Easy Cooking on Hot Days
As I write this it's 98 degrees and summer in the city is at full blast.
It's hard to have any enthusiasm to turn on the stove. These are the days when the ingredients have to provide all the inspiration since it's almost as unappealing to eat as it is to cook. By the time we get home after walking city sidewalks that are like hot stones or a subway ride in the one non-air conditioned car on the Lex line -- it's tempting to make dinner be a piece of chevre, a handful of cherries and a glass of chilled white wine. I know the microwave is an option, but the thought of even eating hot food is as much the obstacle than preparing it.
Fortunately the greenmarket and CSA season has begun in full, making cooking and entertaining easy. A perfect New Jersey tomato can be transformed into that miracle known as a summer tomato sandwich with only a serrated knife, two slices of white Pullman bread and a tablespoon of Hellman's mayonnaise. Of course we can put a bit more effort into our summer cooking and if the heat wave is dulling your ideas, I thought I'd offer some suggestions.
- A salad of all greens. My favorite: locally grown arugula that has a strong, peppery bite, dressed simply with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a drizzle of good olive oil, and a pinch of crunchy sea salt. Optional is to add some paper thin slices of red onion.
- Bulgur salad. Cooked bulgur wheat mixed with sliced cherry tomatoes, sliced scallions, coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley, and diced seedless or little Kirby cucumbers. Dress with enough lemon vinaigrette so that it has some moisture but not so much that it's too oily. I like a ratio of half bulgur to half vegetables.
- Summer tomato salad. It doesn't get more simple than this but it's essential that the tomatoes be locally grown and with a big summer flavor. Place thick slices of tomatoes on a large platter. Scatter on top a handful of thin rings of raw red or white onion. Add a pinch of salt that will help draw out the tomatoes' acidic juices. Dress only with a drizzle of olive oil that will mix with the tomato juices.
- Green beans and cherry tomatoes. Wash and trim tender green beans or haricots verts or if you prefer, yellow string beans. Cook in the microwave or in boiling salted water until tender. Don't undercook them as they'll be difficult to eat. Rinse under cool water and let drain completely. Toss with sliced cherry tomatoes (or wedges of big tomatoes), a pinch of crunchy sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. There's no need to add vinegar because most summer tomatoes have lots of acidic juice and this will combine with the olive oil to make a tomato dressing.
Main Courses and Starters
- Fish and shellfish are ideal summer foods. If you need more recipes or confidence to cook seafood, we recommend the new Fish Without A Doubt by Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore. See two featured recipes from this splendid cookbook: "Sauteed Char with Hoisin Glaze" and "Saumon au Frisee."
- Oven-baked chicken left to cool to room temperature. Serve with a little rhubarb compote or watermelon chutney.
- Roasted pork loin or leg of lamb. Serve in thick slices at room temperature with a side of a favorite cold potato salad and some grainy mustard.
- Poached fish or shrimp served cold with salsa verde.
- Cold salmon mousse. See our recipe. You can make this with your own poached salmon or else with a can of Alaskan salmon which is a delicious and low-cost alternative. Plus you won't need to turn on the stove. See our recipe.
- Crostini. Toast thick slices of good bread (I prefer a pugliese or ciabatta for this) by placing them under the broiler until golden brown -- about 2 minutes; turn over and broil the other side. Toasting the bread this way will leave the insides still slightly tender. Let cool to room temperature and top with good fresh ricotta and a snip of chives or a fine mince of fresh oregano, tiny mince of tomatoes and olive oil, sliced mushrooms tossed with vinaigrette, canned tuna fish (in olive oil; drain completely) mixed with sliced scallions, or an other favorite topping.
- Stuffed Vegetables. Not like a mid-winter stuffed cabbage -- instead a green pepper that's been slightly roasted to soften the flesh, or a beefsteak tomato, or a raw zucchini that's been halved and scooped out, stuffed with a rice or couscous salad and served at room temperature.
- Gazpacho. It's a liquid salad. Try to wait until mid-summer when local tomatoes are plentiful and at their peak flavor.
- Chilled cucumber-yogurt soup. An exceedingly simple and refreshing summer soup made with yogurt, buttermilk and diced cucumbers. See our recipe.
- Salade Canard. Like a salade Nicoise but served with slices of pan cooked or roasted duck breasts. Keep the other ingredients duck-friendly: small boiled or roasted potatoes, red cabbage salad, haricots verts, wedges of hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes and goat cheese or feta instead of mozzarella.
- Fish Tacos and Guacamole. We found an appealing recipe from Food & Wine magazine (see the link below). Or if you already have a favorite recipe for guacamole and tacos, invent your own combination.
- Fresh fruit with a dab of sour cream and a little pile of light brown sugar. I love this best with strawberries, but it would work equally well with slices of ripe peaches.
- Store-bought or homemade ice cream or sorbet with fresh berries. If using strawberries cut them into bite-sized pieces and sprinkle with just enough sugar to get the juices going. Spoon over a small scoop of your favorite ice cream.
- Berries with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a small sprinkle of sugar, just enough to give a little grainy finish to the fruit.
- Store-bought or homemade brownies with strawberries or a favorite ice cream.
- Angel food cake with fresh fruit. Buy the cake at a favorite bakery and slice using your serrated bread knife. Add your favorite fruit.
- Chocolate chip or ginger cookies made into an ice cream sandwich by adding a small scoop of your favorite ice cream between two cookies. I love vanilla ice cream on a ginger cookie and coffee ice cream between two tender chocolate chip cookies.
- Fruit cobblers. The biscuit-like topping of a cobbler makes them a good choice for summer's juicy fruits and even if you're not a baker, they're simple to make.
Most of all, whether it's the main course, a salad, dessert, or anything you plan to put on a summer dinner table, my advice is to buy the best local ingredients you can find, treat them with simplicity, and let just one or two flavors lead each dish by going light on seasonings and sauces.