One of the things I love about summer is the time it affords me in my kitchen; it’s ironic, I guess, that while everyone else is “20 no-cook recipes for summer!,” I’m all about spending full days working my stove, oven, & stand mixer, filling the fridge and freezers and showing up to friends’ houses with pies, cobblers, cakes, and jars of granola (this recipe is still my favorite).
But this summer is different. While I’m still spending a lot of time cooking, my aim is now to empty the fridges and freezers (yes, plural—we have a house fridge, a garage fridge, & a fridge-sized deep freezer). I really, really hate food waste, so I have been cooking what we have and either eating it ourselves or gifting it to others; I’ve only got a few weeks before two out of those three fridges & freezers need to be emptied and thawed…
I quite enjoy this kind of cooking—it’s improvisational, creative, and a little bit scrappy. The results are sometimes a little strange, but luckily my family isn’t picky. My only chagrin comes from the fact that there is a whole slew of summer favorites that I probably won’t have the chance to make this time around, as I have sworn to keep grocery store trips to the absolute essentials. Therefore, I thought I might share some of the recipes that I would be cooking if the circumstances were different; I can’t, but you can! I hope you’ll try one or two, and please do let me know how they turn out.
One of the best things about summer is that the fruit is so gorgeous, it needs little by way of accompaniment. But if you want something a little more formal than a bowl of cherries or wedges of watermelon, simple fruit cakes are my recommendation. Here are some favorites:
-Have you ever roasted strawberries? It’s so easy and they get really jammy and concentrated in flavor, perfect for adding into things. Hull and quarter them (or halve them if they’re small), then toss with a little bit of lemon juice & sugar (for a pound of berries, I’d say 2 T sugar & 1 T juice). Roast on a parchment-lined baking sheet (that part is essential, otherwise you will have a HUGE mess) at 400 F for 15-20 minutes.
-Shiv and I are both nuts for summer stone fruit: peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums. Since we always have them on hand, they’re an easy go-to for dessert; you can mix and match fruits, so you don’t have to have a certain quantity of any one kind.
I made this stone fruit tea cake (recipe from Hummingbird High) just last night and served it with some brown sugar whipped cream – it’s an unusual recipe in that it has a bottom layer, gets filled with fruit, and then topped with more dough, but the dough requires no rolling and is perfect for someone who is intimidated by pie. Just note that the dough requires 30 minutes in the freezer before you can assemble the cake.
Summer is a grazing season – no one wants a heavy main course—so I tend to think of dinner more tapas or small plates style, setting out olives, cheese, and some cured meats along with one or two homemade dishes, preferably those I can make ahead. Here are my go-tos:
-I’ve raved about Saltie’s Focaccia before, but if you haven’t listened to me before, please make this now. There’s no kneading, you make the dough ahead of time, and it yields a huge quantity. Oh, and it’s DELICIOUS. Think of it as the perfect cornerstone for a summer spread and build from there.
-There is a jar of these pickled shrimp (recipe adapted from Saveur) in my refrigerator right now; I splurged on some fresh-caught Gulf beauties a few weeks ago, because I know we won’t be getting them in Arizona like we do here. You can make these several days in advance, if you like, and honestly the most labor-intensive part is peeling & deveining the shrimp, so if you want to pay extra, you can get that out of the way from the get-go.
-Should you end up with a surfeit of zucchini in your garden, or gifted to you from a friend’s garden, I highly recommend this Zucchini alla Scapece (also from Domenica Cooks). You cut the zucchini into rounds, fry it (no batter or breading required), and then pour a mint-basil dressing on top and let it hang out. I added capers to my dressing, as part of my clean-out-the-fridge effort, and we loved the tart pop they provided. These zucchini + that focaccia = yes.
-Last but not least is this roasted tomato pasta salad from Smitten Kitchen. I’ve leaned on this one in the past when we had more cherry/grape tomatoes in the backyard than I knew what to do with (see above picture); roasting them, as with the strawberries, concentrates their flavor and gets rid of excess moisture, making them little flavor bombs in this pasta salad. With basil, black olives, a salty cheese of your choice, and a garlic-oregano dressing, this pasta salad is worth splurging on the ½ cup of pine nuts it calls for. If you have a potluck to show up to, I recommend this!