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Salad Days. 3 Ways to Salute Summer this Weekend: Grilled Watermelon with Feta, Balsamic and Mint, Tomato, Peach and Burrata Salad, Ina Garten’s Italian Seafood Salad

        I don’t know how we got to the last week of August so quickly. But it’s been a wonderful summer here and every chance we’ve gotten, we’ve enjoyed great salads all made, with few exceptions, with ingredients found within five miles of our house.  The Watermelons have been a particular draw.  Seedless wonders, they’ve made it into salads with tomatoes before.  But for a starter that’s truly unique, we’ve served rounds of grilled watermelon topped with the tang of crumbled, salty Feta cheese and laced with sweet Balsamic vinegar reduced to its essence.  We also discovered the joyous union of field-ripened tomatoes and local peaches.  Onto this paring we’ve added luscious creamy Buratta cheese and once again a drizzle of rich balsamic reduction.  Finally, it is virtually impossible to top Ina Garten’s Italian Seafood Salad. Aside from its mingling of fresh seafood—all of which, except for the shrimp, came from our bays and ocean—this salad is an inspired choice for any host.  You make the whole thing the night or morning before you serve it.  It then chills until lunch or dinnertime.   You’ll only be absent from your party for as long as it takes to retrieve it from the fridge.  “How easy is that?” as Ms. Garten would say.

First, the Grilled Watermelon with Feta, Balsamic and Mint.  I love the children’s editions of adult food shows.  I was particularly intrigued by one series that featured a group of young contestants grilling everything in sight.  It was there that I saw a young girl produce a close facsimile to today’s Watermelon Salad.  I was so impressed; I introduced the idea to a skeptical Andrew.  He was leery until the first bite at which point he became not only a convert but also a maker of the salad.   Summer reading for me always includes a cookbook or ten. So you can imagine my surprise to discover that my little contestant’s Watermelon effort was a recipe from Patricia Wells’ “The French Kitchen Cookbook” (William Morrow 2013).  Ms. Well’s version was a little more elegant than my young friend’s but you have to give points to an eleven year old who knows who Patricia Wells even is.

I wait all summer for field-ripened tomatoes.   Despite the fact that our farm stand showcases extraordinarily large hothouse tomatoes from their Memorial Day opening on, there is nothing like the real thing.  Since our summer has been very sunny, this year’s crop is sweeter, redder and juicier than ever.  Local peaches take almost as long to come to market as the tomatoes.   This year, several parings of tomatoes with peaches intrigued us.  The acidity of the tomato is a great counterbalance to the sweet peaches.   So we borrowed the combination and added our own flourishes.  Buratta has supplanted Mozzarella as our cheese of choice this summer. Its creamy liquid center is irresistible.  A chiffonade of basil brings the salad color and that heavenly scent of the herb.  And can we be forgiven  for yet another drizzle of balsamic reduction?

         Finally there’s Ina’s salad. We first showcased it in 2013.  I include it here because it is well worth repeating.  I can’t think of anything better to take to a Labor Day picnic or to serve at your table at the Hampton Classic.  So off we go to the recipes.

Recipe for Ina Garten’s Italian Seafood Salad
Ina Garten is no stranger to this blog.  We love the simplicity of everything she makes and this is no exception.  From her latest cookbook “Foolproof” (Clarkson Potter 2012), it’s her take on an Italian restaurant stand-by.  But it’s a complete original full of lemon-y sauce magnified by the addition of Limoncello liqueur to give it even more lemon-y punch.  The seafood in this dish cooks in no time.  This short cooking time is essential to maintain its delicacy, otherwise you will find yourself with rubbery shrimp and tough squid. The best thing to do is to have absolutely everything lined up and ready to go before you start.  And that also applies to the sauce.  This fragrant mix of garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes is full of diced tomatoes, lemon zest and juice. The addition of a splash of the cooking liquid boosts the seafood flavor even higher.  All the ingredients go into a skillet in short order so have them lined up and ready to go too.  The last ingredient into the mix is the thinly sliced fennel which adds a licorice crunch to the salad.  We served the dish for dinner with only one accompaniment: French bread dripping in garlic butter and I do mean dripping.  It was the perfect counterpoint to the lemon-y salad.
Here’s the recipe:



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