It seems last winter was the winter that wasn’t, at least weatherwise. I am glad that snowfall was minimal; regardless, we were hibernating anyway due to the pandemic. COVID-19 cabin fever has set in, and I am ready, as I know many of you are, to resume somewhat of a normal existence — or what the new normal will be for a while. I am hopeful that this summer will be a summer we can truly enjoy being outdoors, taking in the sun and savoring our favorite summer foods.
Restaurants are preparing to serve diners alfresco and our grills are getting ready to be fired up so we can savor the smoky flavor of food cooked outdoors. A gourmet meal prepared in your backyard or on the deck is still an affordable luxury.
This weekend — Memorial Day weekend (yes, already) — marks the beginning of grilling season and the unofficial start of summer. Now more than ever it is nice to start thinking about what many people consider their favorite season will bring: garden-fresh produce right from farmers markets and casual meals eaten under a clear, blue sky or under the stars at night.
America’s Test Kitchen has done it again with “The Complete Summer Cookbook: Beat the Heat with 500 Recipes that Make the Most of Summer’s Bounty,” by the editors of America’s Test Kitchen (2020, $32.99), a beautiful volume of recipes, enough to last a lifetime of summer cooking. As it heats up, we tend to avoid cooking indoors as much as possible. Many of the recipes are designed to be ready in 30 minutes or less; dinner-size salads, make-ahead meals, dishes that can be served cold or at room temperature and no-cook delights.
The editors begin with the “Top Ten Test Kitchen Tips for summertime cooking and eating.” One tip is to make mezze your meal; not every meal has to have a main course and a couple of sides. They suggest making a spread of appetizers and small bites the meal. The Mediterranean Mezze Meal includes pita chips, hummus and crudité, beet muhammara, tzatziki, marinated eggplant with capers and mint, tabbouleh, country-style Greek salad and nectarines and berries in Prosecco.
When you come home from the market with your bounty, “Tips for Storing Produce” provides guidelines for how and where to store your summer produce until you have the chance to use it.
No matter what type of summer soiree you might hold, planning the menu can feel overwhelming. “Summertime Menus” takes the guesswork out of planning the perfect meal, whether it be a garden party, dinner on the patio, a seafood feast, Taco Tuesday, backyard barbecue for a crowd or kebabs on the grill. Of course, recipes for all of our classic summertime favorites are included, such as bean and potato salads, slaws, burgers, ribs, brisket, juicy chicken, cold and frozen desserts and drinks.
After going through the book, I’ve gained inspiration to eat more vegetables and fruits with recipes created using the best of summer produce. The “Farmers’ Market Finds” sidebars are helpful. They reveal the secrets to purchasing the best of the harvest from supermarkets and farm stands. I know I will explore using different varieties of tomatoes and test-drive some new finds like Romanesco and purslane. Here are a few recipes to enjoy for alfresco dining. To learn how to prepare Hibiscus-Guava Aqua Fresca, a cool drink to sip on a hot summer day, visit https://bit.ly/2yXjKQn.
The headnote says, “Why This Recipe Works: Chicken kebabs are a great way to take boneless, skinless chicken breasts up a notch, but the lean meat requires some help to keep from becoming dried out over a hot grill. To counter this, we started with a simple olive oil marinade. Brining meat helps it retain moisture, but we worried that a true brine would make the small pieces of chicken too salty. Instead, we simply added a teaspoon of salt to the marinade, along with a mix of herbs and garlic — you can tweak the herbs based on what you like best, or try one of our spiced-up variations. Because there is no acid in the marinade and thus no danger of breaking down the texture of the meat, the chicken can be soaked for up to 24 hours before cooking.”
Whisk oil, herbs, garlic, salt, and pepper together in small bowl. Combine marinade and chicken in 1-gallon zipper-lock bag; seal bag and refrigerate, turning once or twice, for at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.
Remove chicken from marinade. Thread each of four 12-inch metal skewers with 2 pieces bell pepper, 1 section onion, 2 pieces chicken, and 1 section onion. Repeat twice more, ending with 2 additional pieces bell pepper.
For a charcoal grill: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
For a gas grill: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave all burners on high.
Clean and oil cooking grate. Place kebabs on grill. Cook (covered if using gas), turning as needed, until vegetables and chicken are charred around edges and chicken is cooked through, about 12 minutes. Transfer kebabs to serving platter and serve. Serves 4.
Substitute 1/4 cup minced fresh mint or parsley (alone or in combination) for herbs and add 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper to marinade.
Substitute following mixture for herb marinade: Combine 1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt, 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 3 minced garlic cloves, 2 teaspoons dried thyme, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, 1 teaspoon table salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. In step 2, marinate chicken for 3 to 6 hours. Whisk 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1 minced garlic clove, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, and 3 tablespoons lemon juice together in bowl; set aside. Skewer chicken and grill as directed. Brush cooked kebabs with lemon dressing before serving.
The headnote says, “Why This Recipe Works: Canned chickpeas are an ideal ingredient for a salad because they absorb flavors easily and provide texture. Here a flavorful pairing of sweet carrots, peppery arugula, and briny olives transforms bland canned chickpeas into a bright and savory salad. We found that heating the chickpeas in the microwave briefly softened them just enough to allow them to quickly soak up the tangy vinaigrette. Shred the carrots on the large holes of a box grater or use a food processor fitted with the shredding disk.”
Microwave chickpeas in medium bowl until hot, about 1 minute, 30 seconds. Stir in oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and cayenne and let sit for 30 minutes. Add carrots and olives and toss to combine. (Chickpea mixture can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before continuing with step 2.)
Add arugula and gently toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4 to 6.
Substitute 1/2 cup drained and chopped jarred roasted red peppers, 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese, and 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley for carrots, olives, and arugula.
The headnote says, “Why This Recipe Works: Ice cream pie isn’t just for kids; we wanted to make an easy yet sophisticated version using store-bought ingredients, for a layered ice cream pie with complex flavors. Our graham cracker crust was an easy starting point. And for a refreshing twist, we decided to use sweet-tart sorbet paired with coconut gelato for contrasting richness. We spread an even layer of sorbet into the crust followed by the gelato; mashing some fresh raspberries into the gelato before layering it into our pie allowed the two flavors to meld. Toasted and chopped macadamia nuts sprinkled on top gave a nod to the tropics and contributed crunch. You can use coconut ice cream in place of gelato, but it may be a little icy.”
1 cup raspberry sorbet
1 recipe Graham Cracker Crust (recipe below), baked and cooled (or store-bought)
1 pint coconut gelato
71/2 ounces (11/2 cups) raspberries, divided
1/2 cup macadamia nuts, toasted and chopped
Scoop raspberry sorbet into large bowl and, using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, break up scoops of sorbet. Stir and fold sorbet to achieve smooth consistency. Spread raspberry sorbet into crust in even layer. Transfer to freezer while making coconut layer.
Scoop coconut gelato into clean bowl and work with rubber spatula to soften. Stir in 1 cup raspberries, mashing mixture with spatula until well combined. Remove pie from freezer and spread gelato mixture over sorbet in even layer. Place plastic wrap directly on surface of gelato and freeze until filling is completely frozen, at least 4 hours or up to 1 week.
Let pie sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Halve remaining 1/2 cup raspberries, then sprinkle raspberries and macadamia nuts over top of pie. Serve. Serves 8.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Process graham cracker pieces and sugar in food processor to fine, even crumbs, about 30 seconds. Sprinkle melted butter over crumbs and pulse to incorporate, about 5 pulses.
Sprinkle mixture into 9-inch pie plate. Using bottom of dry measuring cup, press crumbs into even layer on bottom and sides of pie plate. Bake until crust is fragrant and beginning to brown, 12-18 minutes; transfer to wire rack.
The Great Big Jewish Food Fest, A virtual Festival about Jewish Food, through May 28. A 10-day online festival celebrating the history, diversity, and excitement for all things Jewish food. Cooking classes, virtual deli tours, film screenings, panel discussions. Free. Schedule at https://bit.ly/2Zd2ly1.