Chickpeas go a bit rogue in this pepperoni, lemon zest, and Parmesan-stippled salad—the perfect option for an oven-free, summertime side. [Photograph: Jennifer Olvera]

Our summer bean salad series aims to gussy up your run-of-the-mill can of beans, offering bright flavors and a few why-didn't-I-think-of-that ingredients that'll ensure you're a hit at the next backyard bash you attend.

Today, it's all about chickpeas, which work in a wide array of dishes, from tapas-worthy salads to a Middle Eastern feast. In this case, I opted for an Italian take that pairs salty, savory pepperoni with nutty Parmesan and a trio of fresh herbs: basil, thyme, and parsley. You can switch those up to suit what you have on-hand, but if you use just one herb, make it basil—its anise-like character is the perfect counterpart to the other components of the dish. It's all tied together with garlic, a sprinkle of lemon zest, and a lively but simple red wine vinaigrette.

And about that dressing: don't skimp! It's an essential component that boosts the flavor of the potentially bland beans. I prefer to dress and taste the salad and then let it marinate for at least one hour and up to overnight. When it comes time to serve, give it a quick stir and adjust the seasonings if needed. If you do decide to prepare it ahead of time, though, hold off on adding the herbs until just before you dig in, so that they'll stay nice and fresh.

Those are just about the only rules; if you'd like to toss in additional ingredients, feel free. Pretty much anything you'd put into a pasta salad will work (think sun-dried tomatoes, olives, or red onion). You can even switch up the cheese; just keep in mind that I use Parmesan for more than its punchy flavor—its texture is key too, so look for a harder cheese that will stand up to the dressing without going limp.

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