Summer has arrived in the States!! (Sorry Oz, winter is upon you but slow cooking and delicious smells wafting throughout your home are enough to make up for the chill outside…) So now marks the perfect time of year to get al fresco dining into full swing and share food – large platters of antipasti and pre-prepared nibbles are great to share with friends. To me summery food should be clean and simple – nice crisp tastes that suit the sunshine. The list of produce I use in the summer months is pretty much endless but here a few standouts on my shopping list:
This variety of melon originated in France and is yellow/gold in color with high aroma and a musky flavor. When it comes to melons, simple is your best bet. I love to cut the melon in half, scoop out the seeds and fill the hole with frozen yogurt or ice cream. Imagine this on a hot summer’s night – Perfect!
These delicious seedy fruits remind me of my home and growing up in Oz. They grow left and right there so this is a much-loved treat for many Aussies – nice and tart so kids love ‘em! They’re not as common here in the US but they’re worth seeking out for their citrusy exotic flavor (even though it is not a citrus fruit), which works well in a whole range of desserts from panna cottas to pound cakes.
Peaches and Cream Corn
While visiting Kansas City, I came across the crispiest, juiciest corn with a pretty rad name too. It’s called Peaches and Cream Corn because it has both yellow and white corn kernels. I bought some from a little roadside stand, picked fresh from the field and ate it raw from the cob. You can imagine there was juice spraying everywhere with each bite.
I fell in love with these delicious, green peppers while filming Take Home Chef in New Mexico – they’re grown in the Hatch Valley, an area stretching north and south along the Rio Grande from Arrey. I stumbled upon the locals cooking them up in big, cylinder roasters outside of supermarkets and people were buying them by the bag full.
Unlike a lot of veggies that I usually like to keep crisp and crunchy, eggplant is a summer food that is designed to be cooked. I like to char mine in my outdoor wood fire oven, scoop out the flesh and sprinkle with fresh herbs and feta cheese and top with a good flourish of extra virgin olive oil. You can simply enjoy this smooth, creamy, smoky snack with some crunchy and salted pita bread. Keep this idea up your sleeve for your next al fresco get together.
One thing I love about living in Southern California is the authentic Mexican produce available from all of the farmer’s markets – and there are plenty to choose from. Tomatillos are a small green tomato-like fruit used in many Mexican dishes and have a bright, tart, lemony flavor. Again, I like to char and roast them in my wood fire oven, along with hatch chiles and jalapenos until they get a little blistered and blackened, then I throw them in a blender and voila! You’ve got a simple homemade salsa that you can spoon over tacos, a grilled steak, chicken, fish.. the list goes on.
Most people know what a zucchini is and how to prepare it but it’s a different story when it comes to their flowers. Their flowers are so delicate with bright yellow color and subtle flavor. I love to stuff these guys with taleggio cheese and basil and lightly fry them (get the recipe right here!) but you can also rip the flowers up and add them to salads, risottos, quesadillas etc. They’re a real summer treat!
Lemongrass is cultivated in abundance here in California and I’m a big fan because you can use it in so many different ways – teas, sauces, soups, syrups and the stalk can even double as a skewer. People have been using this incredible ingredient for centuries and it’s proven to have some really great properties. To kill a cold or sinus congestion, simply whip up a tea with fresh mint and chopped lemongrass then steep in boiling water. Healthy and delicious! Catch a webisode with me talking all things lemongrass here.
This creamy, soft cheese works so well in a bunch of summery dishes like a classic tomato and basil salad, crispy pizza, pesto pasta or grilled cheese sandwich. The general rule of thumb when buying mozzarella is the softer the better. You should also eat the cheese very fresh, if it’s been in the fridge for more than 4-5 days then use this for cooking and buy some more to eat fresh.
Summer is a time when I think heavier meats should come off the menu to make room for lighter proteins such as fish. Cold-water Arctic char fish is closely related to salmon and lake trout so it’s a great substitute if you’re looking to try something outside of the norm. The flesh color ranges from bright red to pale pink and works beautifully with orange vinaigrette, gremolata, soy-sesame sauces, Bouillabaisse broth and more.