THERE’S no better way to spend a languid early-summer evening than by gathering with family or friends on the patio for a supper drawn from a table filled with colorful plates of delicious antipasti.
It’s a bit like eating at a trattoria in Italy: first your aperitivo and a small bowl of olives, maybe some salumi -- and then a parade of fantastic little dishes, often prepared simply with fresh vegetables and herbs. Dishes such as farro salad, or quick-grilled romaine with favas and pecorino, or Romano beans sauteed with fresh oregano. They’re basic and light but also pretty and tasty, cooked and dressed just right -- with a little vinegar, lemon juice, good olive oil or fresh herbs. They’re not meaty or heavy.
Nothing has to be baked or fried or stuffed or wrapped. Everything can be served room temperature.
These fresh-tasting salads aren’t just your garden-variety leafy greens, they’re an inviting start to a meal. Offer one as a first course, or serve a few at a time to be enjoyed by the spoonful in combination with other antipasti.
At Fraiche restaurant in Culver City, chef-owner Jason Travi serves an appetizer salad made with farro, the barley-like grain that’s firm and hearty and nutty.
He cooks the farro with a bouquet garni of bay leaf and a sprig of thyme, adds diced roasted red pepper and blanched English peas, then tosses the grain and vegetables with tarragon, basil, mint and parsley. The whole thing gets a light dressing of olive oil and lemon juice and is sprinkled with pecorino or ricotta salata, the Italian sheep’s milk cheese that’s perfect for summer dishes, mild, slightly nutty-sweet and a little crumbly.
Or saute flat, wide Romano beans with shallots, garlic and fresh oregano until the beans are tender but still have an edge of crispness. Cook them for a couple minutes more with some cherry tomatoes, then drizzle over a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar.
Take advantage of fresh favas while you still can; they’re great with a splash of citrus and olive oil and some chunks of pecorino. Match the creamy beans with crisp charred romaine that gets brushed with a little garlic-infused olive oil before being grilled.
Along with sips of a grassy Verdicchio or an herby Arneis, these charming first courses turn that eternal wait for dinner into a magic hour of anticipation.