Alison and Brett Hutley know a thing or two about salad. They’ve dedicated the past three years to creating healthy and delicious variations on the theme at their Brisbane gourmet takeaway store, Botanica Real Food.

“Everybody loves salads. Especially in this weather,” Alison says.

“In Brisbane, when it’s 35 degrees, you want something light, fresh and cold that’s satisfying and healthy,” adds Brett.

The husband-and-wife team chatted to Broadsheet about making the perfect summer salad, and shared three recipes ideal for hot-weather entertaining.

Use quality produce
“That’s the most important thing,” Alison says. “Head to your grocer, pick what looks great and go from there. If it’s looking good, then it’s going to taste good.”

There’s a degree of seasonality to creating a salad, and the pair says it’s important to pick produce that is both fresh and in season – it will make creating your salad much easier – rather than chasing out of season ingredients that are often much more expensive.

For Brett, using quality produce also means respecting the vegetables when it comes to preparing your salad. “It’s important to not overcook or over-handle them,” he says. “Try to be delicate when you’re plating up, take some time and be gentle with the food.”

Keep it simple
“A salad is just really showcasing that beautiful fresh produce,” Alison says. “Everything is just about making that produce taste good.”

Salads aren’t complicated cooking, and you shouldn’t try to make yours something it’s not. For the Hutleys, their tried and tested method is to pick a single hero ingredient, add three ingredients that complement it, and finish with a simple dressing.

Also think about colours and textures, and using the ingredients in different ways (e.g. raw, pickled, roasted, shaved, shredded etc.). With salads, it’s important to place a strong emphasis on the visuals.

Having some quality basics in your pantry will help lift your salad game. “It’s handy to have a well-stocked pantry with good-quality olive oils, sea salts, vinegars, pepper and some nuts,” Brett says.

Finish and serve
Taking the time to properly season and garnish your salad will make all the difference. The Hutleys detest store-bought dressings, and say a simple dressing is actually quite easy to make. And when it comes to the application, less is always more.

Also think about how you will plate up and serve your salad. A delicate recipe doesn’t belong in a deep bowl designed for lettuce, for instance. Pick a plate, platter or bowl that will give life to your work and add a bit of visual appeal when the dish hits the table.

Enjoy the fruits (vegetables) of your labour
At the end of all your hard work? Enjoy the spoils, of course. Summer is about gathering with family and friends for long afternoons spent eating and drinking, and your salad is the perfect addition to these events. “Guests can enjoy themselves, because you’re not in the kitchen being stressed about preparing a meal. You can enjoy their company,” Alison says.

Zucchini ribbons with garden peas, feta, mint and, lemon and thyme vinaigrette

Ingredients
3 large zucchini, peeled lengthways
2 cups peas, cooked and chilled
1 bunch mint, chop half
150g feta

Dressing
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 lemon, juice and zest
6 sprigs of thyme
150ml grapeseed oil
Salt and black pepper

Method
Place the zucchini ribbons and peas in a bowl. To make the dressing, whisk mustard, lemon juice and zest, thyme, grapeseed oil and salt and pepper. Add dressing to the salad bowl and delicately coat ingredients. Place the mixture on a platter, then build up the salad by adding mint and crumbled feta. Drizzle a small amount of dressing over the salad just before serving.

Panzanella

Ingredients
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper
4 capsicums, diced
1 red onion, diced
1kg ripe tomatoes, diced
Splash of red wine vinegar
¾ cup fresh basil leaves
2 cups sourdough croutons

Method
Lightly oil and season capsicum and onion roast until soft and slightly coloured. Allow to cool and then store in fridge. Once cold, gently combine these vegetables in a bowl, add tomatoes and season. Add a good splash of red wine vinegar and olive oil (there needs to be enough for the croutons to absorb but still stay slightly crunchy). Add the sourdough croutons and basil just before serving. Use a flat bowl to get the best visual effect of this vibrant salad.

Roasted Pumpkin with Hummus Dressing

Ingredients
Pumpkin salad
Olive oil
1 pumpkin, cut into wedges
Salt and pepper
½ cup pepitas
2 chillies, thinly sliced
1 bunch parsley, chopped

Dressing
1 cup chickpeas, either cooked or drained and rinsed from tin
¼ cup tahini
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp lemon juice
½ cup water
Salt, to taste

Method
Coat pumpkin in olive oil and season. Roast in an oven on high heat until the skin is cooked and the whole edge has developed a nice colour. Roast pepitas with a tablespoon of olive oil and sea salt until crunchy.

For the dressing, combine all ingredients except water in a blender. Gradually add water until you reach a good consistency. Season to taste.

This salad is best presented by layering all of the ingredients. Start with a layer (about quarter of a cup) of parsley first. Follow with some of the roasted pumpkin and a scattering of pepitas and chilli. Finally, drizzle some of the hummus dressing over the top. Continue until you have used all the ingredients, holding back a small amount of chilli, pepitas and parsley for garnish. Sprinkle over the top just before serving, along with a drizzle of olive oil.