Summer has always been my favorite time of year. I grew up on the beach (see photo with my cousin Paige) and feel most at home with my toes in the sand, salt water in my hair and a boogie board at my side. I live for the warmth of the sun and the cool of the ocean. I also live for the flavors and foods of summer – a love I credit my mom for cultivating.
While she doesn’t particularly enjoy cooking, my mom has a deep appreciation for the simple gifts of the earth and was frequenting local farm stands before buying local was “cool”. On our way home from the beach, we always stopped for fresh tomatoes and corn on the cob. All summer long, every year, we devoured hot corn slathered with butter for dinner and ate straight tomatoes like they were candy. Our beach lunches consisted of fresh seafood salad and big juicy slices of watermelon and cantaloupe. The highlights of my summer were the nights we went out for lobster, my all-time favorite food.
Though I’m far from New England these days, I am just as enthusiastic about incorporating the flavors of my hometown into our summer meals. Here are some of my absolute favorites:
Heirloom Tomato Salad Stack
I’ve been making stacked salads from heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella since I was in high school. I think I first read the recipe in Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food Magazine but I can’t seem to track it down now. Anyway, the idea is to collect a bunch of big, fat, juicy, colorful heirloom tomatoes, slice them in thick layers and stack them with basil and mozzarella and drizzle them with really good olive oil and balsamic vinegar (the long-aged, oozy kind) and sprinkle with a good sea salt (Maldon is my favorite). They’re so pretty when they’re presented in a stack and there is really nothing better than fresh summer tomatoes. Here’s another take on a tomato salad stack: Heirloom Tomatoes with Bacon, Blue Cheese & Basil.
Lobster Cobb Salad
I make variations of this salad throughout the year but it’s especially delicious in summertime with fresh lobster and I add sugary corn either roasted or right off the cobb. You can really never go wrong with a Barefoot Contessa recipe and this is a great staple to keep in your back pocket. I like to serve it in a big oblong dish with each ingredient in a section so it lays out like a colorful rainbow. Everything tastes better when it looks beautiful.
Toro’s Grilled Corn with Garlic Lime Aioli
Toro is my favorite restaurant in Boston and I was very fortunate to live across the street for many years so I have consumed a LOT of this take on Spanish street corn and it never gets old. Make it for a snack, make it as a side, make it for lunch, dinner and breakfast. It is so darn good. Corn is especially delectable in summer so make this as much as you can all summer long. The actual recipe is some combination of the recipe linked above and this one – I’ll leave to you to choose which direction to go in. You really can’t go wrong.
Watermelon Feta Bites with Basil Oil
I've always loved the combination of watermelon and feta and a variation of these skewers were one of the hors d'oeuvres passed at our wedding. I love making some combination of these when we are reminiscing about that day. This is a perfect dish to bring to a casual summer bbq or cocktail party - it's easy to transport, super simple to assemble and elevated enough to make an impact.
I distinctly remember the first time I had gazpacho. I was about twelve years old, at an elegant afternoon garden party on the lawn of a beautiful home down the road from mine in Hingham, Massachusetts, where I grew up. The party was hosted by Jane and Jon Davis – she was a writer and he was an attorney - noted philanthropists in the Boston community. Their home was a sprawling white Victorian with black shutters and a lovely wrap-around porch overlooking a magnificent lilac garden and the Hingham Duck Pond beyond. Though she was in her 50’s when I first met her, I was always in awe of Jane – she was glamorous in a timeless way and incredibly smart. I loved talking with her about books and we were doing just that when the server brought around a tray of gazpacho. I was puzzled (cold soup? Made from vegetables?) but didn’t want to appear unsophisticated in front of Jane so I accepted enthusiastically. Fortunately for me, my charade didn’t have to continue for long because it was absolutely delicious. Now, whenever I make it, I think of her. It’s a fabulous way to enjoy the flavor of fresh tomatoes and cool down on a hot summer day. Gazpacho makes a great lunch or first course with dinner: easy to whip together and keeps in the fridge for a week. This is a good baseline recipe but you can modify based on what you find at the farmer’s market.
... Just wanted to share some sunny thoughts as we start to see glimpses of my favorite season still to come. I hope you have a fantastic farmer's market near you, a favorite lobster pound and access to lots of juicy fruits and veggies - would love to see your best summer dishes!