We're deep into summer and cooking couldn't be simpler. In fact, one could barely call it cooking! It's more like arranging and dribbling and scattering. A platter of ripe garden tomatoes needs only a bit of fresh pepper and some flaky sea salt, salad greens are barely kissed by a glug of olive oil and a sprinkle of vinegar, a bowl of thinly sliced cucumbers calls for the lightest drizzle of buttermilk and a few pinches of fresh dill and maybe, if you're feeling frisky, thin slivers of red pepper (sweet or hot, your choice.)
Sometimes I find that a recipe comes between me and my ingredients, that the recipe is in charge and I'm just taking orders. It's almost like I have to give the recipe a certain amount of responsibility and credit for the dish (and, to be honest, the blame if it doesn't turn out.)
But summer cooking, with its fresh and howling-ripe bounty, is more about responding and less about following directions. There's an almost naked, sun-born immediacy that I find very enjoyable -- just the barest whisper of embellishment is all that's need to complete a dish. I'm not turning a handful of things into something, I'm more trying to get out of their way to let them become something. Something delicious.
It's not always easy to keep it this simple. It takes a certain amount of courage, and a measure of confidence and restraint, to let that platter of tomatoes shine on their own. Kind of like a room that's kept spare and simple -- every ingredient, every placement is a decision that reveals the heart and mind of the maker. Nothing extra to distract or distance.
And of course it's ultimately about trust. Trust in the tomatoes, trust in your own senses and abilities, and trust that people will see and taste this and respond accordingly. And they do! They take one bite of that absolutely ripe tomato, sliced up and brilliant and fully in its season, and the taste of summer rushes forward and shines in their mouth. Just a summer tomato, bold and bare, dressed only in its ripeness and a pinch of salt. Have you ever met someone who didn't smile at that?
(Image: Dana Velden)