Sometimes an idea occurs to me that seems quite impressive. Then I run it by the kids. In no time at all, they make it clear that my clever notion is a dud, and moreover, that I may have lost my bearings completely. Who was I to think I could discriminate between things that are worthwhile and things that are not?
In other words, it’s time for them to go back to school.
But here it is only July, and as long as they are still at home, how about we all benefit from their collective taste and wisdom? This week’s recipe is something I scraped together one night when I didn’t have quite enough of any one thing to make a meal — one roasted pepper and the first two zucchinis and a handful of cherry tomatoes from the garden — and the weather was too miserably hot and humid to turn on the stove for even a minute. In my head, I categorized it as the kind of dish that gets the job done, but not much more.
The family disagreed. One bite in, Henry said, “Mom, you have to do your next column on this.” The rest of them quickly signed on to that notion. I had already decided to write about something else, but, well … you are witnessing the outcome of that silly fantasy.
Many faiths preach surrender, whether to God, nature or fate. Control is an illusion, they say. You never had it anyway. OK, fine, I get it. Yet here we are emerging from a year and a half at the mercy of global forces beyond our control, so surely we can be forgiven for wanting to imagine ourselves back in the driver’s seat.
I therefore took charge of the dish my family had collectively determined to be the only worthwhile contender for this week’s column and tweaked it. For starters, the taste needed more balance. Roasted peppers are so piquant and full-flavored that they can dominate a dish, so I added sliced, grilled halloumi and garlic, oregano and thyme to give them something to contend with.
Also, the textures were off. Summer squash ribbons are incredibly easy to make — all you need is a vegetable peeler and a couple of very young zucchini or yellow squash. But their window of perfection is fairly brief. Freshly made, they have the delightful, slippery toothsomeness of homemade pappardelle, and a mild flavor that supports savory toppings just as noodles do. But they go from crisp to flaccid to soggy in about 20 minutes.
That might explain why “zucchini pappardelle” had trouble catching on in restaurants and delis. Some years back, raw foodies got excited about this no-cook vegetable lookalike for pasta, and the dish experienced a spillover 15 minutes of fame in mainstream gourmet cooking. But it never quite hit it big, I’m guessing because a zucchini ribbon that has sat around waiting to be served is not a joy to eat.
In the end, this is a dish that shines only when made at home and served right away. And that’s a goal that’s within our control. As for those offspring? “We are your creative muses!” said Dosi when I told him what I was writing about this week.
Sure. If you say so, kid.
Tangle of Squash Ribbons, Peppers, and Tomatoes with Grilled Halloumi
Serves 2 as a light main course or 4 to 6 as an appetizer
- 1 yellow or red bell pepper, or about ¾ cup jarred roasted peppers
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons best-quality, fruity olive oil, plus ordinary oil for grilling
- 1 small clove garlic, minced
- 1 dozen cherry tomatoes
- 8-ounce package halloumi
(Greek grilling cheese), or substitute ricotta salata or fresh mozzarella and skip Step 4
- 2 pounds small zucchini or summer squash, about 4 or 5
- 1 lemon, cut in half
- 2 teaspoons each fresh oregano and thyme leaves
If you’re using jarred peppers, jump to Step 2. If not, roast the pepper directly over the open flame of a gas stove, turning occasionally with tongs, until the skin is black all over and the pepper begins to soften, about 8 minutes. Transfer the pepper to a small heatproof bowl, cover with a lid or plate and allow to rest 15 minutes. When cool, rub and wipe off the charred skin with your fingers (this is messy; keep a damp towel close at hand).
Cut the pepper flesh into narrow strips and transfer to a large bowl. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil, a little salt and pepper, and the minced garlic.
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and add to the bowl with the peppers.
Slice the halloumi into ¼-inch slices. Heat a grill pan or skillet over medium heat. Coat with a skim of olive oil, and when the oil is hot, add the cheese and cook until golden or lightly charred, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a platter and set aside.
Wash the squash well, slice off each end, and, using a vegetable peeler or cheese slicer, slice lengthwise into long ribbons, rotating the squash as you go. If the core is very spongy or seedy, stop when you get to it.
Add the squash ribbons to the bowl with the peppers and tomatoes. Add another generous drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of the lemon, and salt and pepper. Toss gently, then taste for seasoning, adding more lemon, salt, or oil as needed. Tear or chop the herbs, sprinkle over the vegetables, and add to the platter with the halloumi. Serve at once, with lots of crusty bread on the side to sop up the juices.