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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