joshua mcfadden's corn and tomato salad with torn croutons
No cookbook has influenced the way I cook with vegetables more than Joshua McFadden's Six Seasons. Ever since it came out a year ago, it's been what I talk about when I talk about food. If I make you dinner, I make you something from this book. If I gift you a cookbook, I gift you this book. I'm like one of those tireless inflatable dance things, telling you that you need this book. You need it now.
Joshua—a.k.a. the Vegetable Whisperer—is the person who brought us all the ubiquitous kale salad. He's worked at a bunch of fancy restaurants, managed a farm in coastal Maine, and now owns two beloved produce-driven restaurants in Portland, Oregon. The premise of Six Seasons, his first cookbook, is to eat seasonally and locally. But more than that, it's to encourage readers to eat vegetables at their best, when they're exquisite and beautiful and delicious. The book reads as a love letter to seasons and farming—to the end-of-summer tomatoes that grow from soil warmed by months of hot sun, or the miraculous regeneration of peas when the frost of winter finally lifts. Joshua finds six seasons in the year by dividing the abundance of summer into three: early, mid, and late. He gives the year a rhythm that feels like waves, or songs.
The book has 225 recipes and in the sixteen months I've owned it, I've made about a hundred of them (I counted). The process has fundamentally changed the way I think about vegetables and how I put meals together—which will now often consist of a "salad," with or without a simple protein. I use quotes here because these are not your grandma's salads. They start with vegetables—all kinds, in all forms. They include toasted hazelnuts and poppy seeds; parmesan and whipped ricotta; grains and bread; dried apricots and dates; fresh mint, basil, and scallions. Everything is balanced with olive oil, acid, and salt to create the perfect tension of sweet and salty, spicy and bracing. The goal, Joshua says, is to make the dish taste "like a potato chip." And with an exhilarating combination of ingredients and thoughtful attention to seasoning, they do.
I'm excited to share some of my favorite recipes with you when the time comes: a bright root vegetable salad with couscous and citrus; a beet slaw with creamy pistachio butter; celery with dates, almonds, and parmesan. But right now, there's still time to make one of my favorite favorites.
Like most of his recipes, this corn and tomato salad is deceptively simple to make, but wonderfully complex in flavor. Raw corn and peak tomatoes are tossed with scallions that have been soaked in ice water—a method Joshua often deploys to mellow the taste of onion. That gets hit with vinegar before adding toasted pistachios, pecorino, basil, mint, and torn croutons (which give it a panzanella vibe). Olive oil brings everything together, and salt and pepper are continually layered to achieve the correct level of potato chip-ness. I've now made this salad throughout August and into early September for two consecutive summers, and it's particularly spectacular alongside Judy Hesser's oven-fried chicken.
I know it's getting cold outside—at least where I am—but the best tomatoes are still here. And I couldn't wait another year to tell you what to do with them.
joshua mcfadden’s Corn And Tomato Salad with Torn Croutons
Barely adapted from Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden and Martha Holmberg.
I've included Joshua's recipe for torn croutons and his scallion preparation as described above. To toast the pistachios: bake them on a sheet pan in a 350°F oven for 6-8 minutes. The only real change I've made is to also include my preferred method for cutting kernels off the cob—from when I had to make unfathomable amounts of corn muffins at the bakery. But that's a story for another time.
2 large, thick slices country loaf (about 2 cups or 4 ounces)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
CORN AND TOMATO SALAD
3 ears sweet corn, shucked
1 pound tomatoes (all shapes and colors)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup pistachios, toasted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 handful basil leaves
1 handful mint leaves
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
MAKE THE TORN CROUTONS:
Heat the oven to 400°F.
Tear the bread, crust and all, into bite-size pieces. Toss with olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Spread the croutons on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake until golden brown, checking every 4-5 minutes and moving the outside croutons to the center of the pan so they cook evenly. Don't let them get rock hard; leave a little bit of chew in the center. The total baking time will depend on the type and density of the bread you're using, but will most likely be 10 to 20 minutes.
Slide croutons onto paper towels to absorb any extra oil and season again lightly with salt and pepper. If making ahead, store croutons in an airtight container.
MAKE AND ASSEMBLE THE SALAD:
Prepare the scallions: Trim 1/2-inch off the green top of the scallions and the hairy root at the other end. Cut crosswise on a very sharp angle into thin slices. Soak the slices in ice water for 20 minutes while you prepare the rest of the salad.
Cut the kernels from the corn: The best way to do this is to place a small bowl face-down into a larger bowl. Hold the corn by the stem and stabilize the tip onto the small bowl. From stem to tip, use a knife to vertically cut the kernels off the cob; they should land in the large bowl (instead of scattering all over your kitchen). Scrape the milk from the cob and add it to the kernels. Remove the small bowl.
Core the tomatoes and cut them into chunks or wedges. Drain the scallions and pat them dry. Combine tomatoes, scallions, and corn and toss them with vinegar. Season generously with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning so the salad is bright.
Add the croutons, pistachios, pecorino, basil, and mint and toss again. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper. Add olive oil and toss again. Taste and adjust. Serve lightly chilled or at a little cooler than room temperature.