My wife Anna has the green thumb in our household, and more often than not I find her in the garden most mornings and evenings. I can attest that she grows the best tomatoes I’ve ever had, and most recently, eggplants and peppers. Basil (both sweet and Thai) grow next to our tomatoes, and we have bushels of rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano and mint close by. We haven’t had the greatest success with zucchini and summer squash…but that’s where the Des Moines Farmer’s Market comes in.
During the summer I cast aside the stovetop and oven in favor of cold salads, my grill, and my smoker. If I can cook over an open flame that’s ideal. While grilling is fun, what I’ve come to enjoy the most is tinkering with fresh vegetables and herbs that my wife grows. There are so many pairings that you can use, and I’ve put together some of my favorites.
Best Italian-Style Grilled Chicken
All you need is a whole spatch-cocked chicken with the juice of two lemons, 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt and black pepper, and a nice big handful each of the following herbs: rosemary, thyme, and sage. Throw it in a big ziplock bag for a minimum of 2 hours (but at least 8 hours is preferable) then grill for roughly 45 minutes on indirect heat. Start flesh side down first, then finish skin-side for the last 20 minutes. You can’t go wrong, and its so simple!
Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Basil
Here’s all you need to do: roast 4 beets at 400 degrees in an oven safe pan seasoned with salt, black pepper, and a little bit of olive oil for 40 minutes, covered with aluminum foil. Roast longer if the beets are not tender. Then, do the dirty work of removing the beet’s skin once cool and dice finely. Toss in a large bowl with 2 ounces of goat cheese, 1/4 cup of basil (sweet or Thai works – the latter will have some zip to it), and some kosher salt and black pepper. Make a simple vinaigrette as follows: 1/4 cup of red wine, 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard, and 1/2 cup or so of extra virgin olive and whisk until emulsified. Taste and add black pepper and/or kosher salt as need. Toss with the beets and goat cheese, and you have an amazing summer salad – if you need something more substantial, add a cup or so of plain cooked farro.
I live in Iowa, so if I make corn outside of the traditional boiled and topped with butter and salt it is considered sacrilege. But I think I’ve converted a few folks this summer thanks to the talents of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, author of The Food Lab (which any serious cook should have in their kitchen next to Mastering the Art of French Cooking…among others). Some of my favorites from The Food Lab is a Mexican Street Corn Salad and a simple pan-seared zucchini with corn salad (that can also be made into a taco) – you will not regret cooking corn in a cast-iron skillet or, dare I say, a wok.
However, if you want a completely refreshing salad, The Lee Brothers have a pretty damn good succotash recipe which I modify a bit by adding some sauteed zucchini or summer squash – depending on what looks good. And yes, add some mint with that basil.
It goes well with corn, but have you paired it with mint? It sounds weird though you will easily convert skeptics. One of my favorite ways has been by making a bruschetta courtesy of one of my favorite chefs, Francis Mallmann. All you need to do is cut a large zucchini 1/16th of an inch thick on a mandoline, toss with the juice of 1/2 a lemon, a nice big drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and add a few tablespoons of chopped mint, kosher salt and black pepper. Toss in some grated parmesan and put on top of some grilled or toasted bread, and your guests will thank you.
The Mighty Eggplant
All of a sudden I find myself making eggplant once a week. That’s fine with me though because nothing says summer like some baba ganoush (my favorite is from the Honey & Co. cookbook) with pita bread, or Pasta alla Norma, which is Sicily in a bowl.
The Workhorse – Tomatoes
No joke, I just like eating tomatoes cut up and seasoned with a little kosher salt and topped with extra virgin olive oil. You can take it another step and add some torn basil leaves topped with grilled toasts (rub with raw garlic always) for a knock-out bruschetta. If you want pasta, I like to cook some angel hair pasta and toss it with some cherry tomatoes cooked in a little olive oil, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and a few cloves of minced garlic topped with grated parmesan. I think my new favorite though is making Provencal Tomatoes that are stuffed with cooked onions, garlic, olives, bread crumbs and fresh herbs – the perfect match with grilled meat and Rose.
Mojitos are my favorite summer cocktail, but anytime I can use mint in conjunction with Asian food its a delight. This Thai Steak Salad will blow you away, and I loved pairing it with the fresh Thai bail from our garden.