Cook with sum­mer’s bounty

The Denver Post - - LIFE&CULTURE - By Ju­lia Tur­shen

When we sit down to eat this time of year, we should toast farm­ers rather than cooks. They’ve done the heavy lift­ing, and their pro­duce, in all its ripe glory, al­lows us home cooks to do so lit­tle and get so much in re­turn. Since I pre­fer dishes that re­quire min­i­mal ef­fort, sum­mer is my fa­vorite time to be in the kitchen.

Like all things that come and go, sum­mer pro­duce is best cel­e­brated at its peak. Which is right now.

My beloved of-the-mo­ment in­gre­di­ents, from juicy toma­toes to fist­fuls of soft herbs, in­vite you to go in so many di­rec­tions. Whether you bake muffins stud­ded with nec­tarines, or mar­i­nate toma­toes with lots of gar­lic and red pep­per flakes (and whether you toss the toma­toes with pasta or use them as a bed for grilled fish), the recipes that fol­low put the bounty front and cen­ter. They also of­fer vari­a­tions, so those muffins can be made with cher­ries and al­monds, or even be ve­gan and gluten-free. For the toma­toes, you can swap gar­lic for gin­ger, vine­gar for fish sauce and basil for cilantro. The ef­fect is some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent, while the method is ex­actly the same (and so easy, to boot). How about that?

A bit more about the Gar­licky Mar­i­nated Toma­toes. While you never

cook the toma­toes, warm­ing the gar­lic and red pep­per flakes in oil makes all the dif­fer­ence. That bit of heat al­lows the fla­vors to bloom and take over. The toma­toes then sit in the slightly warm bath un­til they re­lax back to room tem­per­a­ture. Com­bined with the nat­u­ral juices, plus fresh herbs, the ethe­real mix­ture tastes far more com­plex than it was to pre­pare. Then, use the toma­toes on any and ev­ery thing. Turn them into a rus­tic pasta sauce. Top them with grilled fish, chicken, shrimp or eggs (poached ones are par­tic­u­larly nice). Or use them as the top­per, crowning grilled bread, sliced moz­zarella or crum­bled goat cheese. You can even blend left­overs with a chopped onion and a pep­per and then chill it down for an easy gaz­pa­cho. And then we have sweet corn. My main idea is Crispy, Smoky Skil­let Corn, in­spired by an old recipe in Lee Bailey’s sem­i­nal cook­book “Coun­try Week­ends.” Lee had you cut the ker­nels from the cobs, scrape the milky liq­uid, mix the whole lot with flour and bake it in a hot cast-iron skil­let. I use corn­meal in place of flour to keep the fla­vor at full vol­ume (bonus: it keeps the side dish gluten-free, if that’s im­por­tant to you) and cook it in a skil­let on my out­door grill. Anything to keep the oven off, if pos­si­ble. Plus, you get all that won­der­ful smoke fla­vor. The re­sult is a crumbly corn cake that’s so crisp on the bot­tom and ten­der on top; the com­bi­na­tion is sim­ply heaven.

One vari­a­tion is to grate the corn rather than slice off the ker­nels. It’s a bit of a job, but the re­sult is a creamy mix­ture al­most like a corn pud­ding or spoon bread. The fi­nal vari­a­tion for­goes cook­ing al­to­gether: You leave the ker­nels raw and toss them with a spicy mix­ture of pick­led jalapeños and their brine, along with fresh cilantro and lime juice. Try this on top of grilled steak or a baked sweet potato.

Ev­ery so of­ten, the oven is worth turn­ing on. Try bak­ing Nec­tarine Corn Muffins first thing in the morn­ing — you can make the bat­ter the pre­vi­ous night — be­fore the heat of the day kicks in. Not only will this be kin­der to your air con­di­tion­ing, but you’ll also have the most ten­der muffins in time for your coffee. The bat­ter is in­cred­i­bly sim­ple and holds any soft fruit beau­ti­fully. The ve­gan, gluten-free vari­a­tion works just as well. If you want to skip bak­ing all to­gether, slice your ripe stone fruits and put them in the bot­tom of your wine glasses be­fore top­ping with ice-cold rosé or white wine. The time of day is unim­por­tant.

Soft herbs are ir­re­sistible in sum­mer, whether you grow them in your yard or a win­dow box, or pick them up by the arm­ful at the farm­ers mar­ket. I’m talk­ing Ital­ian pars­ley, basil, mint, chives, tar­ragon, cilantro and chervil. I love us­ing them in large quan­ti­ties in just about ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing a brown rice salad stud­ded with al­monds and raisins, rich pestos and creamy salad dress­ings.

Last, there’s sum­mer squash, which even has “sum­mer” in its name. It’s one of the most ver­sa­tile items I know, and I think it’s of­ten un­der­rated. Grate it into sim­ple frit­ters that turn golden and crisp, and you’ve got just the thing to go with your evening cock­tail. Or grill the squash and top it with crunchy pis­ta­chios and fra­grant mint.

Or do what I do nearly ev­ery night: Slice it thin, toss it with olive oil and lemon, sprin­kle it with salt and pars­ley and add a bit of shaved Parme­san. A knife, a board and a bowl are all you need. It’s per­fect with a piece of chicken or a hot dog off the grill, along­side eggs in the morn­ing, or on its own in a bowl on a porch with an iced tea nearby, con­den­sa­tion drip­ping down the out­side of the glass.

From my kitchen to yours, it’s sum­mer. 4 serv­ings

The se­cret to this corn is to get your cast-iron skil­let pip­ing hot. Whether you use an out­door grill or a hot oven, the pan’s heat is essen­tial to cre­at­ing the ir­re­sistibly crisp crust on the corn.

See the two vari­a­tions, be­low. From cook­book au­thor Ju­lia Tur­shen. In­gre­di­ents

6 ears corn, shucked

L cup coarsely ground corn­meal 2 tea­spoons kosher salt

1 ta­ble­spoon ba­con fat (may sub­sti­tute

un­salted but­ter, olive oil or canola oil) Di­rec­tions

Place an 8-inch cast-iron skil­let on an out­door grill set to medium-high or in a 425-de­gree oven to heat up for at least 10 min­utes.

Cut the ker­nels off the corn cobs and place them in a large bowl.

Use the blunt edge of your knife to scrape the milky liq­uid from the cobs into the same bowl; re­serve the cobs for an­other use, if de­sired. Add the corn­meal and salt to the bowl and stir well to com­bine.

Place the ba­con fat in the scorch­inghot skil­let and tilt the skil­let so that the fat coats the bot­tom and sides. Add the corn mix­ture and pat down in an even layer. Cover the grill; cook for 15 min­utes, un­til the top of the corn is bright yel­low and the un­der­side has formed a beau­ti­ful, crispy crust. Or roast (mid­dle rack) in the oven for about 30 min­utes.

Use a round-edged knife to loosen the edges of the corn, and a flex­i­ble spat­ula, as needed, and care­fully in­vert the corn onto a serv­ing plat­ter. Serve right away.

VARI­A­TIONS: To make Creamy Grated Skil­let Corn, in­stead of cut­ting the ker­nels off the 6 corn cobs, grate them on the large-holed side of a box grater. Omit the corn­meal, but be sure to mix the salt into the grated corn. Pro­ceed with the rest of the recipe as di­rected above. The mix­ture will cook into an al­most pud­ding-like tex­ture.

To make Raw Corn Salad With Pick­led Jalapeños and Cilantro, skip the cook­ing. Com­bine the ker­nels and scraped corn cob liq­uid from the 6 ears of corn with 1½ tea­spoons kosher salt, 3 ta­ble­spoons olive oil, 1½ ta­ble­spoons minced pick­led jalapeños, 1 ta­ble­spoon brine from the jar (or can) of pick­led jalapeños, 1 ta­ble­spoon fresh lime juice and 1 large hand­ful finely chopped fresh cilantro. The yield is about 4 cups.

Nu­tri­tion | Per serv­ing: 170 calo­ries, 5 g pro­tein, 31 g car­bo­hy­drates, 5 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg choles­terol, 590 mg sodium, 3 g di­etary fiber, 10 g sugar

Nu­tri­tion | Per serv­ing (Raw Corn Salad With Pick­led Jalapeños and Cilantro): 230 calo­ries, 6 g pro­tein, 32 g car­bo­hy­drates, 13 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg choles­terol, 570 mg sodium, 3 g di­etary fiber, 10 g sugar 4 serv­ings (makes about 2 cups) See two fla­vor vari­a­tions, be­low. Make ahead: The toma­toes need to mar­i­nate at room tem­per­a­ture for at least 15 min­utes, and up to 3 hours, be­fore serv­ing. From cook­book au­thor Ju­lia Tur­shen. In­gre­di­ents

3 ta­ble­spoons extra-vir­gin olive oil 2 small cloves gar­lic, minced

K tea­spoon crushed red pep­per flakes 1 pound ripe toma­toes, each cut in half if small; cored and coarsely chopped if large

1 ta­ble­spoon sherry vine­gar

1 tea­spoon kosher salt, or more as

needed

1 small hand­ful fresh basil leaves, thinly

sliced Di­rec­tions

Com­bine the oil, gar­lic and crushed red pep­per flakes in a small skil­let over medium heat. Once the gar­lic starts to siz­zle (about 30 sec­onds), pour the mix­ture into a mix­ing bowl, mak­ing sure to scrape the pan with a wooden spoon to get ev­ery lit­tle bit.

Add the toma­toes, vine­gar and salt, stir­ring well to in­cor­po­rate. Taste and add more salt, as needed (toma­toes love salt). Let the toma­toes sit for at least 15 min­utes be­fore serv­ing, or cover them and let them sit at room tem­per­a­ture for up to 3 hours. Right be­fore serv­ing, stir in the basil. The yield is about 2 cups.

VARI­A­TIONS: To make Viet­name­seStyle Mar­i­nated Toma­toes, add 1 ta­ble­spoon peeled/minced fresh gin­ger root to the pan along with the gar­lic and crushed red pep­per flakes. Sub­sti­tute fish sauce for the sherry vine­gar (same amount). Just be­fore serv­ing, add 1 small hand­ful each of coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, mint and basil (prefer­ably Thai basil).

To make Put­tanesca-Style Mar­i­nated Toma­toes, add 4 bro­ken-up anchovies and 2 ta­ble­spoons ca­pers to the pan along with the gar­lic and crushed red pep­per flakes. Just be­fore serv­ing, add a large hand­ful of coarsely chopped flatleaf pars­ley and a large hand­ful of pit­ted/chopped green or black olives.

Nu­tri­tion | Per serv­ing: 120 calo­ries, 1 g pro­tein, 5 g car­bo­hy­drates, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg choles­terol, 290 mg sodium, 1 g di­etary fiber, 3 g sugar 12 muffins

This muf­fin bat­ter is in­cred­i­bly easy and cre­ates ten­der muffins that aren’t too sweet. Try us­ing any type of stone fruit (in­clud­ing cher­ries) in place of, or in ad­di­tion to, the nec­tarines. For gluten-free and/or ve­gan bak­ers, try the sec­ond vari­a­tion, be­low.

Make ahead: The muffins can be stored in an air­tight con­tainer at room tem­per­a­ture for up to 2 days. From cook­book au­thor Ju­lia Tur­shen. In­gre­di­ents

1N cups flour

K cup yel­low corn­meal

L cup sugar

2 tea­spoons bak­ing pow­der

K tea­spoon bak­ing soda

1 tea­spoon kosher salt

1 large egg, lightly beaten 8 ta­ble­spoons (1 stick) un­salted but­ter,

melted

O cup reg­u­lar but­ter­milk

8 ounces nec­tarines (from 1 large or 2

small), pit­ted and cut into ½-inch dice Di­rec­tions

Pre­heat the oven to 350 de­grees. Line a 12-well, stan­dard-size muf­fin pan with pa­per lin­ers.

Whisk to­gether the flour, corn­meal, sugar, bak­ing pow­der, bak­ing soda and salt in a mix­ing bowl, un­til well in­cor­po­rated.

Com­bine the egg, melted but­ter and but­ter­milk in a large bowl and whisk well to com­bine.

Add the flour mix­ture to the egg mix­ture and stir un­til just com­bined, then stir in the nec­tarines.

Dis­trib­ute the bat­ter evenly among the pre­pared muf­fin cups, fill­ing them all the way to the top. Bake (mid­dle rack) for 30 min­utes, un­til the muffins are golden brown and a tooth­pick in­serted into the cen­ter of each one comes out clean.

Cool to room tem­per­a­ture be­fore eat­ing.

VARI­A­TIONS: To make Any Stone Fruit Muffins, sub­sti­tute pit­ted and chopped fresh plums, peaches, apri­cots and/or cher­ries for the nec­tarines. If you use cher­ries, try ad­ding ¼ tea­spoon al­mond ex­tract to the bat­ter, along with ½ cup sliced al­monds.

To make Ve­gan, Gluten-Free Muffins, sub­sti­tute your fa­vorite all-pur­pose gluten-free bak­ing mix for the flour. In­stead of the eggs, but­ter and but­ter­milk, use 1 ta­ble­spoon ground flax seeds, 2 ta­ble­spoons water, ¼ cup unsweet­ened ap­ple­sauce, ¼ cup olive oil plus ½ cup of your fa­vorite non-dairy milk.

Nu­tri­tion | Per muf­fin: 180 calo­ries, 3 g pro­tein, 23 g car­bo­hy­drates, 8 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 35 mg choles­terol, 160 mg sodium, 0 g di­etary fiber, 8 g sugar

Nu­tri­tion | Per ve­gan muf­fin (us­ing al­mond milk): 150 calo­ries, 2 g pro­tein, 24 g car­bo­hy­drates, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg choles­terol, 150 mg sodium, 0 g di­etary fiber, 7 g sugar 4 to 6 serv­ings

When you want a sub­stan­tial side dish but can’t bear the heat, try this cold rice salad — it has nearly as many herbs as there are rice ker­nels. If you want to make this su­per fast, pick up cooked rice from a Chi­nese take­out restau­rant or use frozen/ de­frosted rice.

For other ways to use tons of soft herbs, try either of the two vari­a­tions, be­low.

Make ahead: The salad can be re­frig­er­ated for up to 3 days. Bring to room tem­per­a­ture be­fore serv­ing.

From cook­book au­thor Ju­lia Tur­shen. In­gre­di­ents

4 cups cooked brown rice (long- or

short-grain), at room tem­per­a­ture

N cup olive oil

2 ta­ble­spoons sherry vine­gar 1 tea­spoon kosher salt

3 loosely packed cups soft herbs (such

as Ital­ian pars­ley, basil, mint, chives, tar­ragon, cilantro, and/or chervil), tough stems dis­carded, coarsely chopped cup dried cur­rants (may sub­sti­tute raisins) cup roasted salted al­monds, coarsely chopped

NNDirec­tions

Com­bine the rice, oil, vine­gar, salt, herbs, dried cur­rants and al­monds in a large serv­ing bowl and toss well to in­cor­po­rate. Serve right away, at room tem­per­a­ture, or let sit cov­ered at room tem­per­a­ture for up to 2 hours be­fore serv­ing.

VARI­A­TIONS: To make about 1 cup of Any-Soft-Herb Pesto (ve­gan), com­bine the fol­low­ing in­gre­di­ents in a food pro­ces­sor: 2 small chopped gar­lic cloves, L cup un­salted nuts and about 3 loosely packed cups of stemmed herbs. Pulse un­til finely chopped. With the mo­tor run­ning, driz­zle in about ½ cup extra-vir­gin olive oil, form­ing a rich green paste. Taste and sea­son lightly with salt. Some of Ju­lia Tur­shen’s fa­vorite pesto com­bi­na­tions are pis­ta­chios and mint; wal­nuts, pine nuts, flat-leaf pars­ley and basil; and peanuts with cilantro.

To make about 1½ cups of Creamy Any-Soft-Herb God­dess Dress­ing, com­bine 2 small minced gar­lic cloves, about 3 loosely packed cups of fresh soft herbs, ½ cup may­on­naise, 2 ta­ble­spoons white wine vine­gar and 2 ta­ble­spoons water in a blender. Puree un­til smooth. Sea­son lightly with salt.

Nu­tri­tion | Per serv­ing (based on 6; with 1 cup of Any-Soft-Herb Pesto in the salad; us­ing wal­nuts, mint, pars­ley and basil): 410 calo­ries, 7 g pro­tein, 39 g car­bo­hy­drates, 26 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 0 mg choles­terol, 290 mg sodium, 5 g di­etary fiber, 5 g sugar

Nu­tri­tion | Per 2-ta­ble­spoon serv­ing of Creamy Any-Soft-Herb God­dess Dress­ing; us­ing reg­u­lar may­on­naise, mint, pars­ley and basil: 70 calo­ries, 0 g pro­tein, 1 g car­bo­hy­drates, 8 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 5 mg choles­terol, 80 mg sodium, 0 g di­etary fiber, 0 g sugar 4 serv­ings (makes about 20 frit­ters) Try them on a salad and driz­zle ev­ery­thing with the but­ter­milk dress­ing for an easy veg­e­tar­ian meal.

See the two vari­a­tions, be­low. In one, the squash takes a brief turn on the grill, and in the other, there’s no cook­ing at all. (FYI: No nu­tri­tional anal­y­sis for the frit­ters was avail­able at presstime.) From cook­book au­thor Ju­lia Tur­shen. In­gre­di­ents

K cup but­ter­milk

2 ta­ble­spoons may­on­naise

1 ta­ble­spoon red wine vine­gar

1 large clove gar­lic, minced 2 ta­ble­spoons minced fresh chives (may

sub­sti­tute flat-leaf pars­ley) Kosher salt

K cup flour

1 tea­spoon bak­ing pow­der

1 pound sum­mer squash (about 4 medium), ends trimmed, coarsely grated

1 large egg, beaten

About K cup veg­etable oil, for fry­ing Di­rec­tions

Whisk to­gether the but­ter­milk, may­on­naise, vine­gar, gar­lic, chives and ½ tea­spoon of the salt in a medium bowl.

Whisk to­gether the flour, bak­ing pow­der and 1 tea­spoon salt in a large bowl.

Place the grated squash in the cen­ter of a clean kitchen towel and wrap it up tightly. Wring out the liq­uid over the sink.

Un­wrap the squash and add it to the bowl with the flour mix­ture along with the egg; stir un­til ev­ery­thing is well com­bined.

Line a plate with pa­per tow­els. Heat ¼ cup of the oil in a large, heavy non­stick skil­let over medium-high heat. Once the oil shim­mers (a lit­tle bit of the frit­ter mix­ture will siz­zle upon con­tact), drop in ta­ble­spoon­fuls of the bat­ter, with­out crowd­ing them, and use the back of the spoon to press each mound into a flat pancake.

Cook the frit­ters un­til the un­der­sides are browned, about 3 min­utes, then care­fully turn them and cook un­til the sec­ond sides are nicely browned, for about 2 min­utes. Trans­fer to the lined plate. Fry the re­main­ing bat­ter in batches, ad­ding the re­main­ing oil to the skil­let as needed.

Sprin­kle the warm frit­ters with a lit­tle salt. Serve right away, with the but­ter­milk dress­ing for dip­ping.

VARI­A­TIONS: To make Grilled Sum­mer Squash With Pis­ta­chios and Mint, cut the squash into planks or thick rounds, coat lightly with olive oil and sprin­kle with salt. Cook on a medium-hot grill un­til marked all over and ten­der, then place on a serv­ing plat­ter. Squeeze over a lit­tle fresh lemon and top with pis­ta­chio ker­nels that you’ve toasted and coarsely chopped and plenty of torn mint.

To make a Shaved Squash and Parm Salad, use a very sharp knife, veg­etable peeler or a man­do­line to cut the squash length­wise into very thin slices. Dress lightly with olive oil and fresh lemon juice and sea­son lightly with salt. Ar­range on a plat­ter and top with lots of shaved Parmi­giano-Reg­giano cheese and a lit­tle finely chopped flat-leaf pars­ley. Serve right away.

Nu­tri­tion | Per serv­ing of Grilled Sum­mer Squash With Pis­ta­chios and Mint: 100 calo­ries, 3 g pro­tein, 7 g car­bo­hy­drates, 7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg choles­terol, 150 mg sodium, 3 g di­etary fiber, 3 g sugar

Nu­tri­tion | Per serv­ing of Shaved Squash and Parm Salad: 80 calo­ries, 4 g pro­tein, 4 g car­bo­hy­drates, 6 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg choles­terol, 240 mg sodium, 1 g di­etary fiber, 3 g sugar «FROM 1C

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