Salad Season

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story and food styling By Joy Howard, Photo by Dominic Perri

When summer arrives, there are few things I crave more than simple, effortless food. Spaghetti smothered with a fresh batch of basil pesto, pan-fried zucchini fritters, or barbecued anything. My family has a long list of favorites that we return to throughout the season, but the one repeat meal you’ll find most frequently on the table is salad.

For us, salads are quintessential summer dinner not only because the main ingredients are at their most delicious and abundant, but also because of how each heaping bowl comes together. Some of our go-to versions require little or no cooking (a real boon for a hot summer day!), readily lend themselves to improvisation, and—if you have anyone in the house like my 6-year-old—provide a great outlet for the food-chopping obsessed. With a supply of freshly plucked greens for the base, you don’t need much to make a satisfying meal—a simple homemade vinaigrette, herby roasted veggies, a grilled portion of fish, or a scattering of crumbled goat cheese. Just like the best summer days, a good salad is easygoing and filled with possibility!

I came up with this simple version during a weekend visit to a friend’s house last summer. I’d brought along a bag of my favorite salad greens and some local strawberries—two of the most delicious things I could find at the farmers’ market. I hadn’t put much thought into how I’d use them to make a meal, but the resulting salad, improvised with what I brought and what I could find in her fridge—has become one of my all-time favorites. Aside from the irresistible homemade strawberry vinaigrette, the star here is the salad greens. You can use your favorite, but I highly recommend seeking out the best, which, locally, means the salad mix at Old Friends Farm in Amherst. It’s a blend of flavorful baby greens that includes spicy leaves, and is well worth the effort of seeking out. (It’s the only salad my family eats from May to November.) If you don’t feel like cranking up the oven, try adding 1 or 2 cups of shredded raw beets in place of the roasted potatoes.

Summer berry salad with chicken, herbed potatoes, and goat cheese

For the potatoes

1 pound baby potatoes, halved

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

⅛ teaspoon pepper

For the dressing

⅓ cup chopped strawberries

Half a large shallot, cut into chunks

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup white balsamic vinegar

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt

⅛ teaspoon pepper

For the salad

1 (5- to 8-ounce) bag or carton mixed salad greens

4–6 large strawberries, sliced

⅓ cup chopped walnuts

1 rotisserie chicken, sliced

¼ cup crumbled goat cheese

Heat the oven to 425°. In a small bowl, toss together the ingredients for the potatoes. Spread the potatoes onto a baking sheet and bake until the potatoes are tender and lightly browned, flipping halfway through, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl. With an immersion blender, purée the ingredients until smooth. 

In a large bowl, toss together the strawberries, walnuts, and ⅓ of the prepared dressing. Taste and add more dressing if desired. Divide the salad among 4 to 6 bowls, top each with chicken and goat cheese, and then tuck a portion of potatoes on the side.