For a simple supper at the end of a superb summer Sunday, macerate fresh chopped tomatoes and basil in a garlicky red wine vinaigrette. Toss with red leaf lettuce and croutons made from the remainder of Friday’s baguette. (If you happen to have a little Serrano ham left, so much the better.) Pair your salad with a wine spritzer using that Riesling that somehow escaped consumption mixed with a little seltzer.
This isn’t so much a recipe as a concept–one that employs the summer’s bounty and yields a nice supper, brunch for two, and an afternoon snack, all with minimal effort.
Make Ahead: 1) Crank the oven up to 400 and chop up whatever summer vegetables you have on hand. I used zucchini, yellow squash, fairy tale eggplant, and the roots and bulb of a bunch of baby fennel (which, YUM). 2) Toss the vegetables with a good quantity of olive oil, salt and pepper in a large roasting pan and pop it in the oven. 3) Let cook until you start to smell something really good. Give the vegetables a good stir and return to the oven until they are soft and nicely browned. This can be done a day ahead of time.
For Dinner: 1) sauté onion, garlic and red pepper flakes in some olive oil. 2) Add some chopped fresh tomato and cook just briefly before adding some of your roasted vegetables. 3) Stir in some freshly boiled al dente pasta, allowing a little of the pasta water to form a loose sauce. (I was feeding a friend who avoids gluten, so I went with a brown rice pasta, which was surprisingly tasty and toothsome.) 4) Cook for a minute or so, remove from heat, and toss with some fresh basil. 5) Serve with a nice dollop of ricotta cheese.
For Brunch the Next Day: 1) Set the oven to 400 and repeat steps one and two above, adding in all of your leftover roasted vegetables and substituting a fresh jalapeño for the red pepper flakes if you happen to have one on hand. 2) Stir in some fresh basil. 3) Reserve about a third of the mixture and spoon the rest into individual baking dishes, forming a hollow in the center. Crack a couple of eggs into each dish and pop into the oven until the eggs are just set.
For an Afternoon Snack: 1) Toast some nice bread in a dry cast iron skillet over medium heat. 2) Top with the last of your ratatouille.
And that, my friends, is how you consume two zucchini, two yellow squash, a large bunch of baby fennel, half a pound of eggplant, three onions, a head of garlic, a bouquet of purple basil, and one jalapeño pepper in 24 hours.
July melted into August this week. In my mind, I am spending lazy days sitting under an umbrella reading a juicy novel and listening to the waves. In reality, I am pulling eleven-hour workdays. Yesterday was particularly cruel. At 8:30am I descended onto a nearly empty subway platform. When the train doors slid open, I had my pick of seats. I disembarked at West Fourth Street into an eerie silence. It was as though I had awoken to find myself in some post-apocalyptic science fiction movie. That or everyone but me was off enjoying a Summer Friday.
I powered through my day, crossing items off of my to do list at a rate that would have been deeply satisfying were it not for my mounting pile of tasks. By 6:00 I was useless, so I pushed in my desk chair and headed out with a singular vision. I had peaches left over from my weekly CSA share. I had beautiful purple basil from the Union Square Greenmarket. And I had a bottle of Patrón Silver gifted to me at last month’s fundraiser. A couple of limes and it was on.
Peach Basil Margaritas
- 4 peaches
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 cup loosely packed purple basil
- zest and juice of 2 limes
- good quality white tequila
Pit the peaches, toss into the food processor and let run until they’re as smooth as you’re going to get them. Meanwhile, add the sugar, water, basil and lime zest to a small saucepan. Bring to and maintain a low simmer for five minutes or so. Strain the peaches through a chinois or other fine mesh strainer, using a flexible spatula to extract all of the liquid. Add this peach nectar along with the lime juice to a small pitcher. Strain the basil syrup into the pitcher. Stir in a few ice cubes and pop in the fridge until well chilled–or until you really need a drink. Carry the pitcher, the bottle of tequila, some ice and a couple of glasses up to the roof. A ratio of 1/2 cup of peach basil goodness, a shot or so of tequila and two ice cubes was an optimal mix for the first batch.
Justin and I were a bit more heavy-handed with the second round, which we poured as the sun set. Eventually, we made our way downstairs for a simple but satisfying dinner of spicy, garlic-laden pasta with eggplant, green beans, fresh tomatoes and ricotta cheese.
As those who know me well know well, I rarely cook the same thing twice. I am constantly exploring and experimenting. I credit my parents for allowing me to do my own thing in the kitchen at a very early age. (Somewhere there is a photo of a four-year-old me standing naked on a chair preparing scrambled eggs.)
But this weekend I was reminded that classic dishes became classics for a reason.
After a stroll through Prospect Park (air cast be damned), I swung through the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket where, despite the CSA bounty overflowing my refrigerator, I couldn’t resist picking up Italian eggplant, basil, and Bread Alone‘s insanely delicious whole wheat sourdough. On my stroll home, I devised a plan to toast the bread, slather it in ricotta cheese, and top it with basil, fresh peaches, black pepper, and perhaps a drizzle of honey. While I have no doubt that this dish would be delicious, the thick mold on top of my ricotta forced me to make other plans.
(Fairly) Classic Bruschetta
- 2 slices whole wheat sourdough or other good quality bread of your choosing
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 medium tomato, chopped and sprinkled with salt
- 10 basil leaves, thinly sliced
- salt and pepper
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar (optional)
- Bring half a tablespoon of olive oil up to medium heat in a cast iron skillet. Add the garlic and cook stirring constantly until just tender but not yet browned. Remove garlic to cutting board, lower heat a bit, and add your bread slices.
- While your bread toasts, finely chop the cooked garlic and combine with the tomato, basil, and remaining olive oil in a small bowl. Taste and add a little salt, pepper, and/or red wine vinegar as desired. (My tomato was far more sweet than acidic, so the vinegar balanced it nicely.)
- Flip your bread and toast the other side while your tomatoes macerate a bit. Assemble and enjoy.
The simplicity of this classic dish is what makes it so perfect. Tragically, I ate my last tomato when I prepared this on Saturday. Here’s hoping tomorrow’s CSA share brings another batch!
This time of year one’s cooking skills are a bit of a fifth wheel. The produce is so varied and abundant that the real challenge is narrowing it all down to a single meal. From there, it’s mere assembly.
I’m hosting a fancy fundraiser in the Hamptons next weekend, which necessitated a midweek trip to Sagaponack. Turns out that the drive out isn’t so bad if you hit the road at 10:00pm on a Tuesday. By midnight I was in bed munching the last of my blueberries and perusing a magazine.
The next morning was a flurry of espresso and emails. I knocked off in time to hit the amazing Breadzilla for lunch before my noon meeting. In my experience, the Hamptons is rife with overpriced and lackluster food. But I happily forked over $16.50 for the best lobster roll of my life, which I ate on a bench in the adjacent garden. I also picked up a baguette, assuming it would play a roll in the evening’s dinner.
The afternoon was back-to-back meetings. I selected flatware and linens, discussed the logistics of transporting a baby grand piano, and wandered around Wölffer Estate Vineyard with a tape measure while vacationers enjoyed wine flights. I did manage to squeeze in a stop at a farm stand, picking up Italian eggplant, zucchini, young shallots with the green shoots still attached, basil, and some unimaginably sweet small yellow tomatoes. I was saved from buying even more by their cash-only policy. This is what I could get for the $16.50 in my wallet.
I got a bit lost trying to take the back roads home, but was rewarded when I passed a fish shop selling all sorts of local delights. Mercifully, they took credit cards, so I was able to pick up a pound of wild sea scallops, a couple of balls of burrata, and a lemon for good measure. I still didn’t know what I was going to make, but it would be hard to go wrong with these ingredients.
The day was a hot one and my last meeting had been on an unshaded terrace. I got back to the house where I was staying around 5:00 and rewarded myself with a dip in the pool.
Another hour of furious emailing and it was off to collect my dear friend Louis at the train station. On the way home, we picked up the two final ingredients for our evening meal: rosé and rosé. We made short work of the first bottle, a Côtes de Provence, while gabbing poolside as the sun set.
Time to uncork the next bottle and start assembling dinner. I cut the shallots in half, leaving the green ends intact, and tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper. The scallops got the same treatment, minus the slicing. (Had I been able to locate a grater of some sort, they would have gotten some lemon zest too.) I cut the eggplant and zucchini on the diagonal and added fish sauce and tamari to my simple marinade.
While I fired up the grill, Louis got busy halving the tomatoes, chiffonading a bunch of basil, and pouring another round of wine. Once they were ready, I arranged the grilled veggies and scallops in stripes alongside the tomatoes and burrata, which I tore into hunks. The whole platter got a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and some fresh cracked pepper.
This being a casual and intimate meal, we dined at the kitchen table, each armed with a soup spoon to ladle things onto our plate, a lemon wedge to dress our meal, and a baguette hunk to sop up the juices.
The next morning found us back at the kitchen table, where we worked until lunchtime. Then it was off to Breadzilla, where Louis enjoyed the lobster roll while I moved on to the delightful shrimp salad. In the afternoon, I downed an espresso and swam laps, which was a shockingly pleasing combination. A few more hours of work and it was time to bid the pool adieu and head back to the city. But first, one more farm stand…
As those who know and (miraculously, still) love me are aware, I am not a morning person. But work has been brutal, so I went in a full hour and a half early today in an effort to get a jump start. Ten hours later, I dashed out the door. I managed to bang out a few more emails on the subway ride to pick up my weekly CSA share, which included butter leaf lettuce, blueberries and two cucumbers that mocked me for the four I still had stashed from last week. On my kitchen counter was some fresh basil my neighbors gave me when I dropped off the keys so they could watch my cat. (How’s that for a good trade?)
I’ve still got a number of hours of work tonight, including a hundred-mile drive due East. But I’ll be damned if I’m not going to have a tasty and nutritious meal first.
Blueberry, Basil and Butter Lettuce Salad
- 3 tablespoons goat milk yogurt (This would ideally be at room temperature or close to it.)
- 1 tablespoon honey vinegar (Champagne vinegar or even rice wine vinegar would be fine.)
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 3 thinly sliced scallions
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 pinch salt
- freshly ground pepper
- 1 head butter lettuce, rinsed and dried thoroughly
- 1 large cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced at an angle (I used an Asian cucumber, which was YUM.)
- 1 cup blueberries
- 20 basil leaves, chiffonaded (rolled in a bunch like an, um, cigarette and then sliced thinly)
- 1 ounce feta or goat cheese (While you could skip this if serving with a meal, this WAS my meal.)
- Combine the yogurt, vinegar, oil, scallions, honey, salt and pepper in a small jar. Put the lid on and shake vigorously until the honey has dissolved.
- Tear the lettuce into a small bowl, adding the cucumbers, blueberries, basil and any cheese you choose to use. Drizzle with the dressing, toss and dig in.
This came out much better than expected. There was a certain harmony of flavors that transcended what were already some delightfully fresh ingredients. There was also a lightness I couldn’t place until halfway through wolfing my salad down, when I remembered that I had opted for coconut rather than olive oil. Trust me on this one.