“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy: or so says the “Porgy and Bess” song. But there’s no easy living in the heat of summer if you’re cooking elaborate meals in the kitchen.
In colder months, I enjoy preparing complex braises and roasts, reduction sauces and delicate confections. But with the arrival of summer’s sticky heat I dream about surviving on ice-cold fresh fruit and tall glasses of ice tea and lemonade.
Grilling with easy-to-make recipes gives much-needed relief from hot kitchens and summer lethargy.
Vegetables tossed in olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and black pepper pick up sweetness as they lightly char over hot coals. Grilled carefully to avoid burning, nothing can improve on the flavors that come from food cooked on an open grill. During the hot months of the year, I turn to meals assembled with what I call the three amigos: a salsa, an appetizer and a chip.
Grilled corn salsa
Adding corn caramelized from light grilling gives this salsa its distinctive sweetness. When you buy corn from the market, look for plump kernels. Avoid ears with wrinkled or shriveled kernels.
You can use any kind of ripe tomato you enjoy, but I prefer cherry tomatoes because they are sweet and they hold their shape after being cut up. For added color, select a basket with a mix of yellow and red cherry tomatoes.
1 ear of corn, husks and silks removed, washed
1 8-ounce basket of ripe cherry tomatoes, washed, quartered
1 large shallot, ends and skin removed, washed and roughly chopped
½ cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Lemon juice to taste (optional)
1. Preheat the grill to medium-hot.
2. Drizzle the olive oil on a large plate and season with sea salt and black pepper. Roll the ear of corn to coat. Using tongs, place the corn on the grill. Turn frequently to prevent burning. Remove the corn when all the sides have light grill marks. Let cool. Cut off the kernels and place in a large mixing bowl.
3. Use a rubber or silicone spatula to transfer the seasoned olive oil from the plate into the mixing bowl with the corn.
4. Add the quartered cherry tomatoes, shallot and parsley. Toss well and season with the cayenne. Taste and adjust the flavors with more sea salt, black pepper, olive oil and lemon juice (optional).
A secret weapon in last-minute cooking, tapenade brightens any meal either as an appetizer or a condiment. If you use pitted, canned olives, making tapenade will take 10-15 minutes.
The taste of your tapenade depends on the quality of the olives.
1 6-ounce can pitted olives., preferably green or kalamata olives
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves with skins
¼ cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, roughly chopped
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes (optional)
Black pepper to taste
1. Skewer the garlic cloves on the end of knife or a metal skewer and hold over a gas flame to burn off the outer skins. Let cool, removed any charred skins and roughly chop the cloves.
2. In a small blender or food processor, place the drained olives, olive oil, garlic, parsley and pepper flakes. Pulse until the olives are roughly chopped. Taste and adjust the seasoning with the addition of black pepper, sea salt, pepper flakes and olive oil.
3. Pulse again until the tapenade achieves the desired texture. Personally I like a tapenade that has a rustic look with the olives coarsely chopped rather than puréed.
4. Refrigerate until ready to use and serve at room temperature.
2 anchovies packed in oil, roughly chopped and added with the olives. If salted, rinse before adding.
1 tablespoon capers added with the olives.
Served in the Middle East, lavash and pita are commonly used instead of bread. Flat, unleavened lavash has a delicious, lightly grilled flavor when fresh. Making crisps makes use of lavash that might otherwise have become stale and gone to waste.
Lavash crisps have more flavor and are more flaky than commercially manufactured chips. Serve them with salsa, tapenade, dips or thin slices of cheese.
The crisps will last for weeks if kept refrigerated in an airtight container.
1 large or 2 small sheets of lavash
1 cup olive or safflower oil
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
5-6 paper towel sheets
1. Cut the lavash sheets into 2-inch squares by cutting the sheet in half, placing the halves on top of each other, cutting those in half and doing that again until the pieces are 2 inches wide. Cut the 2-inch wide strips into 2-inch squares and set aside. If not cooked immediately, store in an airtight container.
2. In a large frying pan or griddle, heat ¼ cup of the oil. Season with sea salt and black pepper and heat on a medium-low flame. Be careful not to burn the oil or cause it to smoke.
3. Lay a paper towel sheet on a large plate or baking sheet.
4. Add the lavash squares to the hot oil. Do not overlap. Using tongs, turn over the lavash when they are lightly browned and cook the other side. They cook quickly so watch them closely.
5. Remove the cooked crisps and place them on the paper towel. Cook another batch.
6. Place a clean paper towel on top of each layer to absorb excess oil.
7. Replenish the oil in the frying pan as needed and season with sea salt and black pepper. Allow the oil to reach the proper temperature before adding more lavash.
8. Discard the paper towels when the crisps cool. Store refrigerated in an airtight container. Serve at room temperature.
Photo: Grilled corn salsa. Credit: David Latt