Fregola salad

Fregola salad with raisins, skinny green beans and peas (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)

My favorite foods of summer — ripe tomatoes, meaty eggplant, skinny green beans, toothsome wax beans and tender squash —never cease to inspire. I buy them nearly every week at one farmers market or another. Then I blanch, steam, grill or chop them in readiness for a shower of garden fresh herbs for side dishes, salads and amazing meatless mains.

To keep things interesting, I'll add an intriguing pantry ingredient to my market standbys. This summer, my eggplant dishes feature bright green, crunchy Castelvetrano olives from Sicily. Other veggies go into pasta salads that start with fregola pasta.

A specialty of Sardinia, fregola's toasted, nutty flavor and toothsome texture pairs beautifully with summer vegetables. The pasta, about the size and shape of peppercorns, is gaining favor in this country. Look for it in stores with a good selection of imported Italian pastas.

As for the Castelvetrano olives, they're going into a summer vegetable gratin worthy of company. I put eggplant and summer squashes on the grill every time it's lit — no kidding — and generally toss them into the salad bowl. In this case, they are layered with those bright green olives and other goodies from the market — small creamy potatoes and crisp onions. Tons of fresh basil keeps the dish light and fresh.

Here's to relaxed mid-summer veg love with a twist. Enjoy them on the deck, take them on a picnic. Pack leftovers for lunch. What could be better?

Fregola salad with green beans, raisins and mint

Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Servings: 8


¼ cup pine nuts, sliced almonds or chopped pecans

2 lemons

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 ½ teaspoons salt

12 ounces skinny green beans, wax beans or haricots verts, ends trimmed

1 pound fregola pasta, Israeli couscous or whole wheat orzo

1 cup small raisins or currants

1 pint fresh shelled peas or 2 cups thawed frozen tiny peas

2/3 cup chopped fresh chives

½ cup freshly packed sliced mint

1. Put the nuts into a small nonstick skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring and watching them closely, until barely golden, 1 or 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.