Sinskey salad and the Bon Appetit version is that the latter prepares a lemon vinaigrette to pour over the salad and Sinskey seasons the salad with lemon juice first and then finishes the salad with the olive oil. This is really the best way to go because without sufficient lemon, the salad is flat and bland tasting. Adding the lemon and the olive oil separately allows you to control the acidity of the salad without drowning it in vinaigrette.
This refreshing little salad makes a beautiful and light first course. It would also be very good served alongside a grilled steak and some roasted potatoes or piled on top of some grilled or sautéed fish. No matter how you choose to serve it, it's a great way to enjoy the abundance of the local summer squash crop.
Shaved Zucchini Salad with Almonds, Lemon & Parmesan
2 lbs. small zucchini (preferably weighing 3 to 4 oz. each), washed and dried, ends trimmed away
3 oz. Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler
2 oz. (a generous half cup) sliced almonds, lightly toasted
2 to 4 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 to 4 T. extra virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 c. (not packed) picked Italian Parsley, very coarsely chopped (reserve several whole leaves for garnish)
Using a mandoline slicer, slice the zucchini very thinly (less than 1/16th inch, if possible) lengthwise. Place in a large bowl with 2/3 of the shaved Parmesan, the almonds and the parsley. Season with salt (generously) & freshly ground pepper.
Drizzle 2 T. of lemon juice over. Toss and add more lemon and salt as necessary. Add 2 T. of olive oil and toss again. Taste and correct the seasoning. The salad should be a bit on the tangy side.
Divide the salad among serving plates and drizzle each serving with a bit more olive oil and scatter the reserved parsley leaves over all. Serves 6 to 8.
(Recipe adapted from The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey)