Sunday Dinner: Enjoy our salad days while we can

Eric Akis

This year’s sunny-everyday summer has provided ideal conditions to enjoy a main-course salad for dinner. It’s the perfect meal to enjoy on a deck or patio on a warm day.

If you agree, and with that sunny weather trend continuing, today I’m offering you two filling and satisfying main-course salad recipes to try.

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Locally grown tomatoes are the featured ingredient in one of those salads, which is Mediterranean in style, looks beautiful, is very flavourful and not hard to prepare.

You begin by setting salad greens on dinner plates. You then artfully top those greens with slices of tomato, halved cherry tomatoes, proscuitto, bocconcini cheese and olives. That fine combination of ingredients then gets drizzled with a pesto- flavoured dressing, creating a lovely summer dinner salad.

The second recipe, seared scallop and orzo salad, comes from a new book called Off the Hook: The Essential West Coast Seafood Recipes (TouchWood Editions, $22). The book is co-authored by Salt Spring Island residents DL Acken and Aurelia Louvet.

The authors say their book is designed for all culinary skill levels and its recipes are meant to make seafood dishes accessible so that any one can enjoy crab, tuna, prawns and other delicious ocean fare whenever the mood strikes. Some of the other tasty sounding recipes in the book include curried rockfish hot pot, crab cakes with harissa oil, and fried oyster po’ boys with smokey paprika mayonnaise.

Acken’s and Louvet’s seared scallop and orzo salad recipe, like my tomato salad, is also visually appealing. To make it, after the scallops have been seared, they are set in a bowl with orzo (rice shaped pasta) and other things, such as caramelized onion, spinach, lemon and tarragon. The skillet the scallops were cooked in is then deglazed with white wine. When the wine has reduced, that lovely liquid gets poured over the orzo, scallops and other ingredients, everything gets tossed together, and you have a warm to room temperature salad I thoroughly enjoyed with a glass of rosé.

Tomato Salad With Proscuitto, Bocconcini and Olives

Ripe, bursting with flavour, local tomatoes are a featured in this salad rich with Mediterranean-style ingredients. Serve it with slices of crusty bread.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: Two servings

2 Tbsp homemade or store-bought pesto

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tsp honey

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 cups mixed salad greens

1 large ripe tomato, thinly sliced

4 to 6 cherry tomatoes, halved

4 to 6 paper-thin slices prosciutto

1/4 cup niçoise or kalamata olives, or to taste

4 bocconcini cheese balls, sliced

Combine the pesto, oil, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Set this dressing aside for now.

Divide and set salad greens on each of two dinner plates. Divide and set tomato slices, halved cherry tomatoes, proscuitto, olives and bocconcini slices on top of the greens.

Drizzle each salad with some of the pesto dressing, and serve.

Seared Scallop and Orzo Salad

This recipe is from a new book Off the Hook: The Essential West Coast Seafood Recipes (TouchWood Editions, $22). The authors, DL Acken and Aurelia Louvet, say the salad base of this recipe is wonderful with myriad types of seafood. So, beyond scallops, you could also try it with seared spot prawns or freshly cooked crabmeat; even a flaked salmon fillet is nice with it.

Makes: Four servings

• pinch of sea salt

2 cups orzo

6 Tbsp olive oil, divided

• freshly grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper, or to taste

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

1 small onion, diced small

1 lb. medium scallops, “foot” muscles removed (see Note from Eric Akis)

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 cups baby spinach

1 cup halved cherry tomatoes

1/4 cup chopped fresh tarragon

Fill a medium saucepan with water and a pinch of sea salt; bring to a boil and add the orzo. Cook per package instructions. Drain and rinse with warm water. Transfer to a large bowl and add 4 Tbsp of the olive oil, the lemon zest and juice, and the black pepper. Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, add the butter. Once melted, add the diced onion and stir to coat well with the butter. Fry the onions for 8 to 10 minutes — do not over-stir. The onions are done when they are deep golden in colour; add to the orzo.

Pat the scallops dry and lightly season with sea salt. Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil is heated, sear one side of the scallops for 1 to 2 minutes. Flip carefully and repeat on the other side. The scallops should be a deep golden brown on both sides and slightly soft to the touch; they continue to cook for a few minutes once removed from the heat, so be sure not to overcook. Remove the scallops and add the white wine to the pan. Cook for 1 minute to loosen any bits stuck to the bottom. Pour the pan juices over the orzo and add the scallops, spinach, tomatoes, and tarragon. Toss to combine and serve immediately.

Note from Eric: The “foot” of the scallop is the side-muscle, a fairly thin, rectangular piece of tissue attached to the side of the scallop. It is tough and fibrous. To remove it, just grab onto it, pull it off and discard.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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