Roasted Eggplant and Bell Pepper Arugula Salad with Ramp Vinaigrette

Ramps! Every year I cannot wait to get my hands on em’. They work AMAZINGLY as the star of the vinaigrette in this salad featuring arugula, roasted red bell pepper, crispy roasted eggplant, and torn fresh mozzarella cheese. The ramp vinaigrette was the starting point and the salad was built around it – it is that yummy of a dressing. But how could it not be with garlicky ramps thrown in?!

If you can get your hands on some ramps this spring you are a quarter of the way to ramp vinaigrette heaven. Just add olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, and salt to taste and the vinaigrette is ready to top all the things. White balsamic may not be in everyone’s pantry but I highly suggest it for it’s sweet but very clean flavor, like balsamic without the jammy taste. It has a nice tang that is balanced by the inherent sweetness. If you do not have any white balsamic, try unseasoned rice vinegar with some sugar – that is probably the closest flavor comparison you will get. I have not tested it with other vinegars – but do keep in mind that for the bright green color to shine, you need to use a clear or very lightly colored vinegar. If the dressing is too thick for your taste, add some water to thin – I ended up using just a tablespoon and it was perfect!

Okay so ramp vinaigrette aside, this salad has a lot of tasty things going for it. The roasted red pepper has sweet but vegetal qualities and you can use homemade or the canned variety. Roasted eggplant gets crispy on the outside and as tender as a dream on the inside. I love how it kind of acts like the bread in a panzanella salad here, with the large-ish chunks that soften and absorb some of the dressing as you eat it. Plus it has such a nice smokey, mildly bitter, but delicately sweet flavor that just marries so well with the roasted red peppers. Arugula is a spring-time all star just like the ramps so there was no hesitation to use it as the green. Flavor-wise, it brings peppery notes that act as a nice anchor for all the sweet bits. Creamy and soft fresh mozzarella adds saltiness and subtle tang. The ramp vinaigrette envelopes everything in tons of flavor! It is bold, garlicky, sweet, acidic, salty, it has all the notes that the salad is just begging for.

As far as proportions go – I think of this salad as equal parts greens and toppings. This ain’t the kinda salad where you have a sea of greens with random toppings bobbing about, popping up only ever so often. It is roughly equal parts of each ingredient – again giving it a panzanella kinda vibe and just making for more interesting eating. Not to mention – you get a lotta veg in here. It is filling, it is bold, and it is pretty easy to throw together! Make the dressing and use it all week long. The eggplant is crispiest when you first make it so you can prep it but know it will change texture with refrigeration and time. Roasted red peppers are great to prep and everything else you just throw together before serving!


Roasted Eggplant and Bell Pepper Arugula Salad with Ramp Vinaigrette

Servings: makes 1 large or 2 small salads

Time: about 45 minutes, most of it hands-off

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of arugula, lightly packed
  • 3 heaping cups of cubed eggplant (roughly 3/4 inch cubes)
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper (canned works great!) sliced into strips
  • 3 ounces of fresh mozzarella cheese, torn
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. of chopped fresh ramps, leaves and bulbs included, well packed (cut the hairy ends off)
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
  • salt
  • oil for cooking

How-to:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Toss cubes of eggplant with a tablespoon or two of cooking oil and salt liberally. Spread out on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and cook in oven for 15 minutes.
  3. While the eggplant gets cooking, make the vinaigrette by tossing the ramps, olive oil, and vinegar into a processor or blender with 1/2 tsp of salt (more or less to taste) and process on high until completely smooth. Taste, adjust seasoning, and add water as needed to thin.
  4. After the 15 minutes is up, remove the eggplant from the oven, flip each cube over and place back in the oven for 8-15 minutes until browned and crisp.
  5. When the eggplant is done, pour onto some paper towels to absorb any excess oil and to cool a bit. Taste a piece and add more salt if desired.
  6. Assemble the salad while the eggplant is cooling. Arrange a bed of arugula and layer the roasted red bell pepper, roasted eggplant, and torn mozzarella on top. Serve with ramp vinaigrette.

Notes:

  • I really want to emphasize that the ingredient sizes for the eggplant, roasted red pepper, mozz, and arugula are references only. This is the kind salad where you can really do your thing. Anything works! I like it to be roughly equal parts greens and veggies and cheese. Note: I am saying this about the salad ingredients, not the vinaigrette which I feel is really the perfect ratio of ingredients.
  • About the dressing: I like it to be very ramp-y which means it does have that garlicky bite. If you are more sensitive to that flavor or just prefer less of it, skip the added 2 tbsp. of ramps and you are good to go with just the half a cup packed.
  • You can serve the eggplant warm or room temp. I personally love it when it is still a bit warm inside but not hot on the outside as to not wilt the arugula. This takes just about as much time as it takes to throw the rest of the salad together, which is perfect!

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