We spend all Summer dreaming about the comfort foods of Winter (deep savory pies with aspic, vats of stews, casseroles of cheese and pasta) that when warmer weather comes we want simpler foods with less window dressing (grill foods, simple salads, fruit sorbets). But there are also those middle ground times – not just of ‘Spring’ and ‘Fall’ but of transitions in our lives, in our seasons, in our desires. It could be 90-something degrees outside and maybe you still have a hankering for mashed potatoes and gravy, who knows?! It happens.
Though most of the time, for us anyway, warmer weather provides the easy ‘out’. Toss together some Leafy Salad Greens and Sprouts with a Light Vinaigrette (for us it’s a 1/2-3/4 cup Avocado or Olive Oil with a 1/4 cup Rice Wine or Champagne Vinegar, a little Sea Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper and a big sprig of whatever herb is growing best, maybe Tarragon or Sage, and we shake it up to emulsify inside a glass vintage salad dressing bottle where it can stay until the next batch on the shelf), maybe some local Goat Cheese, a couple crushed and toasted Pecans or Pumpkin seeds, classic staples like chunks of new Cucumbers or fresh Tomatoes and don’t forget the edible Flowers!
Not only are they so festive but they carry nutritional rainbow goodness – think Forsythia, Violets (including Pansies and Johnny Jump Ups), Lilacs, Apple, Rose, and Daisy Petals, Honeysuckle, Bee Balm (Mondarda), flowering herbs like Borage, Chamomile, Red Clover, Calendula and Marigold Petals, or field flowers like Goldenrod, Asters, Jewelweed, Yarrow, Queen Anne’s Lace (Wild Carrot), Chicory, Hyssop, or out of the garden with Nasturtiums, Chive flowers, Squash, and Scarlet Runner Bean blossoms. Generally speaking, it is customary (and sometimes healthful vs dangerous) to eat only the petals of these flowers (avoiding the green stems or center reproductive kit), to only eat a few at a time, and to taste before adding – this last step is key (not more than your health, per se, but from a purely aesthetic situation) as particularly some field flowers and even Marigolds/Calendula are just not delicious. And do make sure that you are not eating sprayed flowers (do not eat from storebought flowers unless you know their origin). So try them out first but they can make a simple salad magickal, and who doesn’t need a little more magick in their lives?!
Summers for us also mean many foods cooked directly in the firepit. We like our grill, too: we have a great metal basket for grilling smaller foods/veggies and have once or twice mastered a Grill Pizza, but we are really loving the firepit cooking. We bought a couple of cast iron pots that can either hang over the fire on a tripod or that you can bank into the coals and roast directly. I have a monster Leg of Lamb that came our way this year that is begging for a Jamie Oliver treatment of roasting in the fire with Plum Tomatoes, Dried Chickpeas, Lemons, and herbs, served with a light salad and a fresh boule of Sourdough bread sounds like a late picnic intimate gathering on the hill. Or a Harissa rubbed whole Chicken with thick slices of Bell Peppers and Onions served with Flatbreads. I’m a big fan, too, of hand crushed Herby Rustic Pesto on Late Summer Veggies and White Beans. For the Pesto: in the mortar with the pestle – grab a handful of leafy mixed herbs like Parsley, Basils of many colors, Nettle, Lamb’s Quarters, a little Dandelion leaf, etc, and toss into mortar with a pinch of Coarse Sea Salt and toasted nuts/seeds like Pine Nuts or Pumpkin, Sunflower or even Hazelnut, add Olive Oil to loosen mix and help to break down mix as you grind it together, at the end add freshly grated Parmesan Cheese, any extra can be kept in a jar in the refrigerator for up to a week. For the Cannellini or Broad Beans with sizzled Eggplant or Zucchini: on the stovetop, grill, or rack over firepit, warm a cast iron or heavy bottom deep saute pan with a glug of Olive Oil. Lay slices or 2″ chunks of Eggplant/Zucchini and brown on all sides (moving the fire underneath if needed to not scorch pan, slow steady coals are best to work with, then you can pile them accordingly based on heating needs), seasoning with Sea Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper, then add cooked/drained/rinsed Beans and a little White Wine (or Chicken/Veg Broth or even just a little water) to loosen everyone from the pan and give a little ‘gravy’. When desired thickness of the mix is achieved, add your Rustic Pesto and stir in slowly. Remove from heat and serve with a Crusty Baguette or even over thick fresh slices of Heirloom Tomatoes.
And in a nod to my roots, there isn’t much I like better than Pan-fried Trout with freshly foraged White Oyster Mushroom (or a bevy of gourmet mushrooms from a local purveyor) and if you really want to put me over the top – served with Crispy Zucchini Slices. All just sauteed in butter (flour a butterflied Fish lightly and saute on both sides until flaky, for the Mushrooms – slice and add to a Med/Hot pan with butter and turn occasionally until edges are brown – feel free to toss in a sprig or two of Thyme/Sage or Rosemary as the mushrooms give off their liquid, for the Zucchini a decadent batch requires thick slices lightly floured then dipped in a whisked egg with a teaspoon or 2 of water, then into a 1/2 & 1/2 mix of flour to cornmeal – I generally add a big pinch of Sea Salt, Garlic Powder, and a smaller pinch of Ancho Chili, then deep fry/saute in Peanut or Grapeseed Oil. I have sometimes skipped the first 2 steps and just dunked them in a little Whey/Buttermilk/or Milk and then proceeded with the Cornmeal/Flour mix and they are still delicious but a little ‘leaner’.
Is it almost time to eat outside? I’m thinking yes…and yes. Bring it on.