The Big Summer Cookbook300 fresh, flavorful recipes for those lazy, hazy days
John Wiley & SonsCopyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd
All right reserved.ISBN: 978-0-470-11427-8
Chapter One Summer The Most Delicious Season
Summer is about great food. And great food is about delicious flavors and aromas. And delicious flavors and especially aromas are about memories. And fond memories have a lot to do with summer.
Summer evenings we spent as kids with grandparents or parents who may now be gone live on in our memories along with the foods we ate then. I remember my grandfather Hardebeck, my mom's dad, who always wore a bow tie, visiting us at our home in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. I can see my dad in the backyard cooking steak on the grill during one of Grandpa's visits, with my mom standing by (ready with criticism if the meat wasn't done to the absolute turn). Her station was in the kitchen, making the best darn hash browns anyone ever tasted. Dad's steaks always turned out great, to me-with a smoky aroma and a crusty char-grilled exterior and pink juicy interior. The smell of the browned potatoes and onions, and the bacon grease used to make the hash browns, mingled with the steak. I loved grandpa, and memories of my family flood back easily when prompted by memories of the aromas of grilled sirloin steak and hash browns. Without the food associations, what would I remember of those long-ago days when I made sure my dog, Debbie (named after the grade school cutie I had a crush on), got a piece of the steak?
But I digress-in a way I'm sure all of us can digress: back to the summers of our youth, the swimming holes and swimming pools, the skinned knees, the trips to the beach and the mouthfuls of saltwater, the camping out in the mountains, the soda pop and ice cream, the wild fruits, and all the rest of the goodness life showers on us when we are new and unsuspecting.
American summer cooking is as exotic and important as the cuisines of cultures we may think of as exotic. I'll put a dish of Southern fried chicken up against a salmon coulibiac any day. Our American cuisine reflects the ever-growing melting pot we have become. Once upon a summer afternoon, we drank Cuban frozen daiquiris on the veranda. A decade later, we downed British gin and tonics on the patio. And today, we're back to Cuba for mojitos on the deck. Where once we nibbled on clams casino (mmm-rich with bacon) and later ate spicy Buffalo wings, now we bite into steak satay dipped in chimichurri sauce.
No matter where our summer recipes are from, they all come back to darn good eatin'-that's what summer means now. These sunny days and balmy nights not only improve our own spirits, but they also call forth nature's version of a broad smile: summer-luscious fruits and vegetables. And these fruits and vegetables never taste better than when they're grown close to home, because they're fresher and because local farmers can plant varieties with the best taste rather than ones that are hard and ship well.
Using Summer's Incredible Bounty
The three months of summer ride in on waves of fresh vegetables and fruits, especially the summer staples. Fresh ears of corn, of course, and tomatoes, but also summer squash, green beans, okra, local peppers sweet and hot (like a first summer love), cucumbers, beets, and eggplant. And the summer fruits! Apricots, cherries, peaches, nectarines, melons ... and now is when you can find all this bounty grown locally and organically, with incomparable flavor and freshness. One can just imagine how our ancestors felt when the cold, lean days of the off-seasons faded into the time of sun-warmed days and shirtsleeve evenings, and the wonderful staples of summer appeared. We can feel something of that same thrill enjoying nature's gifts from our local gardens and farms.
There was a time in America when summer meant work-and lots of it. Planting crops, cultivating them, harvesting them, drying and baling hay, cutting corn and turning it into silage, putting up food for the cold months, and taking the harvest to town to sell. It wasn't that long ago, in the scheme of things, that most Americans were farmers.
Today, most Americans are no longer farmers, but 30 percent of us are gardeners-even if we just grow a few tomato plants. Or roses. Or herbs. Gardening, even a little of it, is grounding and relaxing. I knew an L.A. cop, a young woman, assigned to South Central L.A., a high-crime area. She told me that when she got home, her first 45 minutes were always spent alone in her garden. Only then had the reservoir of tension from her job drained away enough for her to be inside with her family.
Summer is the season of fecundity. I strongly encourage you to take advantage of the season by growing something to eat. If that's impossible, visit one of the pick-your-own farms where you can gather strawberries, blueberries, and brambleberries right from the plants. It puts you in touch with that strong, vibrant force of summer and the positive and valuable regenerative effects it has on a person.
Most of the vegetables grown in the temperate parts of America are either tropical plants like tomatoes and peppers, or annual plants that spend the winter as seeds, such as corn and beans. That means they can only be grown in most of America during the frost-free summer months. So when the weather turns warm, that's the time to take advantage of the rich diversity and high quality of our foodstuffs. Do that by following the recipes that fill this book, and also by preserving the great flavors of summer by freezing, canning, and drying.
And because summer is the time when we're active and spending more time out of doors, which affords us less time in the kitchen, we need recipes that are quick and easy to make. You'll find them here as well.
Locally grown summer fruits and vegetables are easy to find these days. They're in supermarkets, specialty stores, farmers' markets, roadside stands, and available directly from the farm and pick-your-own operations. And we're growing them ourselves: remember that 30 percent of American families grow some type of vegetable garden, about a third of all meals eaten in this country are provided by restaurants, and more and more chefs-and even some fast food outlets-are using locally grown ingredients in season. The very best chefs may spend their mornings at the farmers' markets selecting ingredients for that evening's meals.
Besides the huge variety of vegetables that come to our markets in summer, the best varieties of our favorite fruits appear in summer, too: Sparkle strawberries, Bing cherries, Santa Rosa plums, Royal Blenheim apricots, Red Haven peaches, Northland blueberries. They're there for a few weeks at most-and then, sadly, they're gone. Oh, but when they're "in," what a time we can have! Prices plunge as the crop swamps our local markets, even as the quality is hitting its seasonal highs.
We wait all year for those big, fat, juicy Bings to show up in the stores, refusing to buy the expensive substitutes from the southern hemisphere, refusing to buy the inferior early varieties, biding our time. Then, suddenly, there they are. We buy a bag for fresh eating. "Life is just a bowl of cherries" runs through our minds as we set a sumptuous bowl of them on our kitchen counter. What else can we do with them? What can we make out of them? How can we preserve their goodness for the off-season?
Hence this book.
Summer is a time when we can capture peak flavor and nutrition, not just in fruits and vegetables, but also in other foods. For instance, summer is the season when pastures are green and lush, and the cows and sheep are grazing and the goats browsing. This verdancy has a profound effect on their milk, and cheesemakers know that summertime is when milk is at its best. It's also when grass-fed beef is at its best, for the meat animals are enjoying the benefits of fresh, green pasture-exactly the food that nature has designed their digestive systems to eat. In summer, chickens-at least those raised as free-range birds-can eat their natural diet, which includes worms and insects, and lay the finest eggs. And the hot, hard light of the summer sun calls forth the most aromatic esters and volatile oils from fresh herbs.
The greatest variety of fruits and vegetables is available to us during the height of the growing season. Foods in season taste best and can be vine-ripe, meaning they contain more flavor components and nutrients than out-of-season foods picked green. Far from being a new idea, eating seasonally is the way most people on earth have eaten since time immemorial, out of necessity not choice.
There are many good reasons to look for locally produced food during the summer. It's not hard to find, no matter where you shop. Then, the supply line from the farm to your table is as short as possible, ensuring that the food is at its peak of quality and nutrition. Supporting local agriculture means preserving local farmland, and that strengthens local communities.
There is an important environmental ethic that develops on family farms. Family farmers care not only about the bottom line, but also about the life on the farm: the human beings and their pets, farm animals, the life in the soil, and the wildlife that lives there or passes through. There may be some foods that are literally only available locally at some time during the summer. Here in Sonoma County, that would be the Crane melon. Long ago, a family named Crane discovered a choice melon on their farm that came true to seed-that is, planting the seed of a Crane melon produces more Crane melons. The melons are light yellow and extremely sweet and aromatic, and we locals look forward to them every year. They appear at the end of the summer season and are sold in selected stores and at the Crane Melon Barn on a side road between Petaluma and Santa Rosa. You won't find them anywhere else. But many areas of the country have such local gems. Look for them in your region and you're very likely to find them.
If you can find it and afford it, choose organically grown food. Organic agriculture is clean agriculture, using no toxic chemicals or other agricultural products or medicines that endanger the soil, the local ground water and streams, the local wildlife, the farmer and his family, or the people who eat the food.
Many of the foods of summer these days, whether found at a supermarket or farmers' market, are artisanal-that is, they are grown or produced by someone who cares about the craft of creating the best possible foods from the ground up. I recently saw a summer vegetable stand with a display of zucchini-one of the most common of vegetables. The display was beautiful: each squash a perfectly formed, unblemished cylinder the same length as the others. I didn't measure them with a ruler; they may have been four to four and a half inches long. Each still had its rich yellow-orange flower attached to the blossom end. That indicated the zucchinis were picked that day and were as fresh as they could be. Some of the cylinders were green and some yellow, and the colors alternated in the display. I couldn't resist and bought eight squashes. At home, I made Zucchini Quiche. (See the recipe on page 33.)
In other words, what looks really good at the market will probably be really good on the plate, if you have good techniques and recipes for preparing it. That's what this book is for.
What's in Season?
The United States is a large country with many climates-the U.S. Department of Agriculture lists 11 climate zones ranging from Zone 1, where winter lows are 30 to 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (Alaska), to Zone 11, which never experiences frost (Hawaii). And so you may find local, fresh corn and green beans in Florida at times of the year when the ground is frozen solid in Minnesota. Summer fruits and vegetables show up about a month earlier in northern California than they do in New York.
The following list of what's in season in the summer months represents a median-accurate for the broad swath of the country that falls into Zones 6 and 7. In colder areas, the local, fresh foods will show up later and disappear earlier. In warmer regions, they'll arrive earlier and stay later.
Be aware that most fruits and some vegetables have early-, mid-, and late-season varieties. Mid-season varieties tend to be the highest quality because they are original or heirloom types that were the proven standard of quality years ago, before breeding programs developed early and late varieties to extend the season. The fruits, vegetables, and herbs listed on pages 1012 are what you can expect to find at your markets during the summer months.