Okay, we have a week left of summer and I’m milking it for everything it’s worth. Right now I have peaches ripening in my fruit bowl and I’m going to make peach ice cream, probably the last ice cream I’ll make for a while. It’s not that summer truly ends here in L.A. — if anything it keeps going and going and going — but at some point, as a seasonally-focused home cook, you’ve gotta embrace the calendar. So right now it’s tomato salads galore; next week it’ll be pumpkin bread.
And a great transitional dish? Caponata. “What’s caponata?” you ask. Think ratatouille with the dial turned up to eleven. Instead of a bunch of stewed summer vegetables, you have deeply browned eggplant, earthy celery, briny capers, and then red wine vinegar, sugar (yes, there’s sugar), and white wine. It’s sort of like an eggplant pickle but also an eggplant salad and also an eggplant condiment.
You never know where you’ll learn a life-altering cooking technique. Longtime readers will know that I glean most of my food knowledge from Saturday afternoon PBS cooking shows (hat-tips to Lidia, Bridget & Julia, and Mary Ann Esposito), but today’s post is a result of following pastry chef extraordinaire Nicole Rucker on Instagram.
Here’s the thing: now that I’m making recipes printable, I feel a new responsibility. I used to just write little essays about how I added a pinch of this and a drop of that and I’m realizing now how useless that was: the people want printable recipes! And I get that because when I first started cooking, I followed recipes to the letter. You want to replicate the image you see in the picture and you want to know exactly how it’s done.
So let me explain the dinner you see before you: I had chicken breasts. I had corn, peppers, onions, scallions, and lots of other vegetables from a recent (terrifying) trip to the grocery store. A few weeks ago, I made an incredible corn dish involving bacon and all of the same vegetables (see here on Instagram). Knowing I had skin-on chicken breasts, I thought: what if I sear the chicken breasts and then cook the corn in the same skillet, working up the brown bits for that same meaty effect?
My podcast is having an effect on me. I had Jenni Konner on my second episode and she talked all about letting people into her kitchen during a dinner party, giving people tasks, sharing responsibilities. That’s the total opposite of what I normally do; normally, I get everything done hours ahead then just warm everything up when everyone gets there. It’s a control thing. It’s also an anxiety thing. Basically, it’s a me thing.
Not too long ago, my friend Cary asked if he could cook with me and, with Jenni’s podcast on my mind, I said: “Sure.” I didn’t know what to expect. I went to the market in the morning and bought a bunch of tomatoes, green peppers, and a melon. He texted that he was picking up prune plums from his farmer’s market.
I’m not the world’s biggest zucchini fan. It’s fine: I like it in bread, I guess I like it in a salad. Maybe on a pizza?
But there’s one recipe from my archives that really made zucchini come alive for me. That’s this side dish of Zucchini with Almonds from The Red Cat in New York. Here’s what you do: you sauté slivered almonds in olive oil and just as they start to get toasty you add a bunch of sliced zucchini. Add a big pinch of salt, toss all around, and serve right away with a squeeze of lemon.
We’re all obsessed with instant things, these days– Instant Pots, Instagram — that the idea of doing anything NOT instant can be pretty unappealing. Which is why I’m here to tell you that pesto — which, for many, seems like a tedious, labor-intensive process — can be made instantly and deliciously if you have a food processor, a bag of arugula, and a few pantry staples.
In fact, I single-handedly guarantee that you — yes YOU — can have bright green, intensely flavorful pesto on the table in FIVE MINUTES. That’s right FIVE MINUTES.
There’s a corn soup that you need to know about before the corn goes away and, sadly, the corn’s going away pretty soon. Grab some, OK? The sweet stuff. You’re about to make a corn soup that’s so good even people who hate corn soup–CRAIG’S PARENTS–will declare it wonderful. (I didn’t know Craig’s parents hated corn soup when I made this for them…more on that in a bit.) Confession: I took beautiful pictures of this recipe and the process of making it and then lost them, somehow, on the journey from my camera to my computer. So you’re stuck with these ones from my phone, but bear with me. It’s worth it.
Recipes, sometimes, are like dreams. You experience them but then, quite often, you forget that you’ve experienced them. And then you’re standing somewhere, and the memory floods back to you: “I was being chased by a gorilla through Filene’s Basement!” Or, in this case, “I once made a corn chowder so good that I wrote a post called CORNGASM and didn’t even share the recipe.” That was back in 2007, after I’d interviewed Chef Jasper White for Salon.com. All these years later, the memory of that chowder came back to me as I started planning the menu for our V.I.P. dinner guests. And after making it again, I can assure you: it really is the corn chowder of your dreams.