Celebrity chef John Ash’s easy, breezy summer menu
“The true Southern watermelon … is chief of this world’s luxuries, king by grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat.”
- Mark Twain
This quote sums up my feelings about summer and its array of freshly picked fruits and vegetables.
We naturally crave foods that reflect the season that we are in. When we think of summer, we think of bright colors, intoxicating aromas, ripe flavors and simple cooking without turning on the oven.
It’s about taking advantage of the grill and giving food a quick kiss of heat. Definitely a tool of summer!
The following dishes are some of my favorite recipes for the season, which flies by so quickly. You don’t have to attempt them all unless you an overachiever! Take them on one at a time and see if you like them, or mix and match them to suit your own taste.
If you are seeking a summer menu for a special occasion, you could cool down guests with a starter of Watermelon, Fig and Feta Salad and head outdoors to cook the Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb and the Grilled Fruits with Mint Custard Sauce.
For a more casual meal, you can’t go wrong with the Chilled Heirloom Tomato Soup with Summer Relish. The combination of sweet heirloom tomatoes, avocados, peppers, cucumber, basil and mint are guaranteed to refresh and rehydrate.
As always, adjust flavors to your own taste. A visit to your local farmers market can add inspiration. How can you miss?
This is very simple but delicious. Leave out the rum for a “virgin” alternative. Substitute whatever berry you like best.
Frozen Strawberry Daiquiris
Makes 4 servings
3/4 cup rum
1/2 cup thawed limeade concentrate
3-4 cups fresh or frozen sliced strawberries
1 tablespoon sugar, preferably organic, to your taste
1 1/2 cups or so crushed ice
- Fresh strawberries for garnish
In a blender, combine the rum, limeade concentrate, strawberries and sugar until smooth and add ice. Cover and process until smooth and thickened. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if desired. Use more ice for thicker Daiquiris. Pour into cocktail glasses.
To garnish each Daiquiri, cut a 1/2-inch slit into the tip of a strawberry; position berry on rim of glass.
This recipe is adapted from “The Zuni Café Cookbook” by Judy Rodgers.
Makes 3 cups
1 pound zucchini
1 small yellow onion
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1-1/2 teaspoons crushed yellow and/or brown mustard seeds
- Scant 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
Wash and trim the zucchini, then slice them 1/16-inch thick; a mandolin works best. Slice the onion very thin as well. Combine the zucchini and onions in a large but shallow nonreactive bowl, add the salt and toss to distribute. Add a few ice cubes and cold water to cover, then stir to dissolve the salt. (Alternatively, transfer the salted zucchini and onion slices to a Japanese pickle maker and screw down the top; do not add any water or ice cubes.)
After about 1 hour, taste and feel a piece of zucchini - it should be slightly softened. Drain and pat dry.
Combine the vinegar, sugar, dry mustard, mustard seeds and turmeric in a small saucepan and simmer for 3 minutes. Set aside until just warm to the touch. (If the brine is too hot, it will cook the vegetables and make the pickles soft instead of crisp.)
Return the zucchini to a dry bowl and pour over the cooled brine. Stir to distribute the spices. Transfer the pickles to jars, preferably ones that have “shoulders” to hold the zucchini and onions beneath the surface of the brine. Seal and refrigerate for at least a day before serving to allow the flavors to mellow and permeate the zucchini, turning them a brilliant chartreuse color.
Unfortunately, regular hothouse tomatoes don’t work in this recipe. Wait until you can get great heirloom tomatoes and select the most flavorful, vine-ripened ones you can find. I’d try to use tomatoes of the same color, but if you want to be fancy, you could separately do reds and yellows and with two ladles simultaneously pour them into chilled soup plates to create a “yin - yang” effect. For variety, I sometimes will add up to a cup or so of freshly juiced cucumber, sweet red bell pepper or carrot to the soup mixture.
Chilled Heirloom Tomato Soup with Summer Relish
Serves 6 - 8
4 pounds coarsely chopped ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or to taste)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
- Summer Relish (recipe follows)
- Garnish: Sliced avocado fans, yogurt or crème fraiche (recipe follows) and basil oil (recipe follows)
Using a food mill, puree the tomatoes - a food mill is preferred. In using the food mill, move from the coarsest to the finest blade, depending on the texture you desire. Discard the skins and seeds. If you don’t have a food mill, you can also use a food processor to puree. Strain pureed tomatoes through a medium mesh strainer, pushing down on the solids with a rubber spatula to capture seeds and skin. Season to your taste with vinegar, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until very cold.