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Seasonal Pantry: Summer cooking is not that hard

Summer cooking is easy, or it's easy if you pay attention to the season. Dessert is the simplest of all, as nothing is better than a perfectly ripe peach or a wedge of delicious watermelon. If you feel like getting fancy, grill a fig. Summer tomatoes don't need much to make a delicious appetizer or salad, summer pastas can be prepared in the time it takes to boil water, and you can make great summer sandwiches with little effort: Grate some zucchini, toss it with minced garlic, pile it on a piece of bread, top it with cheese and you're in business.

Still, most of us don't cook this way and I'm not sure why. Is it that year-round availability of almost everything has made us lose touch with the seasons? Has the Food Network beaten us into submission before the "real" cooks, those chefs who compete with each other by concocting elaborate and often outlandish dishes?

Even as "farm to table" becomes a mainstream buzz term nearing clich?status, many of us seem to puzzle over how to put dinner on the table in the middle of the year's most abundant season.

A few days ago, I heard a well-known talk-show host talk about how completely useless she is in the kitchen and can do little more than microwave a boneless skinless chicken breast. I wanted to cry. And then I wanted to fly east, find her house, knock on her door and announce, "I'm here to help."

It simply shouldn't seem this hard, because it isn't.

If you already shop primarily at farmers markets, I understand that you are part of the choir and that we're all singing the same song. But many of us need a nudge or a reminder, so here it is: If you don't have a garden, shop first at the farmers market or farm stand nearest you. Don't take a list. Instead, let the market tell you what to buy. Right now, it's saying tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, garlic, basil and melon. It's saying green beans. These foods don't need a lot of preparation and they don't require lengthy cooking. That will come later, when it's time to preserve some of the fall's harvest to enjoy during the lean seasons.

For now, it's summertime and the livin' is easy.

One of my favorite Greek cookbooks is "Flavors of Greece" by Rosemary Barron (Morrow, 1991). This recipe is adopted from one she included in the book and describes as being at the center of every taverna table when tomatoes are in season. It is the sort of salad you can enjoy daily, without ever growing tired of it.


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