I cook differently in the summer than I do in the winter. I think everyone does. In the winter, I love to do all those wonderful braises either in the oven or in my Dutch oven on the stovetop. The smell of a tough cut of meat cooking slowly, releasing its grip on its tight muscles to become delicious and tender makes my mouth water.
In the summer I’m more likely to fire up the grill and cook chicken or steak or some kind of chops with just simple seasonings like salt and pepper and maybe some Montreal seasoning (I’ve grown obsessed with the Chicago-style). Fast cooking and quick clean-up. Perfect for summertime when the house is hot. One of my favorite things to do in the summer is prepare the entire meal outside. Grilled vegetables. Potatoes cooked in tin foil. Chops or chicken cooked over the fire.
I’m pretty sure nowadays you can get most vegetables in grocery stores all year long. I remember the days when that wasn’t so. You had to wait until summer to enjoy fresh corn on the cob, for example. I recollect my mom buying home-grown corn on the cob from somewhere in the late summer – likely a farm stand on the side of the road — and bringing it home for us to clean. What I also remember is that every single time, at some point we found a worm in the corn. Organic corn on the cob, though we hadn’t ever even heard of that word. But, ewwwww. Man I hated finding that worm.
Now, I’m not promising that the vegetables you get in the winter are as good as those you get when the vegetables are in season closer to home. And of course they are much more expensive. That’s why I don’t generally buy any kind of melons any time except when they are in season, and even that is iffy. And there really isn’t anything more disappointing than a cantaloupe or honeydew melon that isn’t ripe. There is absolutely no flavor.
As an aside, I sometimes dream about the melon we ate in Italy. We would order cantaloupe with prosciutto as an antipasto any time it was available on the menu. Yum. It was always good. I don’t know how they do that. Maybe it’s because we always visited Italy in the summer when the melons were in season. In Colorado, we get Rocky Ford melons sometime midsummer, and they are also good. But where is the artwork by Michaelangelo?
Even though vegetables are available most of the year, there are certain things I simply don’t make in the winter. Mostly salads, I’d say. I make a really good salad out of fennel and grapefruit and oranges that is so refreshing when it’s hot outside. I love the tart flavor of the citrus coupled with the sweet licorice flavor of the raw fennel. Not for everyone, but I love it.
I also make any and every kind of tomato salad I can think of in the summer, particularly when the homegrown tomatoes start showing up at the farmers’ markets. A hothouse tomato is just as disappointing as an unripe melon. Maybe more so. As I wait on my tomato plants to begin bearing the fruit, and then wait a bit longer as the tomatoes ripen on the vine, I buy the heirloom tomatoes at Whole Foods. It’s a shame about the second mortgage and all, but I love any kind of salad made with tomatoes and I just can’t wait any longer. I recently made a tomato and avocado salad that had a delicious lime dressing.
Earlier this summer I bought a hanging tomato plant at Home Depot. It has a headstart on the other tomatoes and I am already harvesting the cherry tomatoes. Well, I’m harvesting the tomatoes that I manage to keep the grandkids from picking when they’re still green. It’s so tempting and all…. Mylee in particular just can’t keep her hands off! I’ve trained her not to pick them when they’re green, but boy-oh-boy, they are so snatched off the vine the second they show the slightest bit of pink when she’s around.
As the temperatures reach the 90s, I’m even able to talk Bill into eating a salad for dinner. Of course it helps if there is also steak and bleu cheese dressing involved in the mix.
Here are a couple of recipes for good summer salads.
1 large orange, peeled and ends trimmed
1 grapefruit, peeled and ends trimmed
1 large or 3 small fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
¼ c. extra virgin olive oil
¼ c. packed fresh basil leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c. chopped walnuts, toasted
Place a sieve over a medium bowl. Hold an orange over the bowl, and using a paring knife, cut along the membrane on both sides of each segment. Free the segments and let them fall into the sieve. Repeat with the grapefruit. Squeeze the membranes over the bowl to extract as much juice as possible, reserving the juices in the bottom of the bowl. Place the fruit segments and fennel in a salad bowl.
In a blender or the bowl of a small food processor, blend together the oil, basil, and 3 T of the reserved juice in until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the fruit and fennel. Add the chopped walnuts and toss until all of the ingredients are coated.
1-2 ripe tomatoes, sliced
1 ripe and firm avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced
¼ white or red onion, sliced or diced
Cilantro leaves, whole or coarsely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1-2 T. olive oil
Salt to taste
Arrange the tomato slices on a large plate. Next add the onion, and finally the avocado slices. Drizzle with the lime juice and the olive oil. Sprinkle with cilantro and salt to taste.
Nana’s Notes: I didn’t use oranges or walnuts in my Citrus Salad, though both would be yummy. I just didn’t have them on hand. And yet I had fennel. Weird.Oranges would provide a bit of sweetness which would be good.