Every summer, I find a few new recipes that become the defining meals of the season. I usually find them after a trip to the farmers market, which I always attend when I’m in a rush. As a result, I start circling quickly, randomly buying anything that catches my eye, hoping against hope I have enough cash. That’s how I end up with three bunches of mustard greens or three small beets, a bunch of extra-large green onions, or, this year, a pound of snow peas.
So to my cookbooks and the computer I go, searching for the meal that will most honor them.
I have to say, I love how cooking like this quintessentially says summer to me. It starts with the ingredient, not with the recipe. It starts with the farm, not the grocery store. And because everything is at its peak, you feel like you’re tasting, really tasting, for the first time of the year.
What’s especially interesting about these recipes is they’re time limited. To make them in the middle of February when I’m used to cooking them with the freshest produce would only end in disappointment. So, to squeeze the most out of the harvest, I make them and make them again, never tiring of the taste because they’re only with me for so long.
Following are three recipes that say summer to me.
PASTA WITH PEAS AND RICOTTA
This is my latest find and we’re already on our third go-around. I have some in the fridge right now and I’m trying hard not to start picking away at it because, yes, it’s so good you are willing to eat it cold.
You can find it on the Smitten Kitchen blog online, just search for those words. She uses bowties, but I’ve been using orecchiette (the ones that look like little ears) and they are perfect little cups to hold the creamy sauce. She suggests making your own ricotta, but so far I haven’t been that ambitious.
The thing so essential about this recipe is the peas. You can use snow or sugar snap and you cut a pound of them into thirds. Yep, a pound. That’s a lot of peas, but I promise it works. I have been adding chopped greens too — last night we used beet, radish and kale — which I fry up in a pan first with a bunch of garlic. I bet asparagus would be good in there too.
Anyway, with a pound of peas and a pound of pasta, you end up with a lot in the pot, which means for happy leftovers the next day. Just make sure you don’t forget to sprinkle fresh lemon juice (seriously, needs to be freshly squeezed) and ribbons of mint overtop. It really makes the dish.
CHEESY CREAMED CORN WITH CILANTRO
I’m not sure why exactly, but the idea of creamed corn has got me salivating this year. Maybe because I’ve never thought to make it from scratch before and only associated it with overly sweet, scarily yellow canned stuff. But as soon as I saw this recipe I thought it was a winner.
It uses six ounces of queso fresco, which is a fresh, very mild Mexican cheese. I haven’t grocery shopped in London for a while, but I’m pretty sure you can find it at Walmart. Failing that, you can use feta, but it would be more salty. The best thing is this baby uses 12 ears of corn. Twelve. That means that if you accidentally went nuts with by-the-dozen sales, you can make sure none of the cobs go to waste.
You can search this recipe on http://www.epicurious.com
STEAK SANDWICHES WITH WATERCRESS, ONION AND TOMATO
This is also an Epicurious find and a humdinger of a recipe. Essential to it, of course, are fantastic, ripe tomatoes, so if you don’t have any, don’t bother. I know Spring Valley and the Waterstrats have some good ones right now though. Anyway, the tomatoes coupled with the balsamic will make your eyes roll back in your head. Add a bite of flat iron steak and you’ll be floating.
Two things. The recipe calls for white balsamic, which I really don’t think you need to bother with unless you already have it. The regular stuff you find at Kroger works fine and I think it makes the sandwich look sexier anyway.
It also calls for watercress, which is nearly impossible to find, though shockingly I did a week ago. I’ve substituted regular romaine or spinach before with good results.
So there you have it: essential summer recipes that I hope will define your season like they do mine. I hope you enjoy and, if you’re in the mood, gift me with some of your own.