Friday, October 24, 2014

Listing to Normal
What's cooking? Herbed Salad with Squash Ribbons

Back when I was working full-time, a friend from the HR department walked into my office and told me about a new program his department was sponsoring for employees, to introduce them to the Franklin Daytimers organizing system.

“Sounds interesting,” I said.

“Yes,” he said as he began collecting the Post-Its from here and there around my desk. “And I’ve enrolled you in the first class.”

You know, I think of myself as an organized person. I array my spices in alphabetical order and my sprinkles on the color spectrum; I organize my recipes in files labeled for “Appetizers,” “Desserts,” “Soups and Sauces,” etc. And my kitchen drawers are, well, neat. So I feel like I’ve got a handle on my life. Then I look around my office. (Don’t hope for a photo here – you don’t really think I’d let you look around my office, do you?)

The main point of the Franklin system was to start each day by listing the tasks you wanted to accomplish that day, noting on each its level of importance, and then numbering them in the order you needed to get them done. It was a great system, and it served me well until I stopped working for that company, and shortly thereafter, I fell off the wagon, so to speak. The one piece that carried over is the lists. Not that daily list of what to do and the order thereof – although I have that, sort of – now I also have the secondary list of  possible blog topics, the list of ingredients for something I can’t quite recall, the list of ideas for Christmas gifts, and, of course, the list of what to buy at the grocery store, along with the separate shopping list for Penzey’s (spice store). Among others. Some of my lists have their own sub-lists.

I was feeling kind of bad about all this list-making, until a couple of years ago when the Morgan Library in NYC held a special exhibit on lists – documents (mostly by artists) from the archives of the Smithsonian. What fun! It turns out that all the world makes lists. From Arturo Rodriguez (artist), a list of his paintbrushes with drawings of each; from Adolf Konrad (another artist), a pictorial list of what to pack for a trip, with each item – down to the socks – carefully illustrated; a letter from H.L. Mencken listing 29 personal facts for a profile another writer was doing on him; from the artist Janice Lowry, a list of 50 Angry Grievances which included “No rain” and “George Bush”; and a list by Picasso of artists proposed for a show.

Lists are a natural part of cooking – lists of ingredients, lists of steps to take. For a party we used to hold each year, I have spreadsheets (!) with lists of what worked the previous year and what didn’t, the serving dishes to use for each hors d’oeuvre, and where to find the recipes I used. So at least the Kitchen Goddess is organized!


From the various cooking and food-related magazines I get, I’ve noticed that, in spite of the change in seasons, salads seem to be popping up everywhere. I don’t know why that is, but I like to seize a trend at the outset. Then on a podcast of America’s Test Kitchen radio show, they featured Yotam Ottolenghi, the Israeli-born chef and cookbook author. As he talked about how he enjoys mixing textures and flavors, he moved into a discussion of... yes, salads.

“When I visit my parents outside Jerusalem,” said Ottolenghi, “you see how herbs grow – so easily and so wonderfully, just as well any other leaf... Why can I not have a salad that is just plainly tons of parsley, tons of basil, cilantro, a bit of tarragon and some chervil? Have that as the main thing, rather than dressing a salad with just a bit of herb. It seems so fresh and so right.”

Well, I liked that idea, and I remembered herb-centric salads from two of my favorite new cookbooks: A16: Food + Wine, from the San Francisco restaurant, A16, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s latest, Home Cooking with Jean-Georges. Both salads also used squash ribbons, which I’d been dying to try. My own version turned out really well, and the salting/rinsing process with the squash ribbons gave them a smooth but crunchy texture I enjoyed – even into the next day with the leftovers. Fresh and lively, the salad is so much more interesting with the parsley and mint than I would ever have thought. By the way, I’d recommend looking for the smaller, tenderer Italian parsley; it’s lighter in color and less leathery in texture. The dressing couldn’t be simpler – who needs herbs in the dressing when you’ve got herbs galore in the salad?

Kitchen Goddess note on the squash ribbons: You can make these with your vegetable peeler, but I prefer to use my Benriner mandoline. It’s more reliable for getting uniform thicknesses – also more dangerous, and you know how the KG loves danger. An option would be the Kyocera Adjustable Slicer with Guard ($21 at, which was awarded “best buy” in a comparison of kitchen slicers in Cook’s Illustrated magazine, so it’s probably less dangerous. The Benriner, which also has blades for julienning, is $22 at

Herbed Salad with Squash Ribbons

Serves 4-6 ... or 2 if you decide to make it lunch.

2 medium zucchini, 5-6 ounces each
1 medium yellow squash, 6-7 ounces
kosher salt
2-3 ounces baby arugula
2 ounces sunflower sprouts (use any hearty sprouts if you can’t find sunflower sprouts)
½ cup loosely packed fresh Italian parsley (leaves only), coarsely chopped
½ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
½-¾ cup Italian olives (I prefer Castelvetrano or Cerignola), pitted and sliced
1 large navel orange, peeled and segmented (optional -- I like it both ways)
freshly ground pepper
Garnish: shavings of aged Pecorino Romano cheese

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (use the best you have)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Trim then ends of the squash and, using either a vegetable peeler or a mandoline, slice them into ribbons no thicker than ⅛ inch. Put the slices into a bowl and toss well with 1 teaspoon salt, then place the slices in a colander set over the bowl and let them sit for 10 minutes. This process will cause the squash ribbons to wilt and soften as the salt leaches the water out.

Rinse the squash ribbons under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. The squash ribbons can be prepared to this point then layered between paper towels and stored in an air-tight baggie for several hours.

When you are ready to serve, place the arugula and sprouts in a large serving bowl, top with the squash ribbons, the parsley and mint, the olive slices, and the orange segments, if using. (You'll note the absence of orange segments in the photo. So shoot me.)

Combine the olive oil and lemon juice in a small bowl or jar and mix well. Toss the salad with the dressing, then taste for seasoning, adding salt if necessary. This salad will require less salt than usual because the squash ribbons have absorbed some salt and the olives are salty.

Arrange the salad for serving, making sure to distribute the olives evenly. Use a vegetable peeler to shave curls of pecorino on top and finish with fresh grinds of pepper.

Here's the salad before the pecorinoo curls -- a little easier to see.

Kitchen Goddess note: This salad is molto easy to serve at a dinner party. Prepare/store the squash ribbons as noted above, then measure out the other ingredients into separate baggies, and mix the dressing in a small jar. Assembling the salad then takes only a couple of minutes. And it’s very pretty, don’t you think?

1 comment:

  1. I remember that exhibit and that fun day with you! Thanks for reminding me. Great post, too.