Is it too hot to cook? Welcome to summer! Readers have been requesting dishes that can be made in advance and reheated or served cold, or thrown together at the last minute. That’s an interesting combination, but I will do my best—and try to use what’s in season as well.
That means we should start with zucchini. It’s everywhere, as are recipes for that perennial New England favorite, zucchini bread. Like banana bread, there are a gazillion recipes. My favorite used to be the Silver Palate “chestnut,” but recently I came across a new one that I think is well worth sharing.
Alexandra Stafford writes one of my favorite blogs at www.alexandracooks.com. Regular readers might recognize her name, as she is the baker who immortalized her mother’s peasant bread, which takes just under two hours to make. Whenever she has a baked item on her blog, I pay attention, and I am glad I did with this one.
I almost always learn something new. This time she added the shredded zucchini (an entire pound) directly to the flour mixture, which then absorbed some of the moisture of the vegetable. It is still a moist, delicious bread, worth making in the cool of the morning (or in your air-conditioned kitchen, should you be so fortunate). This also makes excellent muffins, which I like to sprinkle with demerara (raw) sugar before baking.
A scant 2 cups flour
¾ tsp each: baking powder and baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon, optional
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2½ cups grated zucchini, about 16 oz
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit; grease a standard loaf pan (or a 10x5-inch loaf pan)—for easy removal, line the pan with a sheet of parchment paper that hangs over the edges. Whisk together the first five ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk remaining ingredients except zucchini; add zucchini to the flour mixture and toss to coat. Add dry to wet and stir until combined; pour into pan. Sprinkle generously with demerara sugar and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour until bread tests done. Let bread cool for 15 minutes in a pan, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely before slicing. Alternatively, you can bake the bread in four small baking pans. To make muffins, line a 12-cup muffin pan with liners or grease with butter or nonstick spray. Fill cups no more than 2⁄3 full. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Here’s another “must-try” that makes use of the sweet corn now available. Both the corn and the peaches this year seem especially good, but perhaps that’s the result of the pandemic: simple things are more special. This recipe is from Melissa Clark, who writes for the New York Times. She’s another writer whom I follow regularly, and this particular recipe will not disappoint.
Creamy Corn Pasta
12 ounces dry orecchiette or farfalle
1 tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 bunch scallions (about 8), trimmed and thinly sliced (keep the whites and greens separate)
2 large ears corn, shucked and kernels removed (2 cups kernels)
½ tsp ground black pepper, more for serving
3 tbsp butter
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, more to taste
1⁄3 cup torn basil or mint, more for garnish
A pinch red pepper flakes, or to taste
Fresh lemon juice, as needed
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil; cook pasta until 1 minute shy of al dente, according to the package directions. Drain, reserving ½ cup of pasta water. Meanwhile, heat oil in large sauté pan over medium heat; add scallion whites and a pinch of salt and cook until soft for 3 minutes. Add ¼ cup water and all but ½ cup corn; simmer until corn is heated through and almost tender for 3 to 5 minutes. Add a little more salt and half the pepper, transfer to a blender and purée mixture until smooth, adding a little extra water if needed to get a thick but pourable texture; return the sauté pan to the heat and add butter. Let it melt, then add reserved corn and cook until tender for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the corn purée and cook for 30 seconds to heat and combine the flavors; reduce heat to medium. Add pasta and half the reserved pasta cooking water, tossing to coat. Cook for 1 minute, then add a little more of the pasta cooking water if the mixture seems too thick. Add ¼ cup of the scallion greens, the Parmesan, the herbs, the red pepper flakes, more salt to taste and the remaining ¼ tsp pepper. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice to taste; transfer to warm pasta bowls and garnish with more scallions, herbs, a drizzle of olive oil and freshly ground black pepper.
There are a lot of summer recipes that call for fruit and crumbled cheese—usually feta or goat. This one calls for crumbled goat’s milk feta, a milder cheese. I have found that any crumbly cheese works, even a good cheddar—it adds just the right amount of saltiness to the dish. I also prefer white balsamic vinegar to red in this recipe, but you choose, according to what you have on hand.
Blueberry and Tomato Salad
1 cup baby arugula or spinach greens
2 really ripe tomatoes, preferably heirloom, cored
¼ cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried
2 tbsp crumbled goat’s milk feta cheese
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
Basil leaves for garnish
Slice the tomatoes into ½-inch slices; arrange the greens on a serving plate and top with the tomato slices. Sprinkle the blueberries, then the feta, over the tomatoes. Drizzle with the oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste; garnish with fresh basil, if desired.
One-pan pastas have become increasingly popular. Here’s one that is brilliant for summer cooking; Tejal Rao brought it to the New York Times via British cookbook author Anna Jones. Ms. Jones featured it in “A Modern Way to Cook,” and the technique is endlessly adaptable. I made it with spinach instead of kale, and I used a high-quality imported pasta, which made it especially tasty. It made a thick, starchy sauce as the pasta cooked, and I think the addition of lemon zest is a great trick—never forget to have a bowl of lemons in your kitchen!
Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes and Greens
1 lb spaghetti
1 lb cherry tomatoes, halved (about 2 pints)
2 lemons, zested
¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 bunch kale or spinach, leaves only, washed and chopped
Parmesan, for serving
Bring just over a quart of water to a boil. Meanwhile, place spaghetti, tomatoes, lemon zest, oil and 2 tsp kosher salt in a large, dry, shallow pan—the pan should be large enough that the dry spaghetti can lie flat. Carefully add the boiling water to the pan with the spaghetti; cover pan, and bring up to a boil. Remove lid and simmer for about 6 minutes, using tongs to move the spaghetti around now and then so that it does not stick. Add kale or spinach and continue cooking until remaining liquid has reduced to a sauce and the pasta is cooked through. Taste, season with salt and pepper, and top with Parmesan. For a non-vegetarian alternative, cook some coins of fresh Italian sausage while you make the pasta, and add them to the dish at the end, or for a vegan version, pulse some roasted almonds in your food processor and use them in place of the cheese.
Remember those fabulous peaches I mentioned earlier? When you are not standing over the sink to eat one, dripping and oh so delicious, try using them in this recipe. A simple white sangria with peaches is a perfect cold refreshing party drink for summer—but, trust me, you don’t need a party to enjoy it.
(adapted from Tori Avey)
1 lb fresh yellow peaches, sliced
¼ cup sugar
½ cup water
¾ cup peach liqueur or peach schnapps
1 bottle (750 mL) white wine
1 bottle (1 L) ginger ale, chilled
Place the sliced peaches into the bottom of the sangria pitcher. In a small saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil; stir until the sugar dissolves completely. Remove from heat and let it cool—this is your simple syrup. Pour the simple syrup, peach liqueur and white wine over the peaches; stir and place the pitcher in the refrigerator and let it sit for at least 2 hours, up to overnight. When ready to serve, top the pitcher off with chilled ginger ale and stir gently; serve in wine glasses, allowing a piece of fruit or two into each glass. Note: the ginger ale will lose its carbonation quickly in the pitcher but will still add a great flavor. If you’d like a more sparkling sangria, top the glasses off, rather than the pitcher. Fill each glass half full with sangria and top off with ginger ale. This will make the final beverage more carbonated and sparkling.