Sunday, August 24, 2008

Simply Delicious

I love to cook but in summer the less time spent in the kitchen the better. I look forward to the abundance of fresh produce and grilling outdoors. So much of what we eat this time of year actually benefits from less preparation. Here are a few of my favorite summer dishes.

Appetizers. Fresh figs wrapped with prosciutto. Blend together cream cheese and lox, spread on crackers and top with avocado. Cut leftover cold cheese pizza into bite size squares and serve with a squeeze of lemon juice. Chill very large boiled and shelled shrimp; serve cold with fresh lemon. Sprinkle large flour tortillas with grated pepper jack cheese and toast on the grill … serve in wedges with guacamole and salsa. Puree a handful of fresh raspberries with sugar to taste in a blender … strain into a pitcher, add raspberry vodka and lemonade.

Tomato Salads. The season is brief so now is the time to enjoy tomatoes that taste like tomatoes. Most people are familiar with the Italian classic Caprese salad – fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes and basil. Try substituting paper-thin slices of lemons for the mozzarella. For an American version switch blue cheese for the mozzarella and add sliced red onions. Stuff whole tomatoes with a mixture of tuna (preferably packed in olive oil), lemon juice, chopped parsley and capers. Or, substitute stale bread crumbs for the tuna and add some chopped basil and garlic. And -- as weird as is sounds -- toss seeded tomato wedges with peeled and sliced peaches, sweet onion rings and cilantro.

Other Salads. Combine cubes of feta cheese and seeded watermelon with mint, a little chopped Serrano chile, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Grill a steak, slice thinly and serve over chopped romaine with crumbled blue cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon. Taco salad: chopped greens, tomatoes, onions, avocados, cilantro and drained canned black beans tossed with tortilla chips, grated cheese, lime juice and topped with sour cream. Barely cook green beans, blanch and chill …at serving time toss with ripe tomato wedges and a vinaigrette made with lots of basil and garlic. Grill zucchini and summer squash; toss with minced garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and a little red wine vinegar and serve at room temperature.

Chicken. Marinate cubes of boneless chicken in Patak’s tandoori paste, yogurt and lemon juice …thread on skewers and grill. Make a paste in the food processor using a bunch of cilantro (stems and all), a couple of cloves of garlic, black pepper and some fish sauce … spread on boneless thighs and marinate for a couple of hours then grill and serve with Thai sweet and sour chili sauce.

Meat. Rub a flank steak with chili powder, grill until medium rare and serve sliced with chili pepper jelly. Grill a 2-inch thick t-bone streak, sprinkle with coarse sea salt and drizzle with the best extra virgin olive oil (serves 2 to 3 fabulously). Marinate flatiron steaks in Tabasco sauce over night … drain, pat dry with paper towels and grill. Rub lamb cubes in cinnamon, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, salt and black pepper … skewer and grill; serve with yogurt flavored with mint and garlic.

Fish. Make tacos with grilled and chopped mahi mahi seasoned with chili powder and cumin. Stuff pita bread with crabmeat mixed with mayo, chopped chives and fresh tarragon. Make ceviche from fresh sea scallops, minced red bell pepper, lime zest and lime juice. Tahitian-style poisson cru: cubed ahi tuna, 2 parts lime juice to 1 part coconut milk with chopped tomato, cucumbers and scallions.

Pasta. The all-time summer favorite …pasta and pesto: in the blender puree basil leaves, a little garlic, walnuts, parmesan and olive oil. Chop fresh tomatoes and sauté in butter, adding shredded basil right before serving over spaghetti. Sauté garlic, broccoli and shelled shrimp in olive oil and serve over linguine with shaved parmesan.

Desserts. Peel and slice fresh peaches or apricots, sauté in honey and serve over coffee ice cream. Sweetened to taste a pint of sour cream with brown sugar and flavor with a little vanilla and/or bourbon … use as a dip for fresh strawberries. Make peach shortcake using store-bought pound cake and whipped cream. Cut off the top of a milk carton, put in a bottle of lemoncello, fill with water and place in the freezer over night.

Or really simple, Fresco, L’Etoile, Harvest and Lombardino’s all have great summer menus featuring local farm products.

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