In my mind, Labor Day signals the end of summer. So this weekend I started thinking of my activities in terms of their seasonal finality: the last after-dinner ice cream walk, the last weekend to enjoy the neighborhood pool.
But this summer, which flew by especially quickly because of trips to Italy and Baltimore, was also threatening to close without certain culinary accomplishments. On Sunday I wound up asking myself about some non-realized summer dishes. For example, why hadn’t I made my favorite corn salad yet? Infused with garlic, fresh basil, and balsamic vinegar, this salad symbolizes all that is fresh and wonderful about the hottest season’s bounty. I usually make it at least once every summer.
Also, I had yet to make Mark Bittman’s Vietnamese Summer Rolls. I had cut out this recipe from the New York Times Dining Section at the beginning of July, and posted it on my refrigerator so that I wouldn’t forget to make these cool, minty treats. The sheet of crinkled newsprint had been staring at me since then, taunting me every time I opened the refrigerator door to pour a glass of water or reach for some salad greens.
So after musing over these questions for a little while, I dove into action. I started with the corn salad, which is really quite simple and needs only a few minutes to prepare. I just sautéed some corn kernels from my CSA in some garlic, then added some fresh basil, chopped tomatoes, and a dash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. So simple, and so very, very good.
Then I moved on to the Summer Rolls. And that’s where the real work began.
First of all, the author of this recipe is known as “The Minimalist.” Well, there was nothing “minimal” about this recipe. I started by cleaning and grilling the shrimp, which was no small task. Then I cooked the vermicelli noodles. After setting them aside, I washed and chopped some lettuce, basil, mint, and cilantro, shredded the carrots, and then folded and assembled the rolls in some rice paper. Whew! This was full-on hard labor.
But the rolls were worth it. Refreshingly stuffed with minty herbs, freshly grilled shrimp, chewy noodles, and sweet carrots, these rolls were perfect end-of-summer fare. Not so perfect: the recipe for accompanying sauce. A mixture of fish sauce, fresh ginger, water, salt and pepper, this sauce was poured down the drain after I took a tremendously salty sample. Poor Jim was sent to the corner bodega for a suitable replacement, and returned with some pre-made peanut satay sauce. I was disappointed at having to revert to the local bodega, but what can I say, we were desperate.
So, we may not have feasted on the traditional hot dogs and hamburgers on this Labor Day, but we did enjoy our own version of seasonal, summer fare. Good-bye summer, hello fall. Bring on the butternut squash.