By the end of August, simplicity has lost the power to thrill. The first vine-ripened tomatoes have been succeeded by dozens more. The first ear of corn has been buried under endless corn-on-the-cob suppers.
The basil is getting leggy, the mint has pushed its way into the bed of Sweet William and even the fruits of the season, the cherries and berries, the peaches and plums, have become -- dare we admit it? -- boring.
Our love affair with the garden has gone flat and, like all love affairs, it takes a little effort to bring back the excitement. Here is a menu for a dinner that uses the same old produce in new ways.
First course: Corn fritters served with tomato preserves.
Main course: Roast chicken with tarragon and tian de courge, a sort of zucchini custard.
Dessert: Peach mousse crowned with a circle of mint leaves.
The first course is the only one that needs last-minute attention, since the fritters are made just before serving. To make tomato preserves, Joy of Cooking suggests taking 10 lbs. of scalded and skinned tomatoes and covering them with an equal amount of sugar. Let them stand 12 hours. Drain the juice and boil it until the syrup falls from a spoon in heavy drops. Add the tomatoes and the grated rind and juice of one lemon, or two thinly sliced and seeded lemons, 2 oz. of preserved ginger or a 4-inch stick of cinnamon and cook the mixture until thick. Obviously, the recipe can be cut back to half the amount.
To prepare the chicken, take a piece of softened butter about the size of a large walnut and mash it up with two tablespoons of fresh tarragon. Rub the ball over the inside of the chicken and slide little bits of the herbed butter under the skin. Roast in ordinary fashion and let the chicken sit for at least an hour before serving. It should be juicy enough to serve without a sauce; add the pan juices to the stock pot when you use the carcass to make chicken broth.
The recipe for tian de courge is from Mireille Johnston's Cuisine of the Sun and serves 6 people:
Wash, but don't peel 6 zucchini, and cut into one-inch chunks. Mince one onion. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan and cook the onion until it is tender. Add the zucchini and cook for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Remove from heat and cool a little. Blend 2/3 cup cooked rice, 1/2 cup freshly grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 1 beaten egg and salt and pepper and combine with the zucchini and onion.
Spread the mixture in a greased baking dish, sprinkle with two tablespoons of homemade bread crumbs and one tablespoon of olive oil and bake for 20 minutes at 375-degrees. For this meal, serve at room temperature.