Summertime and the Eatings Easy
Winter is over! Well who are we kidding there was no winter this year. Spring will take, oh, two weeks to pass, and then it’s summertime! So I wanted to share 3 of my favorite recipes for greedy consumption on balmy summer days. Now I’m not as accomplished a chef as my colleague, but if I’ve learned anything in my 26 years, it’s that the simplest things often taste the best. So don’t be afraid, these recipes takes at most 10 minutes and involve very little cooking at all, so you’ll be cranking them out like a pro soon enough, just don’t tell your friends how easy it was. Alright, let’s get this going!
1. Summer Pasta
This appropriately named dish has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. I remember my dad whipping up a huge bowl of it on a lazy Sunday afternoon, we’d sit poolside and enjoy a couple of bowls with a crisp Chardonnay (yes my parents let me drink wine) and then lay in the sun as it warmed our topped off tummies. For all of these dishes, the key to achieving those heart stopping flavors is fresh ingredients. This may be the easiest pasta to make in history. All you have to know how to do is chop and boil noodles, that’s it! Here’s what you’ll need:
• 4-5 Large tomatoes (for the best results, get yourself some organic heirlooms)
• 2 Large fresh bufala mozzarella balls, in water if possible (bocconcini or ovolini work well also)
• 1 handful of fresh picked basil
• Garlic (I’m not putting an amount on here because what’s enough for me is usually life-threatening to most, for the uninitiated, go for 3 or 4 healthy cloves)
• Copious amounts of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
• 1 lb Linguine (long noodles work better)
• Salt & Pepper to taste
Yields 5-6 servings
To start, chop up your tomatoes, mozzarella, garlic and basil roughly and throw it all in a large mixing bowl. Pour in the EVOO until you can see it pooling in between all the components. Do this first because the oil brings out all the flavors of the tomatoes, garlic and mozz so they meld into a deliriously delicious stew. While the contents of the bowl work their magic, get a large pot of water on the boil. Please, for the love of Dio, add salt to the water, LOTS of salt. It should make the noodles salty when you test them, if you got some in your mouth it should feel like you got hit by a scalding hot wave at the beach. This is important alright? Once you get the pasta nice and al dente, drain it and pour it over the tomato and mozz mixture. Now don’t toss just yet, let the heat permeate down to the bottom, this is key, because the mozzarella will start to gently melt. When you start tossing, you should see long strings of bright white cheese pulling up with the noodles. Once everything is well tossed, give it another few minutes to cool down. Trust me, this pasta is much better when it gets a little closer to room temperature, even better straight out of the fridge. Now just grate a little fresh Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano on top and you’re good to go! If you somehow have extra tomato mixture, it makes an awesome garlicky caprese salad on its own.
2. Basic Pesto Genovese
Another childhood favorite, mom used to make this when I was sick or just because, absolute comfort food. This one is even easier than the last. You don’t even need to chop anything this time and you’ll still end up with a delicious, authentic Northern Italian dish.
• Basil (you should fill your food processor to the point where you need to push the leaves down to make them fit)
• 1/4 cup pine nuts (toasted if you can, also walnuts work very well if you want to save some money)
• 4-5 large garlic cloves
• 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
• 1 lb fusilli (pasta with crevices works the best)
• Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Yields 5-6 servings
Simple instructions here. Throw everything into a food pro except the olive oil. Give it a few seconds to chop everything to pieces. Then, while it’s still spinning, slowly pour the olive oil in. I didn’t specify an amount here because it depends on the consistency you prefer. Ideally, it should settle to the center of the mixer slowly. You don’t want it too runny or too stiff. Again, salt your water, boil some fusilli or rotelli or another kind of noodle that has crevices to hold the sauce. Once it’s cooked, place the noodles in a bowl, pour the pesto and mix well. Let it cool a bit and serve with more freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
3. Jep’s Eggplant Sandwiches
This is an absolute staple during the summer for my family. Nearly every weekend, if you drop by our place in Vermont, you’ll catch the seductive aroma of eggplant sizzling in olive oil. This is another one of those dishes that has me hooked worse than Mark Renton from Trainspotting. Here’s what you’ll need:
• 6 Small ciabatta loaves
• 2 large eggplants
• 4-5 cloves of garlic
• 1 handful of Italian flat leaf parsley
• Extra Virgin Olive Oil
• 1/2 lb Prosciutto di Parma
• 2 fresh bufala mozzarella balls
• Salt & Pepper
*Optional – Balsamic Glaze (you can find this at Whole Foods or your local fine Italian Specialty shop)
Yields 6 sandwiches
If you have a mandolin, it will make this job so much easier. You can use a knife but it’s difficult to get the thickness to be consistent. Assuming you do have a mandolin, take the eggplant and run it along the long side until you get a healthy pile of 1/8″ thick slices. Get yourself a large high-sided pan and coat with a generous pouring of the EVOO. You need the olive oil to nearly cover the eggplant but not quite. Cook on med-high heat until they turn golden brown on both sides, be careful because at this stage it’s extremely easy to burn them. Place the slices in a 9″x9″ baking dish, sprinkle some garlic and parsley on each layer as well as a few shakes of salt and pepper. The heat from the eggplant will slightly cook the garlic as the layers build up (try a slice, you’re looking for a nice sweet caramelization and a salty finish). Once your eggplant is done and settling, get going on the bread. Slice the ciabatta loaves and brush each side with olive oil, place them in the toaster oven or oven and broil them until golden brown. Take a garlic clove and slice off the end, use this to rub the bread. Now you start building your masterpiece. First three slices of Prosciutto, then a couple of slices of the bufala mozzarella, finally a healthy mound of eggplant and a little drizzle of balsamic glaze if you so choose. Push down on the top piece of bread to get all the juices to soak into each nook and cranny. Now EAT IT! Quick before I smell it and steal it from you!
Having a garden that grows most of these ingredients is a big help both in convenience and savings. Even if you don’t have a garden with eggplant, tomatoes and basil growing in your backyard, all of these dishes are easily accessible, and with the exception of the sandwiches, are super-fast and delicious recipes that you’ll keep coming back to when you’re strapped for time but still need to impress. I’d love to hear what you think of them if you guys end up trying these yourselves!