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Feasts of simplicity

(post, Cindy Burke)

Late summer is a lush season. Locally grown, perfectly ripe fruits and vegetables fill the farmers' markets with a riot of colors and flavors. This is a time for eating simply and well — not with expensive luxury ingredients, but with skillful preparation of seasonal foods. 

Ripe red tomatoes, drippy, juicy nectarines, freshly dug potatoes, corn on the cob, woodland mushrooms, tart blackberries and huckleberries — September is the month for eating well at low cost. I have a set of dishes I call "feasts of simplicity," and I make them frequently when the variety and harmony of local produce is at its peak. 

Feasts of simplicity have to be quick to make; I'd rather enjoy the late summer sun than be inside cooking. They have to feature a fruit or vegetable that is in season, and is therefore better and fresher right now. Finally, a feast of simplicity just has to be delicious.

Here are my favorite feasts of simplicity.

# A salad of tender spinach leaves and mixed greens tossed with a squeeze of lemon juice, olive oil, and a sprinkle of sea salt.
# Chanterelle mushrooms sautéed in a puddle of butter until they begin to brown. Toss in a small handful of wild huckleberries and sprinkle with pepper. These mushrooms are delicious served over salmon or halibut, and on crostini. However, they smell so good that, usually, I simply eat them plain, right out of the pan.
# A pile of thickly sliced cucumbers, seeds removed, tossed with rice-wine vinegar and a sprinkle of sugar.
# Cherry tomatoes with browned onions in a curried yogurt sauce. When my plants are loaded with sweet-tart cherry tomatoes, I make this simple side dish. Sauté a sliced onion in a little olive oil until it's nice and brown. Add the cherry tomatoes and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes. Add a tablespoon of curry powder and stir gently. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 5 minutes (so the yogurt does not curdle from the high heat). Stir in about ½ cup of plain yogurt. Serve plain or over rice. So good!
# Fresh corn roasted in the husk in a 375-degree oven for 20-30 minutes. Remove from the oven, peel back the husk, and roll it in salted butter. Take it outside and enjoy the sensation of eating hot sweet corn while butter drips from your chin and elbows.[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="Roasted corn."]
# I eat one BLT — bacon-lettuce-and-tomato — sandwich per year. When the red, ripe slicing tomatoes are juicy and sweet, I buy a slab of bacon from the farmers' market. I slice it thickly and cook it slowly so it's very crisp. Assembling the sandwich is easy: a slice of white bread, a layer of crispy smoked bacon, thick slices of ripe tomato, one crunchy leaf of lettuce, topped with another slice of bread. I press it all together and take it outside to eat in a pool of sunshine on my front porch. This sandwich is so good that I want to savor each bite and remember it.
# Puckery sour Granny Smith or other green apples, cut in chunks and tossed with a squeeze of lime juice. Place in a bowl, toss a handful of fresh blackberries on top, add crumbles of soft goat cheese, and call it breakfast. I ate this dish at a diner in Brooklyn this summer and loved it. Luckily, I can pick ripe blackberries right behind my house, so it makes for an easy breakfast with the added bonus of urban foraging.
# A platter of sliced heirloom tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. I eat this almost every day during September. If you haven't enjoyed tomatoes at their simplest yet, eat some this week!
# Freshly dug potatoes, scrubbed and boiled in their skins until just cooked through. Toss with crème fraîche, or olive oil, or butter. The flavor of potatoes when they are fresh from the dirt is incredible. Fresh potatoes are much sweeter and fluffier in texture and they cook more quickly — a quick steam or boil will cook them through. 
# Stuffed zucchini boats. How could I write about late summer feasts without including the prolific zucchini? If I haven't received at least one free zucchini from a friend or neighbor by the end of September, I might start to wonder if my social graces need polishing up. Fortunately, that hasn't happened yet.
I like to slice medium zucchini lengthwise and scoop out the seeds to make a zucchini "canoe" that I can roast in the oven and then stuff with summer veggies. Brush the cut surfaces with olive oil, place them cut-side down in a baking dish, and roast in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes (until hot, but still firm). Turn them over, add your chosen filling, and return to the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes. Try stuffing them with roasted potato cubes, quartered cherry tomatoes, and grated Cheddar. Corn, chanterelle mushrooms, Monterey Jack cheese, and chopped sage is another wonderful early-fall combination. So is roasted peppers, lamb sausage, and soft goat cheese, or caramelized onions, black beans, corn, and chopped basil. 

Now you know my top 10 feasts of simplicity. I hope you'll be inspired to make your own this month. Please send a comment and let me know about your own favorites.

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