Saturday, August 23, 2014

Vacation Inspiration: Roasted Red Pepper and Summer Shell Bean Salad served with Eggplant and Pesto

During my summer vacation this year I had the unexpected...and totally unplanned...pleasure of a quick twenty-four hour visit in to New York City.   Even though the visit was short, it really was's amazing how much food you can pack into 24 hours.  We started with a snack at the Rockefeller Center outpost of Bouchon...

sat down for a late dinner at the charming small-plate French bistro Buvette in  the West Village and the next day enjoyed a farewell lunch at La Verdure in Mario's Eataly (stopping at the gelato counter on the way out to fortify myself for the train trip home).  I was so inspired by the things I got to taste.  Hopefully I will have the time in the months to come to share some of that inspiration here.  For now though, I thought I would share the delicious salad I made for our dinner the other night...inspired by the roast lamb entrée I enjoyed at Buvette.

The dish as prepared at Buvette  featured thin slices of rosy roast leg of lamb.  The lamb was served chilled and fanned on Buvette's signature small plates.  It came topped with a simple salad of roasted red peppers and white beans.  The plate was finished with basil pesto—dolloped and drizzled judiciously over all.  It was exactly the kind of food I love...simple, prepared with care and attention to detail, and bursting with flavor...  Delicious.

At home—because I don't keep chunks of roast leg of lamb on hand—I re-imagined the dish as an all vegetable plate, replacing the rounds of sliced lamb with rounds of broiled eggplant.  Like lamb and peppers, eggplant and  peppers have a natural affinity for one another, so this substitution wasn't really a huge leap.  Instead of white beans—which I only have access to in their dried form—I used some of the fresh pink-eyed purple hull peas which flood Midwestern and Southern farmers' markets every summer. 

If you have never tried  these kinds of shell beans (often called Southern peas)—and you live in a state where they grow—you should most definitely give them a try.  This salad would be a perfect place to start.  When you buy them, look for pods that have turned all purple.  If the pods are still greenish—with just a smudge of purple here and there—they were harvested a bit early and it is a tedious task to get the peas out of the pod.  The mature, purple pods open and release the peas with much less effort.

As far as all the components of my salad are concerned, I have written posts in the past that include detailed descriptions and pictures of all of the basic procedures used, so I won't belabor them here.  Instead, I'll just provide the links.  If you have never broiled eggplant slices, you can find out how to do it at this post for my favorite summer pizza.  If you would prefer to roast (rather than broil) the eggplant, simply follow the instructions included in the recipe for Late Summer Ragout of Eggplant and Summer Squash.  If you have never roasted and peeled a bell pepper, you can find instructions in a "basics" post I wrote a few years ago.  And finally, you can find my recipe for basil pesto in a post for one of my favorite summer pastas....Linguine with Potatoes, Green Beans and Pesto.  If you don't want to make pesto, you can leave it off entirely...or substitute some other flavorful herb-based sauce...salsa verde, for example. 

Like its inspiration, my salad was delicious.  We liked it so much I made it again before the week was out.  The first time we enjoyed it accompanied by semolina toasts topped with soft goat cheese.  When it made its second appearance, I served it with room temperature green beans tossed with olives and toasted walnuts.  If you like to have meat with your evening meal, the shell bean and roasted pepper salad (with or without the eggplant) would make a pretty fine late summer side dish....perfect alongside fish...chicken...beef.. and (of course) lamb. 

Roasted Red Pepper & Fresh Shell Bean Salad 
with Eggplant and Basil Pesto

1 1/3 c. shelled pink-eyed purple hull peas (see note)
1 fat clove garlic, peeled
a sprig or two of winter savory or thyme
a splash of olive oil

1 1/2 lbs. globe eggplant, sliced 1/3-inch thick
Oil for brushing

1 T. Sherry vinegar
1 T. red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
salt & pepper to taste
6 T. extra virgin olive oil

1 1/4 lbs. red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, cooled and cut into 3/4- inch wide strips
3 to 4 T. very finely diced red onion, rinsed under cold running water (let drain thoroughly...I spread the rinsed onions on a paper towel to allow them to dry even more)
2 T. finely sliced Italian flat leaf parsley

3 or 4 T. basil pesto, thinned with water, bean cooking liquid and/or olive oil

Place the peas, garlic, herb sprigs and a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a sauce pan and cover the peas with water by 1 1/2 inches.  

Bring to a simmer and cook until the peas are tender—about 30 to 45 minutes.  Add salt to taste about half way through the cooking time.  Cool and store in their cooking liquid.  Drain just before using, reserving some of the cooking liquid for thinning the pesto, if you like.

Spread the eggplant on a baking sheet (you may need to work in batches) and brush on both sides with olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Broil until tender and golden, turning once. If you have a grill, you can grill the vegetables instead of broiling them. If the eggplant is not yet fork tender when it is golden brown, stack it four or five slices deep as you remove it from the baking sheets—this will allow it to continue cooking.  Set aside and let cool.

While the peas and eggplant cook, prepare the vinaigrette:  Place the vinegars in a bowl with the garlic, along with a good pinch of salt and let sit for 10 minutes or so.  Add the oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly.  Taste and correct the seasoning and balance.  Drizzle some of the vinaigrette (about a tablespoon) over the roasted peppers (seasoning with salt and pepper to taste) and set the rest aside until ready to make the salad.

To make the salad, place the beans, marinated peppers, red onion and parsley in a bowl and toss to combine.  Drizzle with enough of the vinaigrette to coat all of the components generously.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  The salad may be served immediately as is, or it may be chilled.

To plate, arrange the eggplant on a platter (or individual plates) and spoon some of the vinaigrette over.  Drizzle/dollop some of the pesto sparingly over the dressed eggplant.  Mound the pepper and bean salad attractively over the eggplant, allowing the eggplant to show around the edges of the platter/plates.  Spoon a little more pesto over the bean salad and serve.

Salad may be served at room temperature or chilled.  Serves four as a light vegetarian entrée...more as a side dish.

Note:  You may use any fresh shell bean or Southern pea that you prefer for this dish.  If you don't have access to fresh shell beans, canned chickpeas make a delicious substitution.  You will need 1 can...drained and rinsed...for this recipe.  

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