Dive into a Sea of Good Summer Food Summer is the time to eat. There's no better opportunity to make the most of what the season — and your local farmer's stand — have to offer. Cookbooks can help. Food writer Bonny Wolf rounds up 10 to take you through the season.

Dive into a Sea of Good Summer Food

Dive into a Sea of Good Summer Food

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5429347/5441822" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Sunday Suppers at Luques

This time of year, many people try to eat less to fit into their swimsuits. I try to eat more.

About the Author

Bonny Wolf is a regular contributor to NPR.org's Kitchen Window, and to NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday. Her book of food essays, Talking with My Mouth Full, will be published in November by St. Martin's Press.

Save, Print This List

Summer is the eating season. There's no better time to eat locally and seasonally, which today is compulsory. Gorgeous fruits and vegetables spill out of the stalls at farmers markets. Crabs and oysters are pulled from the waters. There are barbecues and picnics. Life slows down and it's important to have the right food while you're braking.

Cookbooks can help. Plus, there are gorgeous color photographs.

I'm always looking for dishes that are easy but look hard, that keep you out of the kitchen but still make your friends feel special.

So I turn to authors such as Pam Anderson and Ina Garten.

Ready for Company

Anderson primary

Pam Anderson's Perfect Recipes for Having People Over is all about simple, delicious parties. Stop "entertaining," she says, and start "having people over." Her book is organized by occasion — kitchen gatherings, outdoor affairs, in the dining room and breakfasts for company.


Each recipe includes the answers to anticipated questions about shortcuts, variations, side dishes, advance preparation and leftovers. She recommends shish kebabs for casual summer meals. The variations are limitless. Shortcuts? Buy peeled shrimp and already-cubed meats. Toss leftovers into tomorrow's salad. Her berry bread pudding would be good for dessert.

Going 'Barefoot'

Garten primary

One of the leaders of the good-cooking-doesn't-have-to-be-complicated movement is Ina Garten, aka the Barefoot Contessa (her specialty food store in the Hamptons).


I cook Barefoot throughout the year and have found good recipes for each season. As soon as the local strawberries arrive, I make the strawberry country cake (from Barefoot Contessa Parties!) It's a simple white cake, split in two. Each layer is piled high with whipped cream and fresh strawberries.


The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook includes a kitchen clambake that screams summer. Garten used to do it in a pit at the beach until she had the bright idea of putting everything in a huge pot in the kitchen — layers of sausage, onions, potatoes, clams, mussels, shrimp and lobster. No wind, no sand, no darkness.

Settling In to 'Sunday Supper'

Goin primary

Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzane Goin is a beautiful cookbook for when you want to spend more time cooking. Directions are easy to follow, but these are not quick meals and they include some hard-to-find ingredients.


Goin is the chef-owner of Lucques restaurant in Los Angeles, where she has instituted Sunday night family-style suppers. The menu changes every week, driven by what's available at the market.


Her book, too, is organized by season. Summer recipes include yellow tomato gazpacho and grilled halibut a la nicoise with haricots verts, olives, cherry tomatoes and anchovy butter. Desserts rely heavily on the fruits of summer — raspberry gratin, plum tarte tatin and cornmeal shortcakes with peaches.

Making the Most of Herbs

Traunfeld primary

Jerry Traunfeld is the chef at Herbfarm restaurant outside Seattle. Not surprisingly, he thinks the secret to transforming the ordinary to the extraordinary is fresh herbs.


In The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor, he has summer recipes for sea scallops on summer succotash, grilled lemon-rosemary hanger steak and asparagus and lemon thyme soup. For dessert? Blueberries and watermelon in cinnamon basil syrup or warm lavender nut cakes.

Not Just for Vegetarians

For more ideas on what to do with all that magnificent produce you couldn't resist at the farmers market, turn to Vegetable Love: A Book for Cooks by Barbara Kafka, a huge — 700 pages — encyclopedia of vegetable lore and recipes.


Kafka proffers the revolutionary concept that a vegetable is more than a side dish.


It can be a main course, such as summer vegetable gumbo. It can be a simple soup with purslane, using only two ingredients. It can even be a dessert, such as carrot sorbet with fresh ginger and lemon juice.

A Trip to Provence

Wells primary

If you want to know how they cook summer vegetables in France, or bison in Montana, cookbooks can be an inexpensive way to travel.


Expat Patricia Wells shuttles between her apartment in Paris and her farmhouse in Provence. She graciously shares the recipes and tips she's picked up along the way in The Provence Cookbook. Her second book on the food celebrating this sun-drenched region offers uncomplicated, seasonal recipes. Wells takes readers to visit farmers, chefs, shopkeepers, bakers and fishmongers. They share their secrets with her and she shares with us.


Start a meal with cold cavaillon melon soup with Beaumes-de-Venise followed by tagliatelle with rosemary and lemon. Serve some quick polenta bread with rosemary on the side and finish with buttermilk sorbet. Does life get better than this? Not in summer.

...Or to Mexico

Bayless primary

The other country that says summer is Mexico. It's a little hot for an actual visit this time of year, but the food of Mexico has a summer feel — happy and lusty.


Rick Bayless takes us through the kitchens of Mexico. The Chicago chef and TV host has become the 21st century's Mexican food expert in the United States. In his most recent book, Mexican Everyday, all recipes are designed to take no more than a half hour. Each recipe ends with "riffs," or variations.


Bayless says he left the Yucatan with one thing on his mind: seafood salad tacos. The dish, he says, offers "the refreshment of an oasis."


There's much here for the summer cook. Bayless, who calls himself a "grill geek," offers quick meals such as a grilled red-chile steak with sweet plantains, red onion and chipotle salsa. A recipe for grilled roadside whole chicken with knob onions looks intriguing.

Intro to India

Jaffrey primary

Madhur Jaffrey was one of those to introduce Americans to foreign cuisines.


She was recently inducted into the Cookbook Hall of Fame at the James Beard awards for her An Invitation to Indian Cooking. Originally published in the 1970s, this book demystified Indian cooking for the English-language kitchen.


Jaffrey did it with easy-to-follow recipes, notes on flavorings and utensils, a glossary of Indian cooking terms and list of sources for those new to the cuisine.


She has a chapter on summer cooking and barbecued foods which includes the butterflied leg of lamb marinated and barbecued that she says is one of her favorite meat dishes. It is marinated for 24 hours in olive oil, lemon juice and a paste of onions, garlic and spices, then grilled outdoors. It is fantastic. Serve it with a cucumber raita for a perfect summer dinner.

Cooking Out West

Auld primary

Those of us with no second home can still live vicariously.


Big Sky Cooking by Meredith Brokaw and Ellen Wright is a big, beautiful book on Western living and cooking that evokes the wide-open spaces, high mountains and big sky of Montana.


Recipes for cooking with bison, elk, antelope and huckleberries are accompanied by essays on fly fishing, riding horses and Montana weather by writers and friends of Meredith and Tom Brokaw who own a ranch near Yellowstone National Park, their getaway from New York.


Many of the recipes are just the uncomplicated foods of any good home kitchen, given a Western twist (bison osso buco) or name (Stetson salad). The Blackfeet Indians probably didn't eat baked beans with Roquefort, but it sounds pretty good.


I can't wait to try the butterflied turkey on the grill this summer. It's seasoned only with fresh lime juice and oregano. I'll serve the berry cobbler for dessert.

Island Life

Blanchard primary

Melinda and Robert Blanchard chose an island paradise rather than a Montana ranch, and welcome readers At Blanchard's Table. The cookbook shares many of the recipes from their successful restaurant in Anguilla, the tiny Caribbean island where they go when they're not in Vermont.


The food is a combination of West Indian, New England and contemporary influences — uncomplicated casual fare with a Caribbean accent. Each section features an "in a hurry" section with quick mini-recipes for main dishes, sauces, appetizers, purees, vegetables and desserts.


Calypso chicken with lime is a quick flavorful dish with coconut milk, ginger, cilantro and freshly shredded coconut. Cook it over the grill and feel the sand between your toes. Jalapeno peppers liven up the colorful spicy vegetable slaw.


So this summer, before the tomatoes and zucchini have to be given their own room, turn to some of these helpful cooks. Who cares if the bathing suit's a little snug?

Books Featured In This Story