After all, it's summer

A casual, carefree approach is the essence of the season

peach salad (photo credit: MCT)
peach salad
(photo credit: MCT)
Ah, July, the season of garden parties, summer fetes and cozy picnics.
Whether it’s a lavish spread or a simple meal, a party is just the ticket to rouse us from summer’s lazy heat. If only we had the energy to, you know, cook something.
The trick, say some caterers, is to make do-ahead salads that showcase the season so spectacularly your main course can take a back seat. Fortunately, by committing to fresh, local produce you will be serving food so fabulous it needs no heavy dressings and sauces.
MIXED GREEN SALAD WITH FRESH PEACHES, BASIL AND CHEVRE
Serves 4
Homemade vinaigrette:
✔ 1 small shallot, sliced
✔ 1 garlic clove, sliced
✔ 3 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
✔ 1⁄2 tsp. Dijon mustard
✔ 1⁄2 tsp. honey
✔ Salt and pepper to taste
✔ 1⁄2 cup 50-50 olive oil/canola oil blend
Salad:
✔ 8 cups greens
✔ 3 peaches, sliced
✔ 1⁄2 bunch whole basil sprigs
✔ 1⁄4 cup toasted pine nuts
✔ 1⁄2 cup white hard goat cheese, crumbled
Place all the vinaigrette ingredients except the oil in a blender and puree. Drizzle in the oil to blend.
Place the salad ingredients into a large salad bowl and drizzle lightly with the vinaigrette.
PEACHES, PARMESAN AND ARUGULA
Serves 6
✔ 3 ripe peaches
✔ 1⁄2 cup basil puree (see below)
✔ 1 cup shaved Parmesan
✔ 2 handfuls wild arugula, washed
✔ 2 Tbsp. olive oil
✔ Salt to taste
Basil puree:
✔ 1 bunch basil
✔ 2 Tbsp. toasted pine nuts
✔ 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan
✔ 1⁄4 cup olive oil
To make the basil puree, first bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Remove stems from the basil, then plunge the leaves into the boiling salted water for 8 seconds, remove immediately and shock in ice water. (This helps set the color.) Squeeze excess water from basil and chop into smaller pieces.
Place the basil in a blender with the nuts and cheese. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in enough olive oil to get a smooth puree.
To assemble the salad, first quarter the peaches. Pool a spoonful or two of the puree on a plate. Arrange 3 wedges of peach upright on the puree. Rest a few cheese shavings over the peaches.
Gently toss the arugula with olive oil and a pinch of salt, and arrange it decoratively over the Parmesan.

VARIATION ON A CAESAR
Serves 6
NOTE: You can make your own croutons by tossing cubed bread with a generous amount of melted garlic butter. Bake them at 180ºC for about 10 minutes.
Caesar Vinaigrette:
✔ 1 tsp. finely chopped lemon zest
✔ 5 Tbsp. lemon juice
✔ 1⁄2 tsp. salt
✔ 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
✔ 1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salad:
✔ 4 heads romaine lettuce hearts
✔ 2⁄3 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
✔ 1 cup homemade or store-bought croutons, or more if desired
Combine the lemon zest, juice, salt and garlic in a small bowl. Whisk in the oil.
Wash lettuce and either spin dry or wrap in lint free towels. Refrigerate for 4 hours.
Tear lettuce into bite-sized pieces and place in large salad bowl. Toss with vinaigrette, croutons and cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Plate salad and top with a little more shaved cheese.
Contra Costa Times (MCT)