I’ve just returned from a beach trip with my husband’s family. We had a really lovely time. Really. I can only think of one teensy complaint about the week (okay, two if I include the fact that my head is still peeling ): Jon’s family does not place any value in eating well. Allow me to paint the picture for you by highlighting some of the most memorable concoctions; buttered pop tarts, cheesy poofs (which would have been dipped in sour cream had it been available), and coffee sweetened with ice cream, artificial creamer AND sugar. This is no joke. This is real.
At the beginning of the trip I’m simply thinking of a nicely crusted piece of salmon or some flavorful chicken – by the end of the trip I am so desperate for a vegetable that I’m considering a handful of grass or that piece of seaweed I saw lying listlessly next to my beach towel. The reasons that we don’t just cook our own food at the beach condo are too complex to discuss, and I really don’t want to be obnoxiously pushy about the fact that we like to eat food and nourish our bodies. Already we are introduced as such, “This is my brother Jon and his wife Amanda. They’re healthy.” The second sentence is said in a more hushed, foreboding tone, kind of like when you’re announcing a family member that is a little slow, or, I don’t know, terminally ill.
The most amazing thing is that all of these wonderful family members that I truly adore do not weigh four hundred pounds. Miraculously they are all slim, trim and stunning; either a small miracle or a testimony to the influence of good genes.
I’m telling you all of this just so that you understand my desperate desire to eat something that grew from a seed and sprouted through the earth, something that was plucked from a vine or was once covered in dirt. These are my thoughts as I’m wandering through the market on Sunday, loving every minute of my reclaimed freedom of food choice. I planned to overload the menu with veg, while as usual, be thrifty and use all of my purchased ingredients. I knew I would have some extra arugula and decided to just grab a small assortment of vegetables to grill up and serve on top of the remaining greens. I’m so fortunate to be able to buy individual vegetables as opposed to a pre-packaged bunch; this is the beauty of the farmer’s market. So, I selected a zucchini, a summer squash, a few portabello mushroom caps and a red onion. Remembering the balsamic that I just brought back from Italy and a jar of roasted red peppers in my fridge, I think that this will be so easy to throw on the grill, taste amazing, and feed the screaming veggie monster that had yet to be satisfied.
I just finished my lunch, and what I thought was going to be a very simple preparation of grilled veggies on some
left over greens (I’ve done this before, you know), turned out to be a symphony of tangy, warm, toasty, flavorful, satisfying goodness. Oh yes. And to think that I was also eating on the cheap and nourishing my deprived body?! There is a God who loves me.
I’ve thrown this little menagerie together before, but a few minor tweaks really made it special. For starters, I used arugula instead of spinach. If you think arugula is bitter or strong or just plain gross, erase this notion from your brain immediately. Toss those greens in some lemon and good quality olive oil, get over it and enjoy. Pair them with something complementary like red onion or soppressata or cauliflower or tomato sauce. But I digress; the arugula that I tossed in lemon and olive oil as a bed for my grilled vegetables elevated the flavors of each vegetable, as did the pairing of lemon with the balsamic that I poured over my vegetables. (It also probably didn’t hurt that I used some balsamic from Italy…). What really added panache though was a little side bowl of whole milk ricotta cheese that I mixed with a smidge of grated fresh garlic and salt and pepper. Oooooooohhhh, a little bit of arugula, some portabello, a piece of onion and a little dollop of that pillowy cool ricotta, scented with the fresh garlic – heaven! Or maybe a little bit of arugula with some roasted red pepper and a piece of summer squash, and another little schmear of that glorious ricotta – perfection! The sweetness of the vinegar, the balancing sour of the lemon, the roasty flavor of the vegetables, the assertive flavor of our darling arugula, and the crown of that beautiful ricotta – a revelation! Each bite was chosen for a new combination of flavors, each one announced as the best so far.
Did I mention that this was also easy as pie? You could really go overboard and throw in some toasted flat bread or pour the greens and veggies over a nice little serving of quinoa or couscous. You could toss in some fresh herbs, like basil or thyme. You could grill some chicken alongside your veggies. (And speaking of grilling, you also must get one of those cast iron grill pans that go over two burners. It will change your life. It makes all of this so simple and quick to cook and clean.)
If I sound bossy here I do apologize; maybe it’s because I just spent a week trying to avoid buttered preservatives and sugar encapsulated in trans fat, forbidden to indulge my omnivorous desires for real food. This is hard for me. It makes me sassy when I’m back in control.
The recipe below is for two; very easy to adjust for any number of people. I do hope that you will recreate this meal immediately and enjoy every single unique bite as Jon and I just did. While you savor each little flavor explosion, meditate on the fact that you are capable of making this fabulous food, that your body is singing a chorus for all of this lovely veg, and that most likely what you put on your grill cost less that a box of cheesy poofs or a gallon of ice cream. Glory!
delicious grilled veggie and arugula salad with pillowy garlic scented ricotta
- one zucchini, sliced into half inch rounds
- two summer squash, sliced into half inch rounds
- one medium red onion, peeled and quartered
- two portobello mushroom caps, sliced into manageable chunks
- a few good quality jarred roasted red peppers
- a few generous handfuls of arugula, rinsed and dried
- one lemon
- about a quarter cup of balsamic vinegar
- extra virgin olive oil
- one half clove of garlic, grated or pushed through a press
- a few tablespoons of whole milk ricotta
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- toss squash, zucchini, shrooms and peppers in a mixture of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper, and add them to a well oiled grill pan over medium heat, about 4 minutes per side or until desired doneness
- meanwhile, toss the arugula with a dressing of salt and pepper, the juice of a fresh lemon and olive oil; lay on a platter or places
- add garlic to the ricotta and season with salt and pepper to taste; set aside in a little serving bowl
- top the arugula with the finished vegetables and gently toss so that arugula slightly wilts; serve with the ricotta on the side and enjoy every bite
You could really use any kind of mediterranean style vegetables that you like, including eggplants or artichoke hearts – this is a great way to use any left over vegetables.
While the ricotta cheese is a fantastic companion to the salad, parmesan or goat cheese or any other cheese may be a great accompaniment; I happened to have some extra ricotta in the fridge – get creative and use what you’ve got!