Last week we finally had summer here in the North West. This week it’s back to gray skies and sleeping with two blankets, but I’m still dreaming of those hot, hot days when my entire body was dripping and salty for three days and nights straight. A trip to the farmer’s market produced these delightfully cooling dishes for a sweltering summer’s day, and just in case it’s still summer where you are, try these.
Slice the tips off peppers of many colors so that you have a heap of bright pepper rings. Mini peppers are very useful here. Place the pepper rings in a ziplock bag with a cup or two of your favorite vinaigrette and let them marinate for a few hours. Be sure to salt the vinaigrette to help the marinade penetrate into the peppers. Meanwhile, blanch and shock a heap of Romano beans, or other green beans. Drain well and chill them until the peppers are ready. Assemble the salad as shown. Sprinkle the beans with salt and pepper. Dress the beans with this creamy dressing. Stir together:
1 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 handful chopped green onions
2 T chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic, pressed
salt and pepper to taste
Thin the dressing with water until it’s a thick drizzling consistency.
Sprinkle the beans and dressing with finely diced radishes. This improbable combination makes a strangely addictive accompaniment to grilled or smoked meat.
This is also the season for stuffing squash blossoms. The simplest possible stuffing for about a dozen flowers is to take an 11 oz log of goat cheese like you get at Trader Joe’s or Costco (no need to use the fancy stuff here), blend it with an egg, stir in about 1/2 cup of finely slivered basil, 1 1/2 ounces freshly grated Parmesan, and a clove or two of pressed garlic, a bit of salt and pepper, and gently stuff the flowers, twisting the ends together. Set them in an oiled pan and drizzle them lightly with olive oil. Bake them at 350° for 10 minutes, then cover the pan with foil and bake for another 5 minutes. If you have enough flowers, make 2-3 per person, because these have a tendency to vanish instantly.
And finally, for a quick and fun “burger bar” meal, grill some beef burgers and some lamb burgers, and set out a variety of toppings. Here we have caramelized garlic, cherry tomatoes, feta slices, piquillo pepper strips, crisp romaine, garlic dill pickles, onion rings, and cheddar slices, but you can wing this to suit the tastes of your family and friends. There were caramelized onions as well that escaped the picture, and of course catsup and mayo and mustard. People love to assemble their own burgers with a variety of toppings, and straying beyond the usual offerings is sure to content your guests.
With any luck we’ll have a few more summery days, and I’ll be reprising these. But in the meantime, I’ll be summering in my imagination, dreaming my way through a summer where the grill is always fired up and the salads are cool and fresh, there’s always something cold to drink, and friends with whom to share it all.