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School has started, and the weather is oddly un-summerly.

Summer? Some of us are thinking, “What summer? When? Did I miss it?”

There is a good chance that we’ll have more warm weather, as September and October are often the hottest months of the year in Northern California. And we may or may not have Indian summer, which does not come until after the year’s first frost. With luck, it won’t come any time soon, as I’ve not had my fill of tomatoes and I’m still waiting for the year’s best local melons.

At times like these, sometimes the best thing to do is simply cook and let everything else take care of itself. When you’re preparing two or three meals a day, life’s other aspects fall into place. It sounds suspiciously simple, I admit, but the truth of it is reinforced every time I shift my focus from worry — about money, the news, the weather and assorted other problems, big and small — to what’s on the menu for the next meal.

It is not possible, of course, for everyone to prepare three meals a day, given the distance between home and work for so many of us. But if you never or rarely cook, or if you think of cooking as a tedious chore or as something better left to others, you might be surprised if you give it a try.

Today’s recipes are offered in this spirit. They are simple, seasonal, flexible and require no special skills, just good ingredients that are readily at hand.


This is one of the simplest summer side dishes imaginable and is a perfect way to use garden tomatoes when you have an abundance. Be careful not to overcook the tomatoes or you’ll end up with sauce.

Simple Fried Tomatoes

Serves 4 to 6

6 large, firm-ripe tomatoes

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs (any combination of Italian parsley, chives, basil, thyme and oregano)

— Sourdough hearth bread, sliced and lightly toasted

Slice off the stem end and blossom end of each tomato and save these pieces for another use.

Cut the tomatoes into ¼-inch-thick rounds.

Set a large heavy skillet over medium high heat, add the butter and olive oil, and when the mixture is hot, add the garlic; saute about 90 seconds. Add the tomatoes in a single layer, working in batches as necessary, and cook for 2 minutes. Turn and cook for 2 minutes more. If working in batches, use a spatula to transfer the tomatoes to a platter, leaving behind the pan juices.

When all of the tomatoes have been cooked, pour the pan juices over them.

Season with salt and pepper, scatter the herbs on top and serve immediately, with the bread alongside for sopping up the juices.


Brown butter has a nut-like flavor and aroma quite similar to hazelnuts; pairing the two creates a lovely resonance on the palate. This dish makes a lovely main course, especially with a big green salad alongside. It also makes a great accompaniment to roasted chicken.

Zucchini with Black Pepper, Brown Butter and Hazelnut Polenta

Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more as needed

1 cup polenta or coarse-ground cornmeal

3 tablespoons butter

2 ounces (½ cup) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or similar cheese

½ cup shelled hazelnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped

4 ounces (1 stick) butter, clarified

6 small zucchini, about 4 inches long, stem ends trimmed

1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley

First, make the polenta. Pour 3 cups of water into a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Pour an additional 3 cups of water into a small saucepan, bring to a boil and reduce the heat so the water simmers gently.

Pour the kosher salt into the first pot of water and stir rapidly with a whisk, creating a vortex. Slowly pour the polenta in a thin, steady stream into the vortex, stirring all the while in the same direction. Continue to stir as you lower the heat. When the polenta begins to thicken, replace the whisk with a long-handled wooden spoon. Add 1 cup of the simmering water and continue to stir. If any lumps form, use the back of the spoon to press them to the side of the pot until they break up.

Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the polenta is very thick and pulls away from the side of the pot. Taste to confirm that the grains are tender, and add more water as necessary. Cooking time will take from 20 to 60 minutes, depending on the age and type of polenta.

When the grains are fully tender, stir in the butter, cheese and hazelnuts and season with several generous turns of black pepper. Remove from the heat and let rest for a minute or two.

Rinse a 10-inch tart pan or other low, flat container in cool water and pour the polenta into it. Set it aside and cover with wax paper, aluminum foil or a tea towel to keep it warm.

Put the clarified butter into a heavy, medium skillet set over medium heat and cook gently until it takes on a bit of color and gives off a nutty aroma. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. While the butter cools, cut the zucchini into ¼-inch diagonal slices.

Return the pan to the heat, add the zucchini, agitate the pan and cook for 4 minutes, turning the zucchini once or twice. Season with salt and several very generous turns of black pepper.

Turn the polenta onto a serving platter and spoon the zucchini and all the pan juices over it. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.


I’ve been making this stew for many years, and it’s the sort of casual fare that doesn’t really need a recipe. You can use any summer squash and whatever sausages you have on hand; the ones listed here are my favorites, but they are not essential to the success of this dish.

End-of-Summer Zucchini Stew

Serves 4

— Kosher salt

1 pound small new potatoes, washed and cut into ¼-inch-thick half rounds

3 to 4 sausages of choice, such as Gypsy Girl Chorizo or One World Sausage Andouille

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, cut into small dice

1 pound small zucchini, cut into ¼-inch-thick half rounds

1 teaspoon fresh summer savory

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

— Black pepper in a mill

— Creme fraiche, for garnish

Fill a medium saucepan half full with water, add a generous tablespoon of salt, add the potatoes and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until the potatoes are almost but not quite tender, about 9 to 10 minutes. Drain and transfer the potatoes to a wide, shallow container to cool.

Meanwhile, set a heavy, deep saute pan over medium-low heat, add the sausages and cook, turning frequently, until they begin to pick up color. Transfer the sausages to a 275-degree oven.

Return the saute pan to medium heat, add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and the onion, and saute until the onion is soft and fragrant, about 15 to 20 minutes. Do not let brown. Add the potatoes and continue to cook until they are fully tender and have taken on a bit of color. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, increase the heat to high, and add the zucchini. Saute, turning gently with a spatula, until the zucchini is just tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and add the summer savory and thyme. Season with several generous turns of black pepper. Cover and remove from the heat.

Cut the sausages into ¼-inch-thick diagonal slices and add to the zucchini and potatoes.

Working quickly, stir the creme fraiche to loosen it.

Divide among individual bowls or soup plates, drizzle creme fraiche over each portion and serve immediately.

Michele Anna Jordan has written 17 books to date, including “Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings.” Email Jordan at michele@saladdresser.com. You’ll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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