Summer is over on the school calendar and the old-school when-to-wear-white calendar, but not on the astronomical calendar. So I will squeeze in one last summer post here. Watermelon by itself is delightful enough, but you can jazz it up even more with feta cheese and fresh mint. It’s interesting enough with just these three basic ingredients, but you could easily add in any combination of tomato, red onion, cucumber, kalamata olives, black pepper, and raw jalapeño.
You know how tabouli sometimes gets all soggy and water logged? This version doesn’t. Celery and walnuts give this grain salad a great crunch, while za’atar (a Middle Eastern herb and spice blend that you should definitely try if you haven’t already) and feta cheese (optional) make it a next-level side dish. Or hey, put an egg on it and call it a meal. Make a big batch because it’s delicious.
I looooove scallops. They aren’t cheap, but they are very easy to prepare. All that stands between them and an impressive dinner is a quick sear in a hot pan. Since scallops are pretty mild-tasting, I think they go best with flavors that aren’t so aggressive. I picked up some very sweet late-summer cherry tomatoes today that were perfect for this. And of course, there was wine: a bottle of crisp chenin blanc to deglaze aforementioned hot pan and complete my lovely Sunday evening at home.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound sea scallops
2 cloves garlic
1/2 bulb fennel, sliced
about 25-30 cherry tomatoes
splash of white wine (something light and crisp)
salt and pepper
chopped fresh parsley
Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Pat scallops dry with a paper towel to make sure you get a really good sear. Add them to the pan, and make sure it’s not all crowded in there (if it is, use a 2nd pan). Stay calm while everything splatters noisily. When the scallops are nicely browned and crusty, flip them carefully. When the other sides are seared, move the scallops to a plate, season with salt and pepper, and cover with a foil tent. I like to keep them in my turned-off oven for extra warmth.
Reduce heat to medium and add garlic and fennel. Add a splash of white wine and enjoy the aroma of deglazing. Scrape up all the browned bits in the pan (this is called the “fond”). Add cherry tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Add extra water to make a sauce. Turn off the heat and stir in chopped parsley.
Put the fennel-tomato mixture on a plate and nestle the scallops between the tomatoes. Devour with 1 to many glasses of white wine.
One of the very memorable farewell meals I had in New York was at a restaurant called Xixa in Williamsburg. They offer an exhausting tasting menu for an incredible $45 per person that will leave you not wanting to eat again for another 24 hours (in a good way). One of my favorite dishes was a version of elote that blankets slender carrots (instead of cobs of corn) with honey butter, lime-spiked mayonnaise, and fresh herbs. For my homemade adaptation of it, I went light on the fatty toppings and heavy on the fresh herbs.
To make it: Toss slender carrots (about 1/2 to 3/4-inches in diameter) with a drizzle of olive oil. Roast them in a 450-degree oven or grill them until they get a little charred. Toss with a dab of honey butter (just a basic compound butter made with softened butter and honey… btw it’s also good on toast) and salt. Place on a serving dish and smear lightly with lime mayo (just a basic compound mayo made with either mayonnaise or aioli and lime juice) or if you’re going for extra presentation points, use a little squeeze bottle to squirt lines of it over the carrots. Shower with finely chopped cilantro and dill. Add a layer of finely crumbled cotija or feta cheese. Finish with a hefty dusting of chili powder.
This classy dressing is great with summer lettuces, tossed with potatoes, or spooned over a pretty piece of fish. I lightened it up by using plain yogurt instead of mayonnaise or sour cream.
To make it: Finely chop your choice of fresh, soft leafy herbs in a food processor. Parsley, tarragon, and chives are a common way to start, and I’ve seen recipes that include mint, basil, chervil, and dill. Optional: an anchovy filet, or you could try adding a squirt of fish sauce instead. Add lemon juice, plain yogurt, salt, and a drizzle of olive oil if you’d like. If it’s too thick, add water.
Seasonal pizzas are my jam (as you may have noticed on this blog). This one was made with the goals of 1. responsibly cleaning out the fridge before a weekend away, and 2. having something delicious and homemade to eat on a Friday night. From bottom to top it goes: whole wheat pizza dough, fontina cheese, sliced heirloom tomatoes, sliced fresh jalapenos, fresh corn, and goat cheese. After baking, fresh dill, basil, a sprinkle of salt, and several grinds of black pepper go over it.
You may have heard that eating Padrón peppers (and their Japanese counterpart, shishito peppers) is like some kind of mealtime Russian roulette — most are mild, but 1 in every 10 peppers are rumored to be wickedly hot. I’d like to re-frame eating these little guys as entering a lottery. Though none in my batch of pan-seared peppers ended up being spicy, it’s a gamble I’m always willing to take. Maybe next time I’ll be a winner.
As far as preparing Padrón or shishito peppers goes, all you have to do is blacken them in an oiled pan or throw skewered sets of them on a hot grill. Sprinkle flaky salt over them and you’re ready to play.
I’m a fan of savory peanut butter sandwiches (previously: PB + pickles), so it should come as no surprise that this crunchy spicy combo is in regular rotation for me.
FIGS you guys. Plump, lusciously soft, tooth-achingly sweet figs from California. I am pretty sure you can’t go wrong by combining them with a well-identified array of cheeses (chevre, Parmesan, mascarpone, blue cheeses), salty cured pork (prosciutto, bacon, speck, etc.), or nuts. I decided to maximize the experience and go with all of the above.
To make it: Crisp up prosciutto slices in a bit of olive oil. Set aside and cut into pieces when cool enough to handle. Add balsamic vinegar and a drizzle of honey to the pan, and let the vinegar reduce and thicken a bit. Mix in a little salt and pepper. Pour dressing over arugula, quartered figs, and prosciutto pieces. Top with toasted walnuts. Fresh goat cheese (not pictured) is also a welcome addition.
After browsing through a few recipes for Pasta alla Norma, I came to the conclusion that the key ingredients for the sauce are eggplant, tomatoes, ricotta salata, and fresh basil. Everything else that goes into it is up to you. Instead of frying the eggplant chunks in oil, I roasted them in a 500-degree oven which was, yes, not the most comfortable thing to do on a hot summer day, but also, yes, less splattery and oily (thanks for the idea, Saveur).
To make it: Three parallel processes that come together in the end.
1. Toss cubes of eggplant with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast in a 500-degree oven for 20 minutes, or until soft and browned.
2. While the eggplant is roasting, heat up some olive oil in a saucepan and add some combination of chopped onion, minced garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook for a few minutes, then add canned diced tomatoes (or break up whole tomatoes into chunks). Season with salt and dried oregano, and let simmer. When the eggplant is done, add it to the tomato sauce.
3. While the sauce is going, cook pasta (spaghetti, penne, rigatoni… whatever you prefer). Drain and add to the sauce, and toss to combine.
4. Serve with shredded or shaved ricotta salata and torn fresh basil leaves, and maybe an extra drizzle of good olive oil.