It’s well known that I’m no fan of the energy draining heat and humidity of our North Carolina summer. I watch for the subtlest of changes to leaf colors the way a middle school boy looks for whiskers on his upper lip.
You’d think with my often whined-about antipathy that I have no love for anything to do with the season.
Au contraire, mon frère.
I enjoy swimming in the ocean (Petey’s always terrified I’m going straight to Europe when I get going — or be eaten by a shark). I like cute sandals. And…
I have to be honest here. I thought and thought, and even asked Petey for help, but I could only come up with one more thing I like about the summer.
I absolutely love summer produce. Tomatoes, berries, summer squash, corn and green veggies; I am there all day.
These days it’s possible to buy fresh summer fruits and veggies out of season, but most of it has traveled from afar, and tastes as much like local in-season bounty as a photographic depiction would.
But if you’re in the mood, and are very particular and discerning, it’s possible to enjoy a summer dish in the fall that has both bright, authentic flavor, and radiant, sunny color.
This can be accomplished by using a combination of fresh and frozen ingredients.
Commercially prepared frozen foods use a method called “IQF”, which means ‘individually quick frozen’. Processing plants are located very near the fields where produce is grown, and right after harvesting it’s prepped and frozen. In many instances it’s done quicker than farmers can get it to the farmer’s market, and you can purchase it and get it home. Corn and berries are good examples.
Some veggies are so easy to grow and ship that they’re always available, at a pretty constant level of quality.
Most grocers usually carry fresh sugar snap peas (usually packaged) and scallions year-round. Supermarket tomatoes are problematic all the time. But grape tomatoes are ubiquitous, sweet and yummy.
So, on a day when it’s nice enough for grilling, I have a side dish and dessert that will create the charade that it’s the middle of the summer — with no swooning involved.
Summer veggie salad
2/3 cup mayonnaise
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ cup finely grated manchego cheese (may substitute other dry, hard cheese, like Parmesan)
Salt & pepper
Whisk all ingredients together at least one hour before service, and refrigerate.
12 ounces fresh snap peas
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup frozen shoepeg corn, thawed
2 slices bacon
3 scallions, sliced thinly
½ teaspoon sugar
Salt & pepper
Blanch snap peas: Cook in heavily salted, boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon into ice water. When cool, drain and slice in half at an angle.
Cut bacon into ½ inch strips, and cook until crispy. Remove from pan and drain. Pour out all but 2 teaspoons grease. Into same pan, pour in corn, season, and add sugar. Allow to cook until browned around edges. Remove and let cool.
Put all salad ingredients except bacon into bowl, and mix. Add dressing a bit at a time until coated. Refrigerate until service. Right before serving, stir in bacon. Serves 4-6.
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 tablespoons cornstarch
5 cups frozen mixed berries
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup self-rising cornmeal
2 pinches salt
¼ teaspoon fresh nutmeg
1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 cup milk
Combine 1/3 cup sugar, pinch of salt, and cornstarch. Stir this into berries and lemon juice; spoon mixture into lightly greased 2-qt. baking dish.
Combine flour, cornmeal, pinch of salt, nutmeg, lemon zest and 2/3 cup sugar. Whisk in butter and milk. Spread batter evenly over berries.
Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar.
Bake at 350° for 40-45 minutes or until golden. Serves 6-8.
So, to answer that peculiarly 21st century question: Yes, you can have it all.
You can eat like it’s the middle of July, while wearing the cutest pair of suede boots and an adorable little sweater—in October.
Thanks for your time.