Posts tagged summer

Summer Peach Carpaccio

Just so you know, I didn’t spend all of July lazing around Brooklyn while the blog went unwritten. No, one of those unproductive weeks was spent in Cape Cod, my favorite—and now annual—vacation destination. When Jim and I weren’t lounging on the beach, we were either grilling at our rental cottage or dining out at one of the Cape’s local establishments. We didn’t have much else on our agenda, to be honest. But about midway through our low-key vacation week, I discovered a dish that I couldn’t stop thinking about.

peachcarpaccio

Look at the photograph above, taken at an adorable restaurant called Terra Luna in Truro. This dish, called a peach carpaccio, was composed of thin slices of raw peaches adorned with arugula, shallots, goat cheese, candied walnuts, and just a bit of white wine vinegar (as far as I could tell). Each bite was light and sweet, a simple seasonal delight. As a playful and summery take on traditional Italian meat carpaccio, the idea of this peach-based version impressed me almost more than its actual flavors. Even as I lifted every morsel to my lips, I knew I had to steal this idea and make it my own.

Well, there’s no better time than the present, right? We’re in the midst of stone fruit season, and as you saw with my recent rustic fruit cake, peaches and plums are at their best right now. I went to the farmers’ market, picked up some fresh peaches and arugula, and returned home with a mission. I studied the photo above and cobbled together my own version of this fruity dish. The steps were simple: I sliced some peaches and a shallot, washed the arugula, and unwrapped some goat cheese. I had no idea how to make candied walnuts, so I winged it by roasting the nuts and then mixing them with some honey. A bit of food styling, a dash of balsamic vinegar (I was out of white wine vinegar), and my version of Terra Luna’s peach carpaccio was ready.

peachcarpaccio2

It was just as lovely as I remembered. The subtle taste of sweet peaches spiced with peppery arugula evoked my wonderful week at the beach with every bite. Bits of soft goat cheese, crunchy walnuts, and shallots, united by balsamic vinegar, completed my Cape Cod memory. I may not be on vacation anymore, but at least I brought the best parts back to Brooklyn with me.

Recipe for Summer Peach Carpaccio (inspired by the dish at Terra Luna restaurant in Truro, Massachusetts)

  • 2 large peaches
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, broken into small pieces
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 large handfuls of arugula, washed
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 3-4 tablespoons of soft goat cheese
  • balsamic or white wine vinegar
  • salt
  • pepper

Slice the peaches into very thin slices. (I used a regular chef’s knife, but a mandolin would probably work well, if not better.)

Heat your oven to 300 degrees. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet, and roast them in the oven for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When ready, remove them from the oven and cool slightly. Mix them with the honey in a small bowl. Set aside.

Arrange your peach slices on a small plate so that they overlap slightly, in a circular fashion. Sprinkle the shallots, goat cheese, and walnuts on top on the peach slices. Top with the arugula. Dress lightly with vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Serves 2. Enjoy!

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Good-bye Summer

Sorry I’ve been so slow about posting this week, but I think I’m in denial that summer is over. I shouldn’t be so shocked, considering that it starts and ends the same way every year: Around the 4th of July it seems like the languid months of July and August will last forever. And then, just a few weeks later, Labor Day abruptly (and rather rudely, I might add) signals the end of beach parties and backyard barbeques.

So as I think back to how I celebrated the beginning of summer, I’m surprised at how similar it was to its farewell. On our nation’s holiday I whipped up Cook’s Illustrated’s buttery, crumbly Blueberry Buckle, while I prepared Food & Wine’s slightly less buttery Spoon Cake with Peaches for summer’s closure.

There’s no need to pit these fruity confections against each other; both admirably celebrated summer and its seasonal produce. Cook’s blueberry cake was chock-full of luscious berries from one end to the other, and the few remaining leftovers were enjoyed at breakfast the next day. Likewise, my family and I devoured the sweet, juicy peaches supporting Food & Wine’s spongy spoon cake during our Labor Day get-together.

As you can see, both desserts were winners in this head-to-head comparison. But now it’s time to say good-bye to summer and start dreaming about apples, pears, and pumpkins. Actually, now that I think about it, things could be a lot worse.

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Zucchini Fatigue and a Frittata

I thought I was done with zucchini. As you may remember, a couple of weeks ago I believed I had cooked it in every way possible, even frying up some of its blossoms for an afternoon feast. Well, another shipment of zucchini and yellow squash from my CSA last week had me suffering from a severe case of zucchini fatigue.

(In case you are wondering, zucchini fatigue is a very real, albeit small-scale epidemic. I hear it hits every year around mid-August.)

Lucky for me, the New York Times came to my rescue with Laura Sbrana’s recipe for a zucchini frittata. Reading through the article I wondered why I didn’t make frittatas more often, as they are perfect for quick and healthy weeknight dinners. A frittata is basically an Italian omelet, its ingredients mixed with eggs instead of folded inside. It is cooked in a pan over low heat on the stovetop, and usually finished under the broiler.

I had seen recipes for zucchini frittatas before, but Sbrana’s required a special touch: Zucchini blossoms would be snipped into pieces and sprinkled across the frittata’s surface before it finished cooking. I couldn’t resist using these flowers in such a beautiful way. What can I say, I’m a sucker for artistry.

I made a few adjustments to the recipe based on what I had in my refrigerator, and I also stole some zucchini flowers from our friends’ garden on the way home from work. (They’re on vacation, they’ll never know.) I tossed slices of squash and zucchini with eggs, low-fat milk, green onions, parmesan, and basil, poured everything into a pan, and let it cook over low heat, tilting the pan every now and then to make sure the eggs cooked completely through.

Sbrana’s recipe recommends flipping the frittata on the stovetop instead of finishing it under the broiler, but as I seemed to be flipping-impaired, I stuck with my broiler method. After the frittata was cooked, I cut a few slices and dug into a fluffy and fresh mass of eggy zucchini delight. I loved how the zucchini and squash retained their elasticity after cooking, and I vowed to work frittatas into my dinner rotation more often. So bring it on CSA, throw some more zucchini my way. I dare you.

Recipe for Zucchini and Squash Frittata (Adapted from Laura Sbrana’s recipe in the New York Times)

  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into thin rounds
  • 1 medium yellow squash, cut into thin rounds
  • 2 medium green onions, diced
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup low-fat milk
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped basil leaves
  • 4 zucchini flowers
  • salt
  • pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

Over medium-high heat, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy 12-inch skillet or 3-quart sauté pan. The oil should just cover the bottom of the pan. When the oil is hot, add the zucchini and squash and season with salt and pepper. Add the onions and season again.

Cook the vegetables until they start to soften, stirring often; this will take about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Whisk in the milk, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, cheese, and half of the basil.

Put the pan with the vegetables back on the stove, over medium-high heat. Add the remaining basil and cook briefly, until the basil wilts and you can smell its perfume. Pour the egg mixture to the pan with the zucchini and squash.

Reduce the heat to medium-low. As the eggs begin to cook, use a spatula to lift them away from the sides of the pan. This will keep the frittata from sticking to the pan. Tilt the pan as you lift the eggs, so that the uncooked egg flows underneath and continues to cook.

When the eggs appear cooked through, remove the pan from the heat. Turn on the broiler. With kitchen scissors, snip the zucchini flowers into small pieces over the frittata. Place the frittata under the broiler until it begins to brown. This will take about 5 to 7 minutes. Check it often, so that it doesn’t burn. Remove from heat.

Cover the frittata and pan with a plate, and turn the pan onto the plate so that the frittata slips from the pan. Use a second plate to flip the frittata again. Let the frittata rest at least 5 minutes before serving. Serves 4 as a main dish. Serve with a green salad if possible. Enjoy!

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The Raw and the Cooked

Sometimes I am struck by how easy cooking can be. Or rather, how easy it should be. 

A few weeks ago after work, I spent about 2 hours shucking, cooking, puréeing, and straining my CSA-delivered corn for what I hoped would be a creamy and flavorful dinner of curried corn soup. I was excited to prepare this sweet vegetable in a new way; usually I just boil it on the cob, or sauté it for my favorite salad. But for this soup I used a recipe I picked up at the farmers’ market last year and had been wanting to try.

Well, after all that effort—and several dirty pots and pans—I expected to be thrilled and satisfied with my dinner. But instead I was disappointed. Maybe it was just a bland recipe, or the fact that I’m not a huge fan of soup in general. Whatever the reason, as I lifted spoonful after spoonful of the broth to my mouth, I didn’t taste the sweet freshness I look forward to when eating summer corn. I missed biting into its firm and juicy kernels, their skins exploding with flavor between my teeth. All the reasons why I love this summer vegetable were absent once it was cooked and puréed into a porridge-like gruel. 

The very next night I got home late from work, and I didn’t have much time or energy to prepare dinner. I wound up tossing hefty chunks of raw, juicy tomatoes with slices of cool cucumber, red onion, basil, and some day-old bread left over from our meal the night before. Quickly drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and sprinkled with salt and pepper, this improvised panzanella salad exploited each ingredient’s flavor potential. With minimal effort and no actual cooking, I created one of best dishes I’ve made all summer.

What I am trying to say is that with summer fruits and vegetables, sometimes less is more. Summertime seasonal produce doesn’t need much handling in order to make a tasty, successful meal. And getting back to that corn, on the same night I made the panzanella, I also boiled some corn on the cob and got my flavor fix. As I said, cooking should always be this easy.

Recipe for Quick Panzanella Salad

  • 4 or 5 large, ripe tomatoes, sliced into chunks
  • 1/2 red onion, cut into thick slices
  • 1 medium cucumber, sliced into rounds and then halved
  • 1/2 loaf of day-old bread, sliced into thick chunks (if you like, you can toast the bread)
  • 1 garlic clove, very finely minced
  • a handful of fresh basil, leaves torn
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • salt
  • pepper

Combine the tomatoes, onion, cucumber, bread, and garlic in a large bowl. Gently toss the ingredients with your hands. Add two or three generous glugs of olive oil, and a splash of the balsamic vinegar. Add the basil leaves, and a few dashes of salt and freshly-ground black pepper. Gently combine the ingredients together with your hands. Season to taste. Serves 4 as a side dish. This recipe is very flexible, so feel free to alter it as you wish. Enjoy!

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Summer Salads

For some people, summer begins with fireworks on the 4th of July. For others, it happens with that first trip to the beach. Sometimes it’s celebrated when breaking out the open-toed sandals or by stirring up a pitcher of iced tea.

For me, the warmest of seasons has arrived when I can eat outside, whether it is at a friend’s barbeque, a picnic, or a stroll down Court Street with an ice cream cone in hand. This past weekend offered an ideal opportunity for outdoor dining, as Saturday night was breezy and beautiful in Brooklyn. Jim and I grabbed a blanket and joined our friends for a picnic in Prospect Park while Beth Orton sang to us from the stage nearby.

We had whipped up a few salads that afternoon, a combination of our CSA stash and a few store-bought items. Mark Bittman threw a bunch of picnic ideas our way last week, but I decided to go out on my own and make the most of the vegetables I had on hand.

When we arrived at the park we spread out our blanket and set up our spread. Empty patches of green grass grew smaller while our fellow concertgoers and picnickers settled in around us. Ignoring them all, we dug into our salads. Cooked orzo tossed with raw zucchini, grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, chopped fresh basil, and olive oil exuded freshness and summertime. Soft boiled potatoes coated in a lemony mustard dressing flirted with peppery arugula, while our final salad of cucumber, red onion, and feta cheese tingled under a swirl of white wine vinegar and olive oil.

I don’t think I need to post proper recipes for these salads. All I did was mix different vegetables, pasta, and cheese together until they tasted right. Rules relax in the summertime; food can be casual. The only tips I have are about the dressings: I mixed the orzo salad with olive oil, salt, and pepper a few hours before we left the apartment, just to help the flavors settle in and come together. We added the dressings to the potato and cucumber salads at the park so they wouldn’t get soggy beforehand.

Briny olives, more cheese, fresh fruit, and a crusty baguette rounded out our fresh air feast. Summer is here. All it took was a few salads, the park, and a summertime breeze.

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