I needed a green detox after cookout fever this holiday weekend. I found myself stationed at the grill this 4th of July, where one after another, people lined up to give me things to char: chicken wings, sausages, lamb chops, chicken breasts, hamburgers, hot dogs, kabobs. Thank goodness it was overcast and not very hot that day. I also managed to grill some zucchini and eggplant, but didn’t get a chance to snag any while tending the flames. The chops were much more hand-held friendly; I got a few good bites of that (thanks, Aaron). But gee, I’m feeling the burn–of too many meaty calories.
It’s full-on veggie week for me now. Fortunately, the Saturday farmers’ market was brimming with bright, new installments of ones I love. Snappy green beans? Please come home with me. Canary-yellow squashes so fresh that they squeak? Me first. I was in heaven for the meat-hungover (or otherwise hungover, indeed).
Maybe I still didn’t shake the grillmaster out of me, though, because my instinct for the green beans and summer squashes was to give them a nice, crisp, tasty char.
You can do this at home, by getting a basic pan so hot the oil smokes and jumps around in it. A few seconds of contact with that, and green beans are easily “charred,” even if they’ve never touched the fire. As for the summer squashes, I wanted juicy, fleshy chunks with that char, rather than having those sad, soggy seed pocket middles that turn mushy whether grilling them or pan-searing them in slices.
So I cut the squash much like how my mom would cut an Asian eggplant: in irregular wedges by turning the vegetable as you cut along its length. I recently learned that this is called “roll cutting.” Try to imagine sharpening a pencil, by taking off largeish chunks. This avoids pieces with too much of the seed pocket and creates sort of rustic shapes.
Then I ripped apart a ball of mozzarella a bit by hand, pulling it into sort-of shreds. This was marinated in some extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and black pepper for a short while. The green beans were kept whole, save for their stems. I recommend eating this salad with chopsticks; it seemed to work well for me.
One type of vegetable took its turn on the smoking-hot pan followed by the other, and for the last few seconds of cooking the second one (the squash), I threw in some coarsely chopped garlic, so that it wouldn’t burn. The key is to keep both the green beans and summer squashes nice and crisp-tender, especially if you’re using really fresh, firm ones like you can get now in early summer. The searing (or “charring”) will just soften their edges, while they absorb salt and slightly burnt flavor. Let it cool down a few minutes before you toss everything together, along with a handful of torn basil leaves.
That’s really it. Who needs dressing when you can build in some extra, smoky flavor for the components? Add a touch more olive oil and maybe a splash of balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice for finishing if you disagree. I think there’s something comforting about simple food prepared really sloppily, in big, chunky pieces–especially when you need a veggie fix.
Charred Green Beans and Summer Squash with Fresh Mozzarella and Basil
(makes 2-3 servings)
1/2 lb green beans, stems trimmed
1 medium-large zucchini or summer squash
4-6 oz. fresh mozzarella
1 large clove garlic, coarsely chopped
3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
handful fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Gently rip the mozzarella into chunks or pieces about 1/2″ in size. Toss with one tablespoon of the olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside.
Trim the ends from the zucchini. Cut off a piece diagonally about 1/2″ away from its tip, and turn the zucchini to cut another wedge, about 1/2″ in length, diagonally away from its end. Continue turning the zucchini lengthwise and cutting wedges of roughly equal size. Set aside.
Heat a skillet with a tablespoon of the oil over high heat. Let it heat up until the oil begins to shimmer and smoke a little. Add the green beans and spread in a single layer. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Turn the pieces after a few moments, or until the undersides have developed a slight char. Continue cooking, stirring, about 30 seconds to char all over, and transfer the beans to a dish. In the same pan, add another tablespoon of olive oil. Add the squashes and spread in an even layer. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Let cook about 20 seconds before turning the pieces, or until the undersides have browned a little. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, about 1 minute, adding the chopped garlic for the last 10 seconds of cooking. Transfer to a dish and let cool a few minutes.
Once the vegetables are only slightly warm or room-temperature, toss with the marinated mozzarella and torn basil. Arrange on serving dishes and finish with another drizzle of olive oil if desired (and/or drizzle with balsamic vinegar if desired). Enjoy immediately.
(for 2-3 servings)
1/2 lb green beans: $2.00
1 summer squash (at $2.50/lb): $1.25
4 oz fresh mozzarella: $3.00
4 tablespoons olive oil: $0.50
handful basil leaves (from houseplant): $0.25
1 clove garlic, salt, pepper: $0.15
Four brownie points: It’s vegetarian, but not vegan. That’s thanks to the mozzarella (which I suppose you could leave out, but why?). I think these creamy, mild curds add delicious contrast to the salad, but they also add some fats (and calcium). Green beans, especially when lightly cooked, will fortify you with Vitamin K, Vitamin C, b-Vitamins, protein, fiber, and even more calcium. They even have omega-3 fats. The squash, too, adds many of those vitamins and minerals to the profile, including potassium, and don’t forget all that fresh basil.
Eight brownie points: Olive oil may be a key player in this salad, and it isn’t produced locally. But the rest of the ingredients were–fresh veggies, house-made store-bought mozzarella, and that basil again, from the houseplants.