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Seasons’ Eating: Summer Salad with Potato, Zucchini Ribbons and Pesto.

2012 July 19

by Valeria Necchio

London, UK — Similarly to Stephanie, I didn’t know back in the winter when I chose my summer spot in the Recipe Realy calendar that I would be back in Italy on vacation. I booked my holidays quite last minute as I found myself a bit wiped out by work and life in the metropolis, and I needed to reload my batteries with rest and most of all, sun.

I spent a couple of relaxing weeks at my family’s house in the Venetian countryside, sunbathing, swimming, and of course eating. I was at close distance to my grandpa’s vegetable garden, which to my eyes looked like the garden of Eden: juicy ripe red tomatoes of all shapes, huge bushes of basil, plump courgettes, shiny small aubergines, firm green bell peppers and boxes of potatoes just removed from the underground, still warm. I wanted to cry for happiness. I thought about the vegetables I was buying in London, which have barely any flavor and yet are so expensive. There, I could finally fill my senses with strong, real flavors, those flavors that can only derive from sunlight, heat and time. If there is anything I miss in the UK, it is the variety of summer produce and their strong, concentrate flavors, which are so strongly present in my memories of past summers.

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Proper cooking during my stay in Italy was reduced to zero. We ate big  summer salads almost every day, in all forms and combinations, from classic caprese to impromptu ones with all sort of greens thrown in it. High temperatures and leisure time kept us far from the kitchen, plus our bodies were simply craving cold, raw, juicy and refreshing food.

For all these reasons, when I saw Stephanie’s recipe for Tartiflette inspired potato stir fry, I thought to relay on some of the ingredients she used –namely potatoes and herbs, which I had plenty of, plus cheese– and to turn them into a summer-y salad. To me, few things taste of Summer, like basil pesto. Every year, given the abundance of basil in the garden, I make a lot of pesto. Then, I use some immediately or in the following days, and freeze the rest to have it ready for pasta for the rest of the year –yes, I sometimes need some summer breeze in the middle of winter. I like playing around with the classic recipe (made with pine nuts, garlic and Parmigiano) using different combinations of nuts and cheeses, and I usually enjoy it with pasta, spread on a slice of toasty bread, or as a salad seasoning.

For this recipe, I made pesto with basil from the garden, pine nuts and Parmigiano, and I used it to season a simple salad made with boiled new baby potatoes and raw zucchini ribbons, which are the best way to savor fresh-from-the-garden zucchini. On top, I shaved some ricotta di pecora salata to complete the dish and make it a bit more substantial. The result was filling but fresh and quite light. The pesto gives a nice kick to the dish and the ricotta finishes the job quite nicely with its sweet and salty profile.

We enjoyed the salad for lunch with no leftovers. After our meal, I decided to dedicate some time to editing the pictures of my creation, only to find out that my memory card was corrupted. Great. With no time to make it again in Italy, I tried it once back in London, twisting it a bit to adapt it to what I could find or had on hands. I used sunflower seeds instead of pine nuts in the pesto sauce and shaved Parmigiano instead of ricotta salata for garnishing. Potatoes and zucchini tasted a bit different given that nothing tastes like grandpa’s veggies, but the final result was still satisfactory and surprisingly good. So here you are, two recipes in one, as a proof of the versatility –and steady yumminess– of this salad, which ended up bringing t a bit of Mediterranean warmth in rainy, chilly London.

Summer Potato Salad with Zucchini Ribbons and Pesto

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Yield: 4 servings


For the pesto

  • 3 cups fresh basil
  • 2 small chunks of Parmigiano
  • 1/2 garlic clove, minced
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 T pine nuts or sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste

For the salad

  • 500 gr baby new potatoes
  • 2 medium size zucchini
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup shaved ricotta salata or Parmigiano
  • fresh basil leaves, to garnish


  1. To make pesto, place all the ingredients except for the oil in a blender (if you want, you can make your pesto using a mortar and pestle).
  2. Pulse a couple of times, then add the oil slowly and keep pulsing a few more times until you obtain a coarse cream. Add more oil for a smoother pesto.
  3. Scrap the edges or the blender, pulse one more time. Set aside.
  4. In the meantime, wash well potatoes and cut the bigger ones in halves.
  5. Bring a bit pot of salted water to a boil, add potato and cook until tender (do not overcook or the salad will be a mess!).
  6. Drain and rinse with cold water, until cool.
  7. Cut zucchini in two halves lengthwise. Using a potato peeler, shave zucchini to create some long, thin stripes.
  8. Place potatoes and zucchini ribbons in a salad dish and season with oil and salt.
  9. Add some of the pesto  (I will start with a couple of tablespoons, then and add more to taste), stir.
  10. Top with shaved ricotta or Parmigiano and the fresh basil leaves. Serve.

  • Jessie

    Valeria, this is so simple and so beautiful!

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  • Stephanie Tickner

    I rejoined our local CSA this week now that we are not traveling so much, and your recipe inspired me for dinner last night. Delicious!