Twenty Ways to Cook Just About Anything This Summer

Elizabeth's post on Wednesday asking What Dish Can You Not Stop Making This Summer got me thinking about my favorite summer dishes.

As a food writer, I often am making new "dishes," usually actual recipes that I write down as I go, then often test again and photograph for publication on the site. A lot of those recipes come from ways I have in my mind to treat ingredients. That's all cooking is, after all, taking ingredients and doing something to them.

Summer is the time to really get into cooking by feel, just letting the fresh ingredients dictate what you should do with them. Today I thought I should share with you just a few of my favorite things to do with food in the summer.

Maybe you'll tell us yours below in the comments.

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Vegetables • Quickly sauté greens like kale, chard, mustard and beet greens in olive oil and chopped garlic. Finish with sea salt. They shrink so plan accordingly. • Slice summer squash (like zucchini) lengthwise on the mandoline, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and shaved Parmesan. • Slice fresh tomatoes (if you can find them this year - blight is a serious problem) about 1/4-inch thick, drizzle with high-quality olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. • Quickly (less than a minute) cook string beans in salted boiling water, plunge into ice bath then smother in a pesto of green herbs, heavy on the basil, roasted garlic, and nuts. Top with shaved Parmesan. • Chopped Salads: My formula is vegetable plus olive oil and lemon or vinegar (3:1) and for heft pine nuts and/or crumbled feta or ricotta salata cheese. One of my favorites is cucumber, tomato, red onion and watercress plus pine nuts and ricotta salata. Let what's available dictate what goes in. Where I live, corn is almost ready - raw corn kernels zipped off the cob sweetens salads in the best way.
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Breads & Grains • Israeli couscous cooked with garlic or cubed pancetta then tossed with cooked root vegetables like beets or carrots and tossed in a little olive oil and lemon juice. • Pasta cooked with a metal bowl nestled on top: in that bowl "melt" ricotta, Parmesan, whatever fresh herbs are on hand (chopped) and a chiffonade of greens like chard or kale. Brighten with lemon rind and a squirt of juice. • BLT on a baguette: get the best quality, non-nitrate bacon, a great sliced heirloom tomato and a lettuce-like green. Lately it's been arugula for me because that's what's gone nuts in my garden. Stuffed into a warm baguette and slathered with mustard (mayo if that's your thing) with a cold glass of white wine, this is a perfectly acceptable dinner. • Crostini are little slices of bread with something on top. Slow cooked kale with chopped nuts, diced tomatoes and basil with olive oil, white beans, fresh thyme and orange rind, the possibilities are endless. Four of these make lunch. Six is dinner. • Pizza on the grill or in the oven on a stone made from lumps of dough (recipe here) kept in the freezer (defrost an hour or two ahead of time) covered with a cheese, sliced tomatoes, caramelized onion, finely sliced fennel or potato or shredded greens. Sometimes a protein on top like ribbons of prosciutto or chopped anchovies. Don't be afraid of fruit: last weekend I put grapes on a pizza and believe me, nobody turned up their noses.
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Meats My stance on meat is: Eat it no more than once a week, buy the best quality and most ecologically responsibly raised meat possible, and in summer, it all goes on the grill or grill-pan.

• Who doesn't love a burger? Serve it on brioche, try a new cheese like Roquefort.
• Spatchcock (flattened) chicken on the grill, slathered a few hours ahead of time with a pesto made from whatever herbs are fresh, plus garlic and some kind of citrus.
• Pork tenderloin: rolled in a chutney, grilled, then served with same chutney. Or rubbed with salt, pepper, chopped herbs, garlic and citrus zest, then grilled.
• Lamb kabobs skewered with red onion and just about anything else from the earth that's fresh. Think outside the box: sliced peaches, tomatoes, summer squash. Trim the fat off the lamb and you won't have such a gamey flavor.
• Seafood is a whole other chapter - the lists of what is "ok" to eat keeps changing. I keep up to date and whatever is fresh and politically correct, I cook without a lot of fuss. Squeeze of lemon to brighten, maybe a mini-salad (herbs, corn kernels, finely chopped mushrooms, finely chopped bell peppers - think about what's crunchy and bright in flavor) as a topping.

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Desserts • Fresh stone fruit, sliced, drizzled with cream and thinly sliced mint. • Ice cream. The basic custard-base method blended with what calls out to me: might be fruit, alcohol, nuts, chocolate, herbs. • A gratin of fruit (whole berries or sliced peaches, plums, etc) with crumbled cookies, dots of butter and a touch of sugar on top. Baked in ramekins until top just barely browns, less than 10 minutes. Mix in chocolate pieces for an extra treat, especially nice with berries. • Popsicles made with freshly pressed juices like watermelon, citrus or stone fruit nectars. Add something boozy for the adults. • Shortbread cookies made with citrus zest and chopped herbs. Thyme and orange rind is a nice combo. Follow any shortbread recipe you have (maybe start with these?)

Phew. Okay, so are you confused? You might be thinking yah, sure, might be easy for her, but how am I supposed to know how to make a custard-base ice cream then "blend in what calls out to me" and what the heck is ricotta salata? Email me your questions, and I promise to write back, or leave your question as a comment below and let the community have at it.

And because I know some of you want good old-fashioned recipes, I invite you to explore our archive:

All recipe categories
Vegetarian recipes
Salads
Vegetable dishes
Pastas
Meats
Seafood
Desserts

Happy Summer Cooking!

Related: The Taste of Summer: What Says Summer to You?

A version of this post was originally sent to our email subscribers yesterday. To receive Sara Kate's weekly email, sign up in the column to the left or click here. Something tasty will arrive in your inbox every Thursday.

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Sara Kate is the founding editor of The Kitchn. She co-founded the site in 2005 and has since written three cookbooks. She is most recently the co-author of The Kitchn Cookbook, to be published in October 2014 by Clarkson Potter.

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