From a culinary standpoint, summer means bouquets of fresh herbs, piles of berries, a mess of seafood, ice cream with ribbons of caramel or a fruit pure'e, fresh vegetables and cooling drinks.
During July and August, take advantage of good buys on local seasonal produce at the farmers' markets and plan meals around what's available. Remember, summer cooking doesn't have to be restricted only to firing up the grill.
Herewith, are some recipes that may inspire the cook both to take advantage of summer's bounty and to take the mind-set off charcoal, charcoal, charcoal:
Cold and Savory
A cold soup, light and restorative, is the perfect opening to a warm weather meal. Based on seafood, vegetables or fruit, this first course can be made entirely in advance, thus lifting the cook's burden of tending to too many last-minute preparations at once.
Two satisfying cold soups come to mind from recently published cookbooks: a pleasing Papaya-Melon Soup from Jane Freiman's "Dinner Party: The New Entertaining" (Harper and Row, 1990, $27.50) and the Chilled Avocado Soup in "The New Basics" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman, 1989, $18.95). And, cold tomato soup in one form or another is a perennial favorite. This chunky gazpacho, spicy and chock-full of vegetables, is a longtime favorite of mine:
CHUNKY, SPICY GAZPACHO (4 servings)
1 cup peeled, seeded and diced tomatoes
1/3 cup cored, seeded and diced red bell pepper
1/3 cup cored, seeded and diced yellow bell pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups spicy tomato juice, chilled
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, such as Louisiana Hot Sauce
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Combine the tomatoes, red pepper, yellow pepper, onion, celery and garlic in a large nonreactive bowl; stir in the tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce, basil, thyme, vinegar and oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
Per serving: 78 calories, 2 gm protein, 14 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, .4 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 784 mg sodium.
Ice Cream Days Cold and creamy, an ice cream soda is just the sort of sweet that gets you through a hot summer afternoon or balmy night. Homemade syrups and sauces add an intriguing taste to sodas, as does the wide range of soda waters, seltzers and fizzy drinks available at the market. This soda is for vanilla-lovers:
VANILLA ICE CREAM SODA (Makes 1 soda)
3/4 cup vanilla cream soda, cold
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 scoops vanilla ice cream
1/3 cup seltzer water, cold
Pour the vanilla cream soda into a tall, capacious glass. Stir in the vanilla extract. Slip in the scoops of vanilla ice cream. Pour in the seltzer water and stir gently. Add a straw and a long spoon, and serve immediately.
Per serving: 445 calories, 4 gm protein, 57 gm carbohydrates, 24 gm fat, 15 gm saturated fat, 88 mg cholesterol, 132 mg sodium.
A Summer Biscuit
Herbed breads, tucked into a basket, are a welcome addition to the summer table. Breads flecked with minced herbs -- such as parsley, chives, thyme, savory -- are perfect for serving with such food as a mound of chicken or crab salad, slivered country ham, or a platter of fried chicken. Also, they are the perfect luncheon bread.
Biscuits are easily made by hand in a mixing bowl. The following biscuits are light, savory and endowed with garden-fresh herbs. (Use several tablespoons of chopped parsley, then finish off the measurement with a combination of other herbs.) Serve the biscuits warm from the oven, with sweet butter.
HERBED BISCUITS (Makes about 15 biscuits)
3 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh herbs (3 tablespoons parsley plus a mixture of summer savory, thyme, chives, oregano or whatever is on hand)
3/4 cup solid shortening
3/4 cup milk blended with 1/4 cup light cream, at room temperature
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Sift together the flour, baking powder, cream of tartar and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the herbs. Add the shortening and, using 2 round-bladed knives, cut the shortening into the flour mixture until reduced to small bits. Further blend the shortening into the flour by dipping down into the mixture and crumbling it with your fingertips. Add the milk mixture. Stir until a rough dough is formed.
Place the dough onto a lightly floured work surface; knead lightly 6 times. Pat the dough to a thickness of about 1 inch. Stamp out rounds of biscuits with a 2 1/4-inch cutter. Place the biscuits 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Brush the tops with the melted butter. Bake the biscuits in a preheated 425-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden on top and baked through. Transfer the biscuits to a cooling rack. Serve warm.
Per biscuit: 211 calories, 3 gm protein, 20 gm carbohydrates, 13 gm fat, 4 gm saturated fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 292 mg sodium.
Crab, Pure and Simple
One of the best ways to savor crab is to saute' nuggets of the jumbo backfin variety in unsalted butter, flick over a bit of lemon juice, and season lightly with salt and pepper. This simple preparation seems to bring out the inherently sweet quality of good crab meat. For more ways with crab, consult "The Chesapeake Cookbook" by Susan Belsinger and Carolyn Dille (Clarkson N. Potter, 1990, $30); the fine array of recipes includes crab cakes, crab imperial and several crab soups.
To prepare the crab meat for cooking, carefully pick over the lumps for any cartilage, taking care not to break up the large, snowy clusters.
A SIMPLE SAUTE OF CRAB (4 servings)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 pounds lump crab meat
2 to 3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons minced parsley
Melt the butter in a skillet, add the crab meat and cook until hot, stirring carefully in order to keep the lumps of crab meat intact. Sprinkle on the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Scatter the parsley over the top and serve hot.
Per serving: 220 calories, 34 gm protein, .3 gm carbohydrates, 8 gm fat, 4 gm saturated fat, 184 mg cholesterol, 475 mg sodium.
Something to Flip Over
What with the profusion of berries available during the summertime, pancakes and waffles take on new dimensions. While it's true that firm black or red raspberries -- or chopped, pitted cherries -- can accent almost any batter, blueberries seem to be the classic berry for folding through most any kind of quick bread batter. Firm and sweet, blueberries are a delight in muffin batters, a butter cake mixture topped with streusel, a fine-textured tea bread, or the beloved breakfast treat, buttermilk pancakes.
These blueberry pancakes are light and dappled with berries. For best results, use a lightly greased griddle heated to about 325 degrees; an electric frying pan works perfectly here. And here's one little trick about adding the berries: after you spoon puddles of batter onto the griddle, scatter a few blueberries on top. This is the easiest way to incorporate the berries and prevents the batter from turning a bluish-purple.
BLUEBERRY BUTTERMILK PANCAKES (4 servings)
1 1/2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsifted cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or nutmeg)
3 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine, melted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
About 3/4 cup blueberries, picked over
Sift the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and sugar into a large bowl. Whisk the buttermilk, eggs, butter and vanilla in another bowl. Pour the liquid mixture over the dry ingredients; whisk until a slightly lumpy batter is formed. Spoon 2 tablespoon-size puddles of batter onto a hot, lightly greased skillet, dot the top of each pancake with several blueberries, cook for 30 seconds (or until bubbles appear on top), flip over, and cook for about 15 seconds longer, or until cooked through. Serve the pancakes with warm maple or blueberry syrup and softened butter, if you wish.
Per serving: 426 calories, 14 gm protein, 68 gm carbohydrates, 11 gm fat, 5 gm saturated fat, 158 mg cholesterol, 608 mg sodium.
Corn, Off the Cob
Freshly cut corn is an interesting addition to a cold rice salad, corn bread or corn sticks, stuffing mixture for cornish hens, or a creamy pudding batter. Saute'ed in butter with diced red bell pepper, corn kernels make a fine vegetable accompaniment to grilled meat, fish or poultry.
Corn paired with lima beans becomes succotash, a rather off-putting name for what is really a delicious union of two vegetables. Succotash, like mashed potatoes and stewed tomatoes, can be served family-style, that is, piled into a big bowl and passed. According to John Mariani in "The Dictionary of American Food and Drink" (Ticknor & Fields, 1983), the word succotash is "an Americanism formed from the Narraganset Indian word misickquatash (and other Indian words, for example, sukquttahash and msakwitash) referring to various ingredients in a stew pot, and, more specifically in the Narraganset, to an ear of corn.
SUCCOTASH (4 servings)
1/2 cup water
1 cup fresh lima beans
2 cups freshly scraped corn kernels
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Place the water and lima beans in a saucepan, cover, and simmer, for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the lima beans are barely tender (depending on size). Stir in the corn kernels and butter, cover, and simmer for a few minutes longer, or until the corn is tender. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.
Per serving: 146 calories, 5 gm protein, 27 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 2 gm saturated fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 12 mg sodium.
Lisa Yockelson's most recent book in her series on country baking is "Country Cookies: An Old-Fashioned Collection."