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Summer Reading: Cooking

Sun-Kissed Summer Cookbooks and Recipes

Cookbooks such as True Blueberry celebrate summer's bounty. Recipes in the story can be found on the cookbook pages below. Heidi Swanson hide caption

toggle caption Heidi Swanson

About the Author

Author Heidi Swanson is known to foodies for her blog, 101cookbooks. She is also the author of Cook 1.0: A Fresh Approach to the Vegetarian Kitchen.

Pan-seared scallops from Fresh Every Day by Sara Foster Random House hide caption

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I treat my cookbook collection the way some women treat the clothes in their closet. As the seasons change, so do the books in my kitchen. And with the arrival of summer, I live by the culinary equivalent of "no white shoes after Labor Day" — that would be "no roasting, braising, or comfort food after Memorial Day."

An amazing palette of sun-kissed ingredients — big berries, juicy stone fruits, bright tomatoes, and overflowing pots of herbs — ripens each summer. My dilemma is how to enjoy it all. Sometimes, I whip up a meal spontaneously, sparked by whatever I pick up at the market. Other times, I get the itch to make a seasonal favorite handed down to me from a friend or family member. But, as a cookbook aficionado, summer is a favorite time to turn to my collection for ideas and inspiration.

One of my more recent acquisitions is True Blueberry, a beautiful, little, single-subject cookbook written by Linda Dannenberg that dotes exclusively on this compact, crown-topped, favorite. Like many of you, I wait not-so-patiently for blueberry season each year. The flavor of these indigo gems hovers just on the tart side of sweet — lending itself perfectly to outdoor eating. This book includes five (!) blueberry muffin recipes, easy blueberry jam, berry-packed twists on your favorite appetizers, and sauces — all the while singing the nutritional praises of this antioxidant-packed, fiber-filled wonder food.

Try the refreshing Mixed Berries in Wine and Lime Sauce where a selection of in-season berries are splashed with sweet, fruity wine, a sprinkling of sugar, and a squeeze of lime for an updated twist on summer fruit salad.

My friends in the cookbook-selling world are all a-twitter about the just-released Fresh Every Day: More Great Recipes from Foster's Market, a follow-up to Sara Foster's well-loved original, Foster's Market Cookbook. This new delivery is a beautiful, glassine-wrapped, full-color book. Because the recipes are derived from Sara's country-style markets in North Carolina that feature to-go fare, there are many salads, sandwiches and main dishes that travel well or can be prepared ahead of time while not suffering too much. This translates into recipes that are great for picnics, outdoor dining and summertime entertaining.

Everyone who flips through the book oohs-and-ahhs over the 'Fast and Fresh Fish' chapter which includes Pan-Seared Sea Scallops with Citrus Tarragon Butter, Sautéed Tangerine Shrimp, and an excuse to fire up the Weber for Grilled Salmon with your Favorite Fresh Salsa (see Secrets of Salsa below for new salsa ideas).

One of my most treasured summer cookbooks is The Secrets of Salsa, a book I stumbled on one afternoon in a neighborhood bookstore. Written by Mexican women living in Anderson Valley in northern California, this tiny book features an inspiring story of a group of women beginning to learn English through the translation of their treasured recipes.

On a practical front, this book delivers a rainbow of salsas — the perfect accent for an outdoor table. Many of the quick and easy recipes capitalize on seasonal ingredients like ripe tomatoes and assorted chilies. A good, homemade salsa fresca can liven up just about any offering with its dynamic flavor and colorful confetti-like appearance. It will certainly improve just about anything you pull off the grill — from a burger or steak to grilled vegetables or fish.

The book includes 25 salsa recipes ranging from familiar favorites that you might recognize to more unfamiliar varieties ready to be enjoyed. Try Toasted Sesame Salsa and Marinated Lemon Habanero Salsa.

The recipe for the perfect summer picnic is simple: a pleasant setting, a bit of shade (not only to keep you from crisping up, but also to keep your food at a reasonable temperature), a blanket to sit on, and good company. A beautiful view is a bonus. One of my favorite places to picnic near my home is perched on the cliffs overlooking the San Francisco Bay with the Golden Gate Bridge's bold streak of International Orange on my right and the wide-open Pacific to my left.

The newest addition to the picnic slice of my summer selections is Jeremy Jackson's Good Day for a Picnic. Jackson suggests all sorts of creative ideas that encourage us to get out there — dust off the kite, brush the spider webs off the collapsible lawn chairs, and spark a picnic adventure. How about tailgating near a small airport so you can watch the planes take off and land, or enjoying lunch with a pal in a canoe or sailboat? Can I come? His creativity extends into his recipes as well, and a wide range of small bites, sandwiches, more substantial main courses, and sweets make up the bulk of the book. Try the Fig Pate and the Cornsomme as you kick back with your portable backgammon set underneath your favorite tree house.

If you are evenly mildly serious about picnics, you will also want to pick up Once Upon a Tart from the namesake bakeshop and cafe in Manhattan. It includes endless suggestions for tarts that travel well as well as healthy salads and refreshing summer soups (easy to keep chilled in a small cooler or thermos).

The Provencal Tart with Gruyere and Herbs de Provence comes to life when you use ripe summer heirlooms, and although the name of this salad is long and uber-hyphenated, Haricot-Vert-and-Corn Salad with Roasted Artichoke Hearts and Fresh Tarragon-Lemon Vinaigrette, the instructions are straightforward and your efforts will result in a perfect picnic or BBQ salad that is delicious at room temperature and can easily be made ahead.

Sometimes warm weather cooking can be more of an impromptu affair. Summer is like that. And there being some truth in the term 'lazy days of summer,' many times constructing a time-intensive savory tart masterpiece is just not in the cards. This is when Nancy Silverton's Sandwich Book becomes indispensable. Open-faced, closed-faced, sweet sandwiches and savory — this book is packed with sophisticated twists on sandwiches that taste great made-to-order but also wrap well to take on-the-go. My favorite is her twist on the classic roasted-red-pepper-and-mozzarella sandwich. She pan-fries canned roasted peppers to intensify their flavors and pairs them with mozzarella's buttery decadent cousin, Burrata on grilled whole-wheat-sourdough for her delicious Fried Pequillo Peppers, Burrata Cheese, and Crisp Garlic.

The Jimtown Store Cookbook is also front and center for this sort of tasty, updated, easy, al fresco fare. I'm a sucker for the Grown-up's PBPJ&B. Decoded that stands for peanut butter, pepper jelly, & bacon (and you can use real bacon or Smart Bacon for the vegetarians). Peanut butter and bacon... and pepper jelly? Sounds unappetizing, I recognize that, but somehow it works.

If you are serious about smokin', grillin', and rubbin' then go pick up the newly released Peace, Love, and Barbecue: Recipes, Secret, Tall Tales, and Outright Lies from the Legends of Barbecue. My meat-loving friends are excited about Big Bob Gibson's Hickory-Smoked Chicken that is smoked over hot coals and then dunked in a tangy white sauce and left to rest. The book includes a wide range of carefully curated side-dish favorites; cornbread, coleslaw, lots of secret sauces, and a tasty sounding peanut butter pie. Sarge's Smoked Portobello Mushrooms give vegetarians a chance to taste something smoked and the baking soda tip in Fred Thompson's Southern-Style Ice Tea is a clever way to smooth out the edge of the sometimes-bitter natural tannins in your tea.

To round out my summer selections I keep at the ready a few seasonally-organized cookbooks, books that break out recipes simply by winter, spring, summer, and fall. A friend just tipped me off to a book that I somehow missed last year, but promise to put to good use this year — Bill Telepan's Inspired by Ingredients: Market Menus and Family Favorites from a Three-Star Chef. Telepan was chef of Midtown Manhatten's JUdson Grill for six year and has cooked at three and four-star restaurants Le Bernardin, Le Cirque and Gothan Bar and Grill.

This is the book to turn to for at-home summer entertaining. His summer section is robust, spanning nearly eighty pages of recipes that are exactly what you would expect from a talented three-star chef with a passion for perfect, seasonal ingredients. The Fresh Corn Doughnuts with Nectarine Dipping Sauce could not be called quick and easy, but the dish is worth the effort.

Two other seasonally-organized books I love and keep on hand throughout the summer are Maria Helm Sinskey's The Vineyard Kitchen (be sure to try her Shaved Zucchini Salad with Toasted Almonds, Lemon, and Parmesan), and Peter Berley's Fresh Food Fast: Delicious Seasonal Vegetarian Meals in Under and Hour. Two favorite summer recipes from Peter's book include the refreshing Watermelon with Fleur de Sel and Fresh Corn Polenta with Sautéed Cherry Tomatoes.

Bookstores, magazines and websites are all brimming with summer cookbooks and recipes. Don't get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it all. Use this list as a starting point for summer recipe inspiration, or cherry pick a few warm weather specials from your own cookbook collection.

Enjoy your summer kitchen, and put it to good use — ingredients like the beautiful kaleidoscope of late summer heirloom tomatoes and perfectly sweet stone fruits only come around once a year.

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