Monday, July 19, 2010

When the Heat is On

I can't stand the heat, but I can't avoid the kitchen either. When the mercury tops 100, what to eat, when all you really want is cool sorbet or perhaps a mojito for dinner?

The first couple of days of a heat wave I always seem to rely on the same dish: I grill some boneless chicken breasts and then use them to top a big green salad and whatever vegetables I have on hand. Pretty soon we are looking for some variety, something different, so I turn to the local farmer's market for inspiration. Recently we picked up a bison london broil to grill, which was fabulous. The leftovers were great the next day on a salad too. The farmer's market always provides an array of seasonal vegetables to choose from, which also get thrown on the grill.

Last summer even salad got the grilling treatment. In her book, Giada's Family Dinners, Giada De Laurentiis has a recipe for grilled wedges of romaine and Belgan endive that is wonderful. Charring the lettuces on the grill and then splashing them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar create a salad with more depth of flavor.

This most recent heat wave sends me looking for inspiration in my cookbooks and favorite websites. I am fond of all things mediterranean and Cooking Light's Greek Pasta Salad combines my favorite flavors along with one of my favorite fish - fresh tuna. I like this recipe so much that the only tweak I made to it the next time was to sub a bit of white wine vinegar for some of the lemon juice in the dressing. The best part of this dish? The leftovers are wonderful for lunch the next day, cool but filling.

Another similar main dish salad great for hot days is Rotini, Summer Squash, and Prosciutto Salad, also from Cooking Light. Who doesn't have an abundance of zucchini or yellow squash this time of year? This dish makes good use of that ubiquitous summer produce, and is also good leftover.

I turn to Deborah Madison's bible, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, for ideas on how to use up the rest of my summer squash. Using a couple of her recipes as a start, I cut the squash into large dice and then saute it slowly in olive oil for about half an hour, till it caramelizes slightly. Then toss the squash with some feta or goat cheese and fresh chopped herbs (I loved it with basil and oregano for mediterranean flavor, natch). This is probably best as a side dish, but perhaps with some diced cooked chicken or tofu added it could be a stand-alone meal.

One dish my mother always makes in the summer is pepperoni, peppers and pasta. She sautes sliced bell peppers and garlic till tender, then adds in thinly sliced pepperoni slices and chopped tomatoes. Serve over any variety of hot pasta - I prefer linguini, but a shape such as ziti works well too. I don't know why I think of this as a summer dish - perhaps because it is best made with peppers and tomatoes at their peak, or perhaps the zing of the pepperoni helps make you sweat a little and cool you down, the way some spicy Indian food does?

Watermelon is one of the more perfect foods to eat in tropical temperatures. I often grill salmon and serve with a watermelon relish, to make the juicy fruit part of the main meal instead of dessert. I am eager to try the Watermelon and Feta Salad I read about in one of my favorite food blogs, Culinary in the Country. Joe's blog also recently posted a recipe for Chicken, Corn Edamame and Farro Salad with Goat Cheese that sounds ideal for hot weather, provided I can find farro. I have never cooked with it, but this might just get me to try it.

Summer is a great time to eat seasonally - and sometimes that means dinner is just an extended appetizer hour. A plate of cheese and vegetables, some hummus, pinot grigio or lemonade, perhaps some sliced tomatoes and mozzarella enjoyed on the deck can be a wonderful supper on a hot summer night.


  1. I read your mouthwatering post just before going to Whole Foods - found myself buying watermelon and feta to go with the mint and basil growing in pots on my patio, and the red onion in my kitchen. What a perfect salad in this heat. Can't wait to try it!

    I also really like the idea of throwing romaine and endive on the grill. That's on the menu for our next barbecue!

  2. Such a timely, mouth-watering post. You remind us that it is absolutely possible to make delicious dishes even when it's too hot to cook!


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