During the summer, my cooking takes a noticeable shift. I put traditional composed dishes — like, say, a lasagna or roast chicken with potatoes — on the back burner in favor of one-bowl vegetable grab-bags to eat all the peak-summer produce I can get my hands on. This salad is one of those dishes, and I'll eat it over and over until the vegetables vanish from the markets.
Okra is my favorite vegetable, summertime or not, and it's teeming in farmers markets now. Fresh corn is a close second, its sweetness there to balance the okra's verdancy. In California, mild, floral Jimmy Nardello peppers are a rare treat at this time of year; when I see them in the market, I buy a giant handful of the spindly, twisted chiles. And then, of course, we now have the best heirloom tomatoes, as soft as water balloons and begging to be eaten like apples while their juice bleeds down your arm.
To transform them into dinner, I arrange thin wedges of those tomatoes on a platter and sprinkle them with sea salt and pepper to help draw out their moisture and season them deeply while I get on with cooking the rest of the ingredients. The okra, peppers and corn each get their turn in the skillet, stir-fried with a little olive oil until lightly blistered and tender. Some crisped spicy Italian sausage — full of chile heat and fennel seeds — adds meaty heft to the vegetables, while their rendered fat mingles with apple cider vinegar and minced garlic to tie the whole dish together.
A scattering of basil leaves dresses up the dish and announces that this is dinner, which, for the next few weeks, means a confetti bowl of the best ingredients summer has to offer.
CHARRED OKRA AND CORN SALAD WITH SPICY SAUSAGE VINAIGRETTE
Time: 40 minutes
Yields: Serves 2 to 4
This dish is fantastic hot, but it still tastes great after a couple hours sitting at room temperature. The heat and spices in the sausage add a ton of flavor to the sweet corn, peppers and green, toothsome okra. Use the ripest tomato you can find for the best flavor. And if you like, add chunks of mozzarella, feta or goat cheese to the salad at the end before serving.
- 1 large heirloom or vine-ripe tomato (about 12 ounces), cored
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 almond-size garlic clove, minced
- 8 ounces spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
- 3 tablespoons everyday olive oil
- 8 Jimmy Nardello peppers (4 ounces), stemmed and torn into strips lengthwise (see Ingredient Note, below, for substitutions)
- 8 ounces okra, split lengthwise
- 1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (from 3 to 4 ears)
- Granulated sugar (optional)
- Flaky sea salt
Torn basil or flat-leaf parsley leaves, to garnish
1. Cut the tomato into half-inch-thick wedges or slices and arrange them evenly over the bottom of a large serving platter. Season the tomatoes with salt and black pepper. In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar and garlic.
2. Crumble the sausage into a large nonstick skillet, then place over medium heat. Once the sausage starts sizzling, continue cooking, stirring occasionally and breaking up the crumbles as you go, until deeply golden brown and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Using a wooden spoon or heat-proof silicone spatula, scrape the sausage and its fat into a large bowl.
3. Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the peppers, season with salt and black pepper and cook, in a single layer and undisturbed, until lightly blistered on one side, about 2 minutes. Toss the peppers and cook, undisturbed, until blistered all over and just tender, 1 to 2 minutes more. Scrape the peppers into the bowl and leave them on top of the sausage.
4. Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the okra to the skillet, season with salt and black pepper and cook, using tongs to arrange each piece cut side down as much as you can (this helps rid them of their slimy texture, but don't sweat over it), until charred on one side, 3 to 4 minutes. Toss the okra in the skillet and continue cooking until lightly charred on the other side and just tender, 3 to 4 minutes more. Scrape the okra into the bowl and leave it on top of the peppers.
5. Return the skillet to medium heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the corn, season with salt and black pepper, and sugar if using, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Scrape the corn into the bowl, add the vinegar-garlic mixture and toss everything together while warm.
6. Immediately spoon the salad over the tomatoes in an even layer. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and more black pepper. Garnish with basil just before serving.
If you have bacon, use 6 strips, cooked and crumbled, in place of the sausage. If there are leftovers, sandwich with queso Oaxaca or mozzarella between tortillas for quesadillas. Want to make this vegan? Use vegan meat substitutes like Beyond Meat spicy Italian sausage, soyrizo or cooked, crumbled extra-firm tofu. Or omit the meat altogether and replace it with diced avocado.
Jimmy Nardello peppers are long, finger-like red peppers that are mild and floral with no heat. They're available in farmers markets in California in late July through the end of August and in some specialty grocery stores. Search them out at your local market or at Melissas.com for this recipe. But if you can't find them, you can use Italian red frying peppers, but even those are difficult to find fresh outside of Italy. Instead, use half the amount of long red finger chiles, like the kind you find at Indian grocery stores, or Fresno chiles; know that these will be much spicier than Jimmy Nardello peppers, so be fastidious about removing their seeds, unless you love lots of heat. You can use regular red bell peppers if you like, but they will be much sweeter than Jimmy Nardello peppers.
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