Tag Archives: Summer

Summer squash gratin with tomato-red pepper sauce

Are you looking to use up a giant pile of zucchini or summer squash? Say, four pounds of it? This recipe is just the ticket. It’s a simple yet flavor-packed vegetarian gratin, made up of squash slices layered with tomato-pepper sauce and Parmesan cheese, then topped with oil-slicked breadcrumbs. This is what I think of as summer comfort food: crisp and golden on top, bright and fresh-flavored underneath. Plus there’s cheese.

The real secret sauce of this gratin is…well, the sauce. It is one of those simple-yet-spectacular marvels of summer cooking: tomatoes and red bell peppers, simmered with a splash of water until they’re very soft, then blended with a knob of butter and a handful of fresh basil leaves. (You could use olive oil instead of butter, or a mix of the two.) Somehow, those few ingredients produce a rich orange-red sauce that’s creamy-without-cream and packed with bright flavor.

Of course, the sauce is outrageously delicious in this gratin. Tomato, pepper, squash, and basil is a can’t-fail flavor combination. But once you taste this stuff, you’ll want to make extra next time. It’s fabulous over pasta or as a marinara-like dip, and I can only imagine how great it’d be draped over chicken Parmesan. It also freezes beautifully, so you could double the batch while prepping this gratin and save the leftovers for another day.

tomato pepper sauce

I tweaked this from a Food52 recipe, which calls for roasting the squash before assembling the gratin. I don’t own enough baking sheets to fit four pounds of sliced squash in a single layer, and I didn’t love the idea of shuffling baking sheets in and out of a very hot oven during the height of summer. So I skip the roasting step altogether, and I don’t really miss it. The flavor of the squash is fresher, and the slices stay firmer and more intact. (A lot of folks–myself included–are averse to the mushiness of fully-cooked zucchini, so I slice my squash on the thicker side for a crisp-tender final texture.)

The roasting step does serve one important purpose, however. It drives off excess liquid from the squash, which would otherwise make the gratin soggy. My solution is to salt-purge the squash instead. After slicing the squash, I toss it with a generous dose of kosher salt, then let it drain in a colander until it softens and gives up a shocking amount of liquid. Then I pat the squash dry, and it’s ready to be layered with sauce and blanketed with breadcrumbs.

squash gratin w tomato pepper sauce

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Nectarine galette with rye crust

I made my first galette over the weekend. I’m quite proud, actually–I’m usually a bit of a pie wimp, and this was my first foray in a long time into the realm of flaky dough and bubbling fruit juices. As far as pie-type desserts go, I can now say from experience that a galette is an unfussy cook’s best friend: there’s only one crust to roll out, no pan-lining or crimping or pre-baking, and even the roughest and most haphazard attempts at folding the dough over the fruit end up looking like you meant to do it that way.

The real revelation here is the pie dough, a rye flour-inflected recipe I pinched from 101 Cookbooks. I love the old-country tang of good rye bread, and the notion of working that flavor into a pie dough was irresistible. Beyond the addition of the rye flour, the dough is pretty classic–flour, butter, salt, and cold fizzy water to keep the whole thing light. It was a dream to work with, rolling without complaint and baking to perfect crisp-flakiness. I could easily see this as the lid for a pot pie, or the wrapper for a batch of piroshki, and certainly as the base for any number of sweet or savory pies. This will be my go-to crust in future, no question.

As for what to wrap the dough around, there wasn’t much contest: nectarines are in their element in California right now, and few things make me weak at the knees like a sweet white nectarine. I found the perfect ones at the farmer’s market, fat and smooth and just coming into sugary ripeness. I cut the nectarines into wedges–more than a few of which disappeared along the way–and nestled them into the center of that simple gorgeous rye dough, on a bed of almond meal and flour to catch any oozing juices. Within ten minutes of putting it in the oven, the whole kitchen smelled like a little corner of summer: hot collapsing fruit and browning sugar and butter. It was the kind of dessert that makes you a little mournful when it’s gone, longing for just a little taste more of shattering crust and slumped fruit.

This was my first galette, and the first of many. I’m already planning my next one–perhaps something savory as we slide into fall. I’ll keep you updated.

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…I say tomato

When it comes to cooking for others, my dad is definitely my most reliable taste-tester.  It’s not immediately obvious that that’s the case–like any good parent, he will ooh and ahh over everything I make, whether or not it actually deserves the fuss.  Even if it burns, or curdles, or collapses in the middle, Dad will cheerfully scarf it down.

But there are little signs.

If he’s the first to reach for seconds, it’s good.

If he keeps going back for more until nothing’s left, it’s really good.

If he starts quietly hogging the serving dish, it’s practically ambrosia.

I made tomato jam last week, and he took possession of the bowl and ate it directly from the spoon, ignoring just about everything else on the dinner table.  I don’t believe higher praise exists.

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Sweetness and light

Northern California is slipping into a late-summer lull. I love this time of year, when the sunlight loses a little of its edge and people begin to dig in their heels against the long slow downhill slide to fall. These are the kind of days that were made for napping under an open window. (Screened, of course. This is also bonanza time for bugs.)

It’s a fabulous farmer’s market time. There’s still a glut of stone fruit and berries and colorful tomatoes. Corn is everywhere; fresh herbs are plentiful. But there are also the unexpected summer treats, the ones that sit patiently by while everyone gorges on peach cobbler and tomato-mozzarella salad. There are seasonal ingredients that I’ve never tried before, but have intrigued me for years.

Like zucchini blossoms.

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You say tomato…

My brain is fried.

Work is craaaaayzay.

I have to start looking for an apartment soon.

My synapses are slowly fraying.  I can hear the “plink!  plink!” of connections severing in my head.  Just directing my fingers to write words in this text box is exhausting.

So here’s something I made last weekend.  It was yummy.  You should try it.

The end.

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Leaving on a jet plane

Short lazy post today, for a very important reason: I’m leaving the country tomorrow!

Me and the manfriend are jetting off for a week in Barcelona.  Barthelona.  City of modernist architecture, abstract art, pickpockets, and some of the best food in the world.  I can. not. wait.

Until then, I leave you with a simple little summer recipe, to whet your appetite for things to come.  See y’all on the other side!

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The unbearable lightness of food

Well, not unbearable.  In fact, pretty damn appealing.

Fact is, there are days when I feel compelled to do fancy things with food.  And then there are days when it’s ungodly hot outside, and I’m staring down the Workweek from Hell, and standing over the stove with an elaborate plan and a spatula sounds like torture.

Guess which kind of day I’ve been having lately?

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