Many people have a favorite summer food. My favorites are hot dogs and frozen Charleston Chew candy bars. For others, hamburgers, ice cream, and watermelon are as much a part of the summer months as fly swatters and bathing suits. But as an avid home cook in a cramped and often sweltering apartment kitchen, it can sometimes prove challenging to find satisfying dishes that don't cause frustration or perspiration.
Salads are a perfect and obvious choice. But summer salads can, and should, entail more than just lettuce leaves and melon balls. Viana La Place, in her fabulous cookbook, Verdura, creates a delicious Italian rice salad that is a far cry from risotto, but equally satisfying and much more cooling. Verdura doesn't focus solely on summer vegetables—there are plenty of enticing fall and winter dishes, as well—but because so much of the cooking relies on fresh vegetables, Verdura is the kind of book you'll want to refer to again and again, all summer long, especially after a trip to the farmer's market.
One can hardly discuss summer cooking without reference to Elizabeth David. Her exquisite Summer Cooking is an ode to seasonal cooking and light, but not necessarily cold, summer cuisine. Included in her book are three Pan Bagna recipes; an Omelette Paysanne with ham, potato, and sorrel (the perfect lemony summer green); and an incredibly simple, yet delectable, melon stuffed with raspberries (and kirsch, of course).
The similarly titled, yet completely different, Summer Cookery, published by the Cordon Bleu cooking school, includes heavier and more traditional dishes than one would normally expect to find in a book with such a title. Lobster Thermidor with bechamel and double cream and cooked in a 400 degree oven doesn't necessarily scream "beach" to me, but vegetable borscht comes closer, and the iced pudding recipes, such as their Bombe Maison with ginger, coffee ice cream, and sugar, almost does the trick completely.
New York-based chef Marco Canora (of Hearth and Terrior) has a slew of summer-ready dishes in his new cookbook Salt to Taste. I should know. I've been cooking from this book pretty consistently since it came out last year. His simple but arresting recipe for spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and gramolata is perfect for dinner parties, in or out of doors. Don't miss his summer farro salad for picnics or his zucchini and basil soup for anytime.
The Library's collection of cookbooks can help anyone, amateur or gourmet, liven up their summer cooking repertoire to go beyond the grill or the salad bowl—or the frozen Charleston Chew.
Insalata di Riso Ferragosto
(from Viana La Place's Verdura)
1 cup Arborio rice
1 large crisp tomato, cored and diced
1 medium yellow pepper, seeded, white membranes removed and diced
1/2 regular cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1/2 cup finely diced mozzarella
2 T. capers, rinsed
12 Kalamata olives, pitted and quartered
10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
10 fresh mint leaves, chopped
5 T. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 juicy lemon, seeded, about 4 T lemon juice.
Cook the rice in a generous amount of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain in a colander and run cold water over the rice to stop the cooking. Let the rice drain thoroughly.
When the rice is dry, place it in a shallow serving bowl and add the prepared vegetables, mozzarella, capers, olives, and herbs. Drizzle the olive oil over the salad, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Toss well. Add the lemon juice and toss again. Correct the seasonings. Let the salad rest for at least 15 minutes before serving and let the flavors come together.
Melon Stuffed with Raspberries
(from Elizabeth David's Summer Cooking)
3/4 lb. to 1 lb. of raspberries
One medium-sized melon
Kirsch or Grand Marnier
Strew the raspberries with sugar, pour over them a very small glass of kirsch or Grand Marnier, and leave them for several hours. Cut a slice off the top of the melon, throw away the seeds. Scoop out some of the flesh, cut it into cubes, mix it with the raspberries, and then fill the melon with the mixture.
When the small, sweet Cavaillon melons, no larger than a grapefruit, are available, one for each person makes an attractive sweet. Do not put melons into the refrigerator. Their scent penetrates everything else in it, especially butter.
Spaghetti with Cherry Tomato Sauce and Gremolata
(from Marco Canora's Salt to Taste)
1 large garlic clove, peeled
Strips of peel from 1/2 lemon, white pith removed
2 T. fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
For the Pasta and Sauce:
1 lb spaghetti
6 T. extra virgin olive oil
4 small garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Pinch of peperoncini or red pepper flakes
2 T. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 lbs. cherry tomatos, stemmed and halved
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
To make the gremolata:
Chop the garlic, lemon peel, and parsley together until they are finely minced. Put the gremolata and reserve it.
To make the pasta and sauce:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is not quite al dente.
While the pasta cooks, combine the oil, garlic, peperoncini, and parsley in a large skillet. Let the garlic and parsley infuse into the oil over low heat. Swirl the pan every so often. As soon as the garlic begins to color, raise the heat to high and add the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and fry the tomatoes, stirring frequently, until they are soft and starting to fall apart, 3 to 5 minutes.
Lift the pasta out of the water and add it to the skillet with the tomatoes. Finish cooking the pasta in the sauce, tossing it frequently, about 2 minutes. Add the Parmigiano. Serve the pasta topped with gremolata.