In the beginning was the rice. Every summer, as punctual as the cicadas, the bike races in the countryside at sunset and the scent of lime trees, it would come the time of rice salads. Grandma and mum would squeeze huge white ceramic bowls of rice salad in the fridge at least twice a week. The rice was cooked al dente, drained and cooled under tap water, then collected in a bowl and drizzled with some olive oil.
They would add vegetables preserved in oil, pickles, capers, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, tuna, würstel and olives. We were in the roaring Eighties. Jackets with shoulder pads and backcombed hair were a smash hit along with mayonnaise, which was stirred in at the end, by the spoonful.
With the evolution of fashion, music and my favourite readings, even the quintessential summer salads changed appearance and texture. A few years ago farro appeared and stole the limelight from rice, thanks to its delightful chewy texture and pleasant nutty taste. Even the dressing evolved into something lighter: forget würstel and pickles, vegetables took over, accompanied by pesto, cherry tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil.
The evolutions of summer salads did not end there, though. This is the year of whole grains, barley and oats, tossed with sautéed vegetables, black olives and fresh basil. As for the vegetables, I am faithful to my summer sacred triad: eggplants, zucchini and tomatoes, a recurring presence in every meal, under the most varied forms – baked, grilled or sautéed.
Here we are to the second recipe for Lagostina, with Lavinia Wok, a new non-stick range. Cooking the vegetables for this whole barley salad, I used just a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil: eggplants, zucchini and tomatoes cooked down quickly and easily, becoming the ideal seasoning along with a few handfuls of black olives.
Whole barley salad with sautéed vegetables
Whole grain barley has a rustic and almost crunchy texture, the base for an infinite variety of summer salads. Toss the barley with sautéed eggplants, zucchini and tomatoes, add a handful of black olives and tear in some fresh basil leaves. Drizzle with your best extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with dried oregano. Make it in advance, stash your barley salad in the fridge for a quick weeknight dinner or bring it to the next bbq.
You can serve this barley salad cold, at room temperature or slightly warm, decide accordingly t0 the temperature of the day you have to deal with. Add the vegetables that you prefer, but also pan-fried shrimps, tuna or mackerel, a seed and rocket pesto or the classic basil pesto. But, trust me, avoid mayonnaise, it not only sounds too Eighties but would also cover the pleasantly rustic taste of barley.
Whole grain barley salad with summer vegetables
- 200 g of whole grain barley
- 2 medium zucchini
- 1 eggplant
- 6 cherry tomatoes
- 1 clove of garlic
- 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of pitted black olives
- Dried oregano
- Fresh basil
- Soak the whole grain barley overnight.
- Rinse the barley under running water, collect it in a pot and cover with water: use a quantity of water equal to six times its volume. Cook the barley on low flame for about an hour and a half, until it is soft, but still al dente. Drain and cool under running water.
- Dice the eggplant, the zucchini and the cherry tomatoes and add them into a pan with extra virgin olive oil, a crushed clove of garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook the vegetables over medium heat, stirring often, until they soft, golden and well cooked.
- Now add the barley, the sliced pitted olives and a sprinkle of dried oregano, toss and season with salt. Garnish with fresh basil and serve warm.
Now is your turn. Which is your favourite summer salad? Do you prefer white rice or maybe brown or black rice? Have you ever tried whole grain barley? And what about other ingredients to toss into your salad? Are you playing it safe or are you more adventurous? I’d be curious to know what you usually stash in your fridge for easy weeknight dinners or as a fresh barbecue dish!
- Learn more about barley here, here and here. Did you know that the barley is the root of the English measurement system?
- Squash & barley salad with balsamic vinaigrette, from BBC Good Food. A flavour-packed, unusual salad that’s delicious warm or cold – works really well as part of a buffet.
- Grilled vegetable and barley salad, a hearty salad, seasoned with cumin and chiles, and tossed with grilled vegetables, feta, and pistachios.
- Ratatouille barley salad. Keep it easy, that’s the best thing about this salad.
- Barley salad With Broccoli, Grilled Peppers and Black Olives, by Ilva.