It was Christmas, I was craving summer fruit and vegetables: a salad made with ripe tomatoes and balsamic basil leaves, crisp wedges of cold, sweet watermelon, fried eggplant cutlets oozing mozzarella. The market stalls were crammed with sweet fennel bulbs, broccoli and pumpkin, but I was waiting for the endless shades of red of sun ripened tomatoes.
It was the first day of winter when we discovered that there was a summer baby who was putting down roots inside me. Our family of four, two human beings and two adored rescued dogs, was about to expand, our life was about to change in unpredictable ways.
The first trimester was all about citrus fruits, ginger, garlic, anchovies and capers.
I was craving bold flavours, the waft of garlic frying in olive oil, bitter leaves, comforting soups. I had the chance to go swimming twice a week, releasing the first anxieties given by the unknown in the steady, slow rhythm of my strokes in the water. We discovered soon she was a baby girl, a summer baby girl, and I could give a name to my summer cravings with grown-up tastes.
With the second trimester, I started dreaming about croissants and cornetti italiani, pizza and sourdough bread.
If during the first three months I could not make a simple cake rise, not to mention a sourdough loaf, now I could bake again: bread, pizza and focaccia became a new staple. When we were finally ready to share the good news with the enlarged family, the whole Italy was put in lockdown, and it changed our life, and my pregnancy, in unexpected ways.
The lockdown definitely helped in keeping the pregnancy in an intimate and private dimension, as I barely exited the house, except for doctor visits, blood tests and my daily walks in the open countryside. We did miss that unique moment when you share the news in person with family and friends – the teary eyes, the congratulations, the hugs -. I missed the croissant and cappuccino at the café after my blood tests, or the pleasure of walking into a baby store and just dream about what she would look like with one of those tiny clothes.
But on the other side, this downtime gave us time, and space, to fully live the pregnancy.
I had lots of naps in the afternoon, we had long sleeping nights, we ate good food, cooked from scratch, on a daily basis, with tons of fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains and pulses.
We still kept ourselves busy with old and new projects – the blog, the podcast, the online virtual cooking classes -, but we had a new pace, focusing primarily on our wellbeing. Most importantly, we had time to think about our future, redefining our priorities, our business goals. We were not influenced by external imposed needs: I basically wore the same clothes up until the seventh month, when I was forced to buy a larger t-shirt, a loose dress and a two pairs of pregnancy leggings. That’s it.
We often wonder how this baby will change our lives.
I have to be honest, I don’t know. I’m scared and excited. Scared because our private life and business life are already coexisting in a fragile balance. Excited, because whenever we are hit by a storm, we find new resources, a fearless inspiration to evolve.
We’ll have to wait till the very end of August to meet her. This means facing the hottest months of the sultry Italian summer with an ever-expanding baby bump, swollen legs and short breath. For once, not having classes, both for the travel restrictions and for the advanced pregnancy, – which means not spending hours standing in the kitchen – looks like a blessing. This will leave room to more writing and podcasting, but also to planning her arrival into our lives, folding tiny clothes, painting her room, freezing nourishing food for the upcoming months and giving extra cuddles to our two dogs to prepare them for her, too.
Summer eggplant, cherry tomato and chickpea salad
I’ve been craving summer vegetables since Christmas. I’ve eaten my fair share of pale, tart tomatoes, frozen green beans and pesto in a jar to taste summer during the past months. Now that all I’ve been dreaming of is here, at my disposal, abundant on the market stalls, I make the most out of them, making sure to have at least two vegetable dishes in every meal.
I’ve been making this salad at least once a week, every time we had friends over for dinner, as you can prepare all the ingredients the day before, and assemble the salad just a few hours before you’re planning to serve it. Leftovers are great, too.
About the ingredients of this summer chickpea salad
You can add your favourite vegetables to this summer chickpea salad: not only slow roasted tomatoes and roasted eggplants, but also stewed bell peppers, zucchini sticks, chopped green beans, or even pickled vegetables, as fresh onions, beetroots and carrots.
I added also Taggiasche olives, which are among my favourites, but Kalamata olives would work as well, just as tiny capers, packed with flavour.
Should you start with dried chickpeas, make sure to soak them overnight. The next day, cook them for about 2 hours in a large pot, on the lowest flame, until soft. Use 250 g (1 ¼ cup) of dried chickpeas. Cannellini beans or borlotti beans would work as well.
Fresh mozzarella, either cow or buffalo, or diced fresh pecorino would be nice in this salad, too.
Use this summer chickpea salad as a blank canvas to turn the freshest seasonal vegetables into a wholesome meal.
Summer eggplant, cherry tomato and chickpea salad
To make the slow-roasted tomatoes
- 500 grams (1.1 lb) cherry tomatoes
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
To make the roasted eggplants
- 3 medium eggplants
- 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
To make the salad
- 750 grams (4 1/2 cups) chickpeas, already cooked
- 125 grams (2/3 cups) dried barley
- 2 tablespoons Taggiasche olives, pitted
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
- Extra virgin olive oil
- ½ lemon, juice
- Freshly ground black pepper
Make the slow roasted tomatoes.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (350 degrees F).
- Wash the tomatoes, cut them in half and place them on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and dried oregano. Roast in the oven for about 35 minutes. Spoon the tomatoes, with their sauce, into a jar or other airtight container and store in the fridge until ready to use.
Make the roasted eggplants.
- Preheat the oven to 210°C (425 degrees F).
- Cut the eggplants into sticks and collect them in a bowl. Dress them with extra virgin olive oil, salt, dried oregano and breadcrumbs. Toss them well, then distribute them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Roast in the oven for about 35-40 minutes, until golden brown. Set the eggplants aside until ready to use.
Assemble the salad.
- Cook the barley in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain it and run it under cold water to stop the cooking.
- In a large bowl, add the chickpeas, the barley, the slow roasted tomatoes and the roasted eggplants. Add the olives and the chopped fresh herbs.
- Mix thoroughly and dress the salad with extra virgin olive oil and some lemon juice, then season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, if needed.
- Keep the salad at room temperature for about one hour, or in the fridge for a few hours, before serving it. It keeps well in the fridge for a day or two.
More summer salads
Along this summer chickpea salad, you can find more ideas in the blog archive if you feel like tossing up a wholesome summer salad to share with your family, or with a bunch of friends.
- Whole grain barley salad with summer vegetables. With similar ingredients to this chickpea salad, this is a recipe to keep! 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.
- Brown rice salad with eggplants and butternut squash. The backbone of this salad is a blend of brown basmati and wild rice, which keeps the chewy al dente texture even after a few hours in the fridge. I added roasted butternut squash and eggplant, then olives, capers and chives.
- Mediterranean chicken salad with preserved lemons. I would usually make a chicken salad with some leftover roast chicken, something which is already extremely flavourful. I shred the meat and add all the tasty bits to rice, lettuce, rocket, boiled potatoes… it’s a way not to waste food and have three meals from a single chicken, as I told you some time ago here. You even feel more responsible and conscious.
- For Summer Cooking, the Secret Ingredient Is Temperature. This article is spot-on with the recipe I’m sharing today!
- The 50 Best Food Memoirs. Summer, time to read. Here you can find 50 of the best food memoirs to choose from.
- Join the celebrations, we reached the 40th episode with our podcast, Cooking with an Italian Accent.