Y’all. I’m so excited! We’re going to have a wedding! Yes! A wedding! My niece, Elizabeth, the daughter of my sister, Cynthia, (you know! Remember on Cynthia’s birthday a few years back I wrote the recipe for Key Lime Pound Cake with Key Lime Cream Cheese Icing? Yes, her.). Well, anyway, Elizabeth is engaged. Her darling boyfriend, Jinal, proposed to her about a week ago on the way to dinner in San Francisco where they both live and the whole family is beyond thrilled. They were good friends before falling in love, having met in graduate school, and have a most solid foundation for their relationship. I’m not losing a niece… not at all… I’m gaining another boy to spoil. So, in their honor, I put together some of their favorite foods and came up with this brilliant dish. Elizabeth and Jinal are not big beef people so I aimed for a salad that would be happy crowned with a filet of dolphin or several shrimp in addition to being a salad good enough to stand up alone and on its own. And it is. This salad a true flavor bomb, mixing bright, clean herbs such as mint and parsley with satisfying bulgur wheat and chick peas. Sheep’s milk feta, red onion and pistachios add to the salad’s savory aspect while a sizeable amount of chopped cucumber amplifies the crunch factor. This is a super salad to serve as an entrée or a side. It’s great for parties as it feeds a crowd and is muy good-looking mounded on a platter. The salad is easily refreshed a day or two later with a few spritzes of fresh lemon juice and a quick toss. It’s cooling meal and a snap to put together when you’re fighting the heat of summer as well as substantial in cold weather when you want a salad with a bit of heft. Salad girls know you can’t live on romaine leaves alone. A pint of grape tomatoes halved are a lovely addition to this salad as are a handful of pomegranate seeds. I’ve also added about 1/2 cup roughly chopped Greek olives for a “meatier” dinner. Play around with this thing. It’s a no-fail!
Saturday was boiling hot. The “Real Feel” temperature when I left to work out was 108°. It was not a day for baking or watching over bubbling pots on the stove. No, something cool and pretty for dinner was in order and while dinner was being assembled one hand needed to be occupied with a cold summer cocktail. I didn’t want anything processed…y’all know that ain’t me, babe. I wanted something cool and easy but substantial and rich in flavor. I had almost all the ingredients on hand and most were already prepared. Lemons, shelled pistachios, fresh thyme, garlic and whole grain bread are always to be found in my kitchen. There’s about a 95% chance you’ll almost always find fig preserves in my refrigerator. The only thing I had to prepare was the ricotta. For lasagne I’ll buy store-bought but for a dish more delicate I make my own. I want the ricotta to sing with freshness AND it’s easier than getting in the car and driving to and from the store. Here’s my summer secret. It’s made in the microwave. Isn’t that great? No hot kitchen. I’m going to post the recipe for homemade ricotta below but before I do let me tell you how I served it. Lightly toast your bread and let it cool to room temperature. Run a peeled clove of fresh garlic over the top side of each piece. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over each, slather each slice with a thick coating of ricotta and cut into serving sized hunks. This is where they became different. On some I lightly pressed in shelled, salted, roughly chopped pistachios. Over that I sprinkled fresh thyme leaves and a bit of fresh lemon zest. Oh, man. They were divine. On the others, over the ricotta, I spread a layer of caramelized onions, (I try to always have a jar in the refrigerator), a generous dollop of store-bought fig preserves and a light scattering of lemon zest. These were served on a large tray with juicy slices of peaches each wrapped with a pretty ribbon of domestic prosciutto. Oh my gosh, the sweet and salty of it all. It doesn’t get much easier. It’s a meal that’s light but satisfying and pleasing to the eye. If you make your ricotta on Thursday or Friday you’re really ahead of the game. So go ahead, pour that second drink and get back in the pool. It’s hot!