LOST ITALIAN: Garden-fresh veggies inspire salad
FARGO — This week's recipe is inspired by what we are currently harvesting in our vegetable garden, or more appropriately, Gio's vegetable garden. Our soon-to-be teenage son has spent the summer lovingly tending his garden, which is now coming into August abundance with a bounty of sweet yellow onions, green bell peppers, mouth-watering tomatoes and a crazy amount of cucumbers. We've combined these garden-fresh ingredients with red kidney beans for protein and a zesty red wine and oregano vinaigrette to create our August Abundance Salad.
With almost all its components coming straight from the garden, this salad boasts a delightfully homegrown fragrance and fresh flavors that just can't be replicated from mass-produced produce.
This is a rustic salad, with veggies roughly chopped into one-inch pieces, but not uniform in appearance. The measurements in our recipe are simple guidelines and can be altered to suit your personal taste.
Our cucumber plant is a prolific producer, yielding cukes that are fabulously crisp and sweet, and approximately eight to ten inches long. Whereas store-bought cucumbers are often coated in paraffin and must be peeled (except for the mini or English varieties), homegrown cucumbers tend to have peels that are sweet and tender. We recommend tasting the peel first and removing it only if it has a bitter flavor. For a pleasing presentation, use a fork, paring knife or vegetable peeler to score the peel, thus creating a striped effect.
Green bell peppers are in full harvest-mode in our garden, but any color would work for this salad. When using bell peppers in a salad, especially a rustic one like this, be sure to include the good parts from the top portion, or save the tops for use in another salad.
Sweet yellow onions have just become ready for picking, and the one in this salad was small-to-medium in size. Our tomato bounty is finally arriving, and we chose a large, red Cannonball tomato to bring a wonderful burst of bright color and flavor to the dish.
North Dakota is the United States' largest producer of dry edible beans, and we love to incorporate them into salads whenever possible. Red kidney beans are a great fit for this dish, and bring a lovely contrast in both color and texture to the fresh vegetables.
This August salad is rounded out with simple red wine vinaigrette that is enhanced by the addition of fresh oregano. If you don't have fresh on hand, a ¼-teaspoon of dried oregano may be substituted.
Getting kids involved in gardening is a terrific way to introduce them to where their food comes from, especially for children who aren't raised in a rural setting. And a wonderful side-effect that we've noticed is how much more motivated Gio is to try a vegetable that he's grown himself. This is a win-win scenario for all involved, as there are few pleasures in life more enjoyable than eating freshly picked food from a garden you've created with your kids.
August Abundance Salad
Serves 6 to 10
1 large cucumber or 2 medium cucumbers, cut into ¼-inch rounds and then quartered
1 small yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 large green pepper, roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 large tomato, roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed well
Red Wine Oregano Vinaigrette ingredients
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves or ¼ teaspoon dried oregano (more if needed)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
For a pretty presentation, use a fork, knife or vegetable peeler to score the cucumber peel to create a striped effect. Next, cut the cucumber in half and if the seeds appear watery or prolific, remove them. Cut the cucumber into ¼-inch rounds, then cut each round into quarters.
For the vinaigrette, combine all ingredients in a small bowl or measuring cup and whisk vigorously until emulsified.
Place all of the salad ingredients in a large mixing bowl, then cover with all of the dressing. Toss lightly until combined, then taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Serve immediately or store in refrigerator for up to two days.