A simple summer meal
It’s summer. The corn is sweet, the tomatoes are bulking up, and the sun attempts to shine a little warmth and happiness into our lives. It’s the season for simple, happy food eaten 6 feet apart outside with laughter on your lips. Grab a bag of clams and bring it to your friend’s, the one with the small patch of a yard and a charcoal grill. Grill them until they pop open, salty and sweet. Spritz with lemon and maybe some Tabasco. Wash down with white wine or a ‘Gansett. This is what summer food is all about.
Or maybe you’re in your apartment on a rare cool day, and the idea of cooking doesn’t seem so bad. It’d be a great time to make succotash, a simple side made divine with the addition of goat cheese. Pair it with seared striped bass basted in butter and sage, and while you’re cooking, sip a cool vermouth and tonic to sooth the nerves. Follow dinner with scoops of vanilla (or bourbon or brown sugar pecan) ice cream in a chilled glass, covered in root beer and served with a long silver spoon for scooping.
Succotash with Goat Cheese and Thyme
The basic recipe is as follows (see link here for formal recipe). Cut 2 ears of corn off its cob, 1 cup of cherry tomatoes in two, chop a small onion and grate a clove of garlic. Warm some olive oil and butter in a pan, add the onion, garlic and the leaves of a few sprigs of thyme. Saute until pale gold, fragrant and soft. Add the corn, tomatoes and frozen lima beans if you have them. Peas would also be nice. Cook until the colors are vibrant and frozen limas are warm. Add 4 ounces of goat cheese, a splash of heavy cream, and season with salt and pepper. Serve with butter and sage basted sea bass, or any good fish, caught locally if you can get it.
Brown Butter and Sage Basted Striped Bass
You can use any firm, skin-on fish here. Good alternatives include Arctic char, salmon, swordfish or grouper. Stay away from flaky fish like cod or haddock, as it will disintegrate. This prep would also be great for large scallops, cooked for ~2 minutes on each side.
1/2 pound striped bass or other firm fish
2 Tbsp oil
4 sage leaves
4 Tbsp butter
Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cut fish crosswise into two roughly 4-ounce portions, pat dry, and season generously with salt and pepper. When oil starts to shimmer (you can flick the oil with water and if it sizzles, it’s ready), add fish skin side down to skillet. Cook for 3 minutes, then add butter and sage. Tip pan slightly and use a spoon to baste the fish with the melted butter and sage. Butter will brown and smell toasty and delicious. Continue basting, flipping after 5 minutes, and cook for another 5 depending on the thickness of your fish. Use a thermometer to temp test your fish, inserting it into the thickest part (it’s done when it reaches 145). To speed up the process, cover the pan with a lid for a few minutes. Serve with succotash, and tell your lover, friend or roommate to eat the crispy, salty skin—it’s the best part.
A Cookbook For Times Like These
“We stood on the lawn drinking margaritas and dipping chips into his Tex-Asian version of queso, wrapping bits of goat in warm corn tortillas and adorning them with salsa and crema, and even those of us with male-pattern baldness and rumpled khakis felt beautiful, part of something at once magical and real.” - Sam Sifton, See You on Sunday
Sam Sifton’s latest cookbook, See You on Sunday, has been a balm for these topsy-turvy times. In his simple prose, Sifton writes of the pleasant ritual of having people over for supper on Sunday, not to be entertained, but to eat, drink and be merry. It reads like a poem about yesterday (it was written before the pandemic), the mythic golden hour that existed before pandemic and uncertainty pulled back the curtain.
We might not be having people over the way we used to, but a gathering like the one Sifton describes—on a lawn, in a driveway, hands cupping tacos gently like baby birds—still feels like something we can do safely in the midst of a pandemic.
Aside from the good writing, Sifton provides good recipes. I recently made the Boston Baked Beans, subbed in some country ribs, and served them up on the Fourth of July. They were tasty. I also used his technique for searing fish, crisping up the skin of some sea bass and serving it alongside my succotash. Other recipes on my docket include clam pizza, honey roasted sweet potatoes with yogurt sauce, and a luxurious onion soubise.
What I’ve Been Drinking
Water, first and foremost. Preferably with ice cubes, most likely out of my well-worn water bottle.
If I have lemons or limes or both, a simple lemonade is a sweet treat.
6 lemons, 2 sliced thinly into rounds, remaining 4 juiced// if you have limes you need to use, substitute 2 limes per lemon
1/2 cup sugar, plus more to taste
3 cups water
1 tsp vanilla extract
Place thinly sliced lemons into bowl with sugar. Bash and mash with a wooden spoon, until lemon slices are coated in sugar and starting to ooze juice. Let rest for 10 minutes. Once rested, add lemon juice//lime juice, water and vanilla extract. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Add more sugar to your taste!
Fridays, I find myself reaching for a bottle of dry vermouth and popping the cap of some Fevertree elderflower tonic. Poured over ice with a wedge of lemon, it’s a refreshing tipple to end the workweek.
And when I’m wishing I was on a beach somewhere far away, this creamy tiki drink provides sweet relief. Listen to “What’s That Perfume That You Wear” by Jens Lekman while sipping.
I like to keep a pitcher of this chilling in the fridge for those moments when you (read: I) wish you were in a tropical paradise rather than a 100-degree apartment.
2 1/2 cups pineapple juice
3/4 cup orange juice, preferably fresh squeezed
3/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup simple syrup
4 dashes angostura bitters
1 1/2 cups spiced rum (I usually cut this down to 1 cup for a lower ABV batch, or omit entirely for a delicious mocktail)
Mix ingredients together in a pitcher and chill before serving over ice. Garnish each serving with a slice of pineapple or a pineapple spear.
While this isn’t so much a recipe as a suggestion, a good rootbeer float is hard to beat on a hot summer evening. Feel free to get as fancy as you want (we used bourbon brown sugar ice cream that John just happened to spot) or go the simple vanilla route. But whatever you do, make sure you chill your glass in the freezer for a few hours beforehand; it’ll keep your float cold and refreshing.
Place 2 scoops of your favorite ice cream (or vanilla if you’re horrible at making on-the-spot decisions like me) into a chilled pint glass. Pour in cold rootbeer (we like A&W for its hint of vanilla) until the frothy top threatens to overflow. Stick a long spoon in it and enjoy. A variation: 2 scoops peanut butter ice cream + Pepsi + honey roasted peanuts.