Returning from a trip to the city, my sister Janet and I decided to have lunch at an exceptional Greek seafood restaurant—Varka, in Ramsey, NJ. It was a warm, sunny and cloudless day and we …
Returning from a trip to the city, my sister Janet and I decided to have lunch at an exceptional Greek seafood restaurant—Varka, in Ramsey, NJ. It was a warm, sunny and cloudless day and we took seats in the outdoor dining area abutting the restaurant. “How about sharing some littleneck clams on the half-shell?” I suggested. My sister’s eyes lit up.
The clams arrived on a tiered silver platter, accompanied by lemon wedges and small ramekins of cocktail sauce and finely grated horseradish, as well as tiny cocktail forks. When bivalves are shucked properly, which these were, the meat will be sitting in the shell surrounded by its natural juices, often called “liquor.”
We made a ceremony of our appetizer, anointing each clam with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, then a dab of cocktail sauce to which we had added some of the bracing horseradish. We lifted each clam, in its shell, to our lips and slurped down the chilled, briny gems in one gulp. Nothing could’ve been a better prelude to our meal. “This is the food of summer,” I said to Janet as I sipped from a glass of citrusy Sauvignon Blanc.
I need to have at least one or two lobsters every summer. ShopRite in Monticello almost always has a sale at some point in July or August, and that is when I bring home a beauty that weighs anywhere from a pound and a quarter to a pound and a half. Another ceremony takes place at this time, but one I celebrate alone. Janet is allergic to lobster, shrimp and crabs, poor thing.
I bring a big pot of water to the boil, then apologize to the writhing crustacean as I lower it into the water. I turn off the heat under the pot and eight minutes later I retrieve the lobster with tongs and deposit it in a huge, deep serving bowl where it can exude its cooking liquid without making an enormous mess. I have at the ready melted sweet butter to which I have squirted fresh lemon juice. Then, game on! Don’t even talk to me while I tackle this beautiful beast, pulling out the sweet, silky meat, dipping it into the butter and chowing down in reverence. Nothing is left but the pinkish-red shells and the two long antennae that jut out of the skull of the lobster’s head. Again, this is summer eating at its best.
Equally important are two favorite vegetables—though one is technically a fruit—that are at their prime in the summer months. The first is sweet corn on the cob, particularly the bicolor varieties, such as honey ‘n pearl, that combine white and yellow corn kernels. Fresh corn is best eaten the day it is picked. Choose ears that feel heavy in your hand.
My method of preparation is not dissimilar to how I cook lobster. I bring a big pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, I remove the husks and silk from the corn, and trim the ends of each cob with a sharp knife. I lower the cobs into the water, and turn off the heat under the pot. Sweet butter has been sitting out on the counter to let it soften, and flaky sea salt is at hand.
After about seven minutes, I remove the cobs from the hot water, blot them dry and serve immediately. Maybe you’ll want to crack open a cold bottle of beer to accompany the sweet/salty corn, or simply chomp on the cob, methodically turning it as you go until it’s clean as a whistle and you are contemplating a second helping.
The other food I cannot do without in hot weather is a tomato, ripe and warm from the vine. As someone who doesn’t like leftovers or eating the same dish often, I could eat the Italian Caprese tomato salad every day of summer. It is a simple dish, made from the freshest, high-quality ingredients. It consists of sliced (preferably heirloom) firm, ripe tomatoes and creamy fresh mozzarella, sliced the same thickness as the tomatoes. They are laid, slightly overlapping, on a platter and drizzled with the best quality, fruity extra-virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. Next comes a generous dusting of flaky sea salt, crushed between the fingers, and then a shower of finely julienned fresh basil leaves. Toasted slices of crusty, crunchy ciabatta bread that retains a slightly soft texture inside is served alongside the salad. Pile the bread slices with tomato, mozzarella and basil leaves, and expect the juice of the tomatoes and vinaigrette to run down your chin. Indulge.
Finally, I make a fresh fruit salad every morning in summer. The local farmers’ markets are filled with just-picked melons, berries, stone fruits and grapes. Though they are not grown locally, I love the taste of mango and kiwi, and often supplement my fruit salads with one or the other (or both) of them. This morning I made a summer-breakfast fruit salad of cubed mango, watermelon, a sweet white nectarine and pitted, sliced red cherries.
In the middle of the shallow bowl in which I had placed the fruit, I added a big plop of creamy, plain Greek yogurt. I topped that with a scoop of Beach Lake Bakery’s excellent coconut granola. A scattering of very thinly sliced fresh mint leaves from the garden added a sunny, bright depth of flavor. I call this a breakfast fruit salad because it can be eaten alone as a fulfilling and satisfying meal. Or serve it as part of a brunch, alongside muffins, scones, waffles and eggs prepared any way you like.
Summer-breakfast fruit salad
With a topping of thick, creamy Greek yogurt and crunchy granola, this fruit salad could be eaten alone for breakfast, but it’s also a good accompaniment to an omelet. Feel free to use other fruits—whatever is available at your local farmers market—such as berries or ripe melon. Though mango is not grown here, I love its taste in fruit salad and rarely make one without it.
Using a pitter, remove the pits from the cherries. Slice each cherry in half and place in a large, shallow bowl.
Leave the skin on the peach or nectarine. Cut the fruit into small cubes and add to the bowl with cherries.
Remove the rind from the watermelon and discard. Cut the watermelon into cubes the same size as the peach or nectarine. Add to the bowl.
Skin the mango, lay it on its side, and carefully slice off the top, close to the pit. Turn the mango over and cut off the other side. Cut the mango pieces into cubes and add to the bowl of fruit. Gently mix the fruit.
Stir the yogurt to make it creamy, and place atop the fruit in the bowl. Top the yogurt with the granola.
Stack the mint leaves and, using a small scissor, slice the mint into very thin strands. Scatter the strands over the fruit salad. Serve.
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