This time of year, there’s no excuse for eating bad food. Tasteless tomatoes? Woody zucchini? Pallid chicken? Not in August, my friends.
Farmers markets are overflowing with end-of-summer bounty — corn and tomatoes, cantaloupes and plums. It’s the time of year when a dinner party can be as easy as slice-and-serve.
If there’s one weekend you should get out to the market and stock up on local produce, meat, herbs — even cheese, bread and sweets — it’s this one. To tempt you, I’ve put together a dinner party menu with some of my all-time favorite recipes — the ones I turn to again and again during summer. Whole chicken on the grill. Steamed corn. Tomato-watermelon salad. These are no-fuss recipes that you can put together in moments — leaving you the rest of the evening to linger at the table under the stars.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, I’m including starters, a cocktail and two desserts, too.
One thing I will say about these recipes — they’re all utterly delicious. So good, in fact, they might be destined to become classics in your repertoire, too. But aside from the taste, the best part about this menu is that you can get (almost) all of it at the farmers market. If you have citrus, olive oil, salt, pepper, sugar — and, if you go the extra mile, the makings for dessert, such as flour, brown sugar and walnuts — you already have everything you need.
So throw your reusable bags in the car and head out to your local market. I’ve even made you a list. I can promise there won’t be a tasteless tomato to be found.
After the recipes, you’ll find a shopping list, too.
- 1/4 large watermelon (about 2 to 3 cups), cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 cup basil leaves, loosely packed
- 3/4 cup lime juice
- 1/4 cup cold simple syrup (made by bringing 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water to just shy of a boil and stirring to combine; refrigerate the remainder for up to a month.)
- Club soda
- Put the watermelon in a large pitcher. Add the basil leaves, lime juice, simple syrup and rum and muddle so the watermelon breaks up and the basil leaves release their oils.
- Fill glasses with crushed ice. Strain the watermelon mixture into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into the glass. Top with club soda. Garnish with a basil leaf and watermelon slice.
Adapted from The New York Times, June 16, 1999.
- Zucchini Blossoms
- 1 cup chickpea flour (also known as garbanzo bean flour) or substitute all-purpose flour
- Chilled club soda
- Kosher salt
- Peanut oil
- 20 zucchini blossoms
- Place chickpea flour in a medium bowl. Whisk in enough club soda to form a batter the consistency of crepe batter. Season with salt.
- In a cast iron pan, heat oil to 375 degrees. Dip a blossom into batter, coat it lightly on both sides and shake off excess batter.
- Fry until crisp and golden brown, about 30 seconds a side. You will know it is time to turn them when they stop sizzling. Repeat with other blossoms, frying in batches so you don't crowd the pot or lower the oil temperature.
- As blossoms finish cooking, put them on a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Season with salt and serve.
- 1 pound cranberry beans, in the pods
- 4 to 6 whole cloves garlic
- 4 rosemary sprigs, plus extra chopped rosemary more for garnish
- Salt and Pepper
- Olive oil
- A good baguette
- Shell and rinse the beans. Place them in a stockpot, cover with cold water, and add the garlic cloves and rosemary. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until beans are cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Drain beans, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Puree beans, garlic and rosemary in a blender, adding as much of the cooking liquid as you need to make the puree a spreadable consistency.
- Preheat the oven to 350 or have a hot grill ready. If you are grilling the bread, simply cut the baguette in half and grill the two halves, then follow the directions below for slicing. If you are toasting the bread, slice it into 1/4-inch slices on the bias and lightly brush each side with extra virgin olive oil. Toast them for 5 to 10 minutes, turning once. When they are cool, top each round with about a tablespoon of the pureed beans. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with chopped rosemary.
- 2 chickens, about 4 pounds each
- 4 quarts water
- 1 1/3 cups kosher salt
- 2/3 cup sugar
- Hardwood charcoal without chemicals
- Hickory or apple wood chips
- To brine, whisk water, salt and sugar together in a large bucket or bowl. Add chicken and brine for 4 to 8 hours.
- Remove the chicken from the brine. Place it, breast side down, on a cutting board. Using poultry shears or a very sharp knife, cut one side of the backbone, starting at the tail end. Cut that little flap of fat off, too — it’s called the pope’s nose. When you’re done, one side of the chicken will fall off. Now do the same thing on the other side of the spine.
- The chicken is almost butterflied, but it won’t lay flat unless you cut the breastbone. So lay the chicken down and put your shears at the tip where the breasts meet. Cut a little snip into the bone. (Or, if you’re feeling particularly aggressive, you can slam the breast down with the butt of your palm of your hand. Hard. You’ll break the breastbone and achieve the same effect.)
- That’s it for the butchering. You don’t need to season the birds because they’ve been brined, and you’re going to cook them with smoke. If you insist, you can grind a little black pepper over them.
- Start the grill. Put the charcoal in a chimney starter and light 2 sheets of newspaper underneath. First, it will smoke. Then the coals will catch fire and burn. Then they will glow red. You want them red. This will take about 20 minutes. When they’re ready, pour them out to each side of the grill, leaving the middle empty. (Of course you won’t be perfect, so take a really long set of tongs, and move the rogue coals to their place.)
- Shape some foil in a rectangle and make a border of about 1 inch around all sides. Fold that border up to form a makeshift tray. (It acts as a drip pan to catch the fat falling from the chickens.) Place the foil tray between the two rows of coals. Put the grate on top of that.
- Nestle your chickens onto the grate above the foil tray, in the center of the grill. Put the neck side to the outside, and let the legs alternate space on the grill. Place 5 or 6 wood chips on top of the coals.
- Put the lid on, open the top vent, and wait. About 50 minutes to an hour. Don’t peek! The chickens are done when they look chestnut brown and the legs wiggle so easily they could come off the chicken without a knife.
- Let the chickens rest for at least 10 minutes. They will stay warm for up to 45 minutes, and are delicious even at room temperature.
- 8 ears corn
- Fill a stock pot with about 1 inch of water and place a steamer basket over it.?(If you don’t have a steamer basket, don’t worry, you can do this without one.) Stand the corn ears vertically on end on the steamer or directly in the water. Cover the pot. Bring the water to a boil. Let steam for about 5 minutes, until corn turns a bright yellow (or white). Serve with butter and salt.
From Eating Well, July-Aug. 2011
- Shaved Zucchini and Fennel Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
- 1 pound zucchini (2-3 medium)
- 1 large bulb fennel, quartered and cored, fronds reserved
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 cup slivered red onion
- 6 tablespoons hard sheep’s milk cheese from the market or shredded Manchego or Asiago cheese
- Very thinly slice zucchini lengthwise into long strips with a vegetable peeler, mandoline or knife. Place strips on a double layer of paper towel and let stand while you prepare rest of salad.
- Very thinly slice fennel bulb with a knife or mandoline. Chop about 1/4 cup of fronds. Whisk oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add zucchini, fennel, fronds and onion; gently stir to coat well. Serve sprinkled with cheese.
- 2 pints Sun Gold tomatoes
- 5 cups Sugar Baby or seedless watermelon
- 6 to 8 ounces feta cheese or a feta-like cheese from the market
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- If you have Sun Golds, cut the tomatoes in half; if you are using heirlooms, slice into wedges or rounds.
- Cut the watermelon into 1-inch squares or use a melon-baller to make orbs.
- Cut the feta into 1/2-inch squares.
- Slice the mint and basil into chiffonade by rolling the leaves up into cylinders and slicing them into long shreds.
- Layer the salad:Tomatoes and watermelon, then feta, then herbs. Make another layer if you need to.
- Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Grind fresh pepper over the salad just before serving.
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 6 lemon verbena leaves (or substitute 1/4 cup mint)
- 5 cups cantaloupe
- Make a simple syrup by bringing the sugar and water to just shy of a boil. Stir to combine, remove from heat and add lemon verbena leaves. Steep for 20 minutes, then remove leaves and cool the syrup.
- Puree the cantaloupe with the lemon-verbena simple syrup in a blender. (You may have to do this in batches.) Refrigerate the melon mixture until very cold, 4 to 6 hours.
- Process the melon mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Freeze in a container until hard.
- Remove 5 minutes before serving, to make the sorbet easier to scoop. Garnish with lemon verbena leaves.
Yield: 1 tart.
From Barefoot Contessa
- Plum Tart
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cups finely chopped walnuts
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed
- 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), diced
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 pounds firm, ripe plums, pitted and sliced into quarters
- Preheat the oven to 400.
- Combine the flour, walnuts and sugar in a large bowl. Add the butter and the egg yolk. Mix, either by hand or with an electric mixer, until crumbly.
- Press 2 cups of the crumb mixture in an even layer into the bottom of a 9 1/2-inch springform or tart pan. Arrange the plums in the pan, skin side down, to form a flower pattern. Begin at the outside and work your way in.
- Sprinkle the rest of the crumb mixture evenly over the plums. Bake the tart for 40 to 50 minutes, or until it’s browned and the plum juices are bubbling. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and transfer the tart to a flat plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Photos by Tania Savayan/TJN.
After the jump, a shopping list for the market.
Dinner Party Shopping List
From the market
1 large or 2 small watermelons
1 large cantaloupe (to equal 5 cups)
20 zucchini blossoms
1 pound cranberry beans
8 ears corn
1 head garlic
1 pound zucchini
1 large fennel bulb
1 red onion
2 pounds plums
2 pints Sun Gold Tomatoes
Poultry and Dairy
2 whole chickens (about 4 pounds each)
Hard sheep’s milk cheese
In your pantry
Oil for frying (peanut, canola)
Light brown sugar
Hickory or apple wood chips
Manchego or Asiago cheese (if not at the market)
Feta cheese (if not at the market)