Spontaneous, Seasonal Recipes
Fresh & Fast


We all look forward to the change in seasons-each bringing its own excitement, beauty, and bounty. One of the most appreciative and enthusiastic season-watchers is award-winning cookbook author Marie Simmons. "For me, there is a profound connection between the change in the weather and my mood, my appetite, and the food on my table," writes Simmons in her newest Look, Fresh & Fast Inspired Cooking for Every Season and Every Day (Chapters Publishing Ltd.; June 25, 1996; $29.95/hardcover).

With summer fast approaching, you'll find a dazzling array of appetizers and soups highlighting the extraordinary fresh fruits and vegetables available to us. Simmons unites key flavors in simple ways, allowing them to complement and balance each other, as in Bruschetta with Red and Yellow Tomatoes or Chilled Fresh Corn and Buttermilk Chowder with Shrimp. Make an easy meal of assorted antipasti by combining several of the recipes that can be prepared ahead and served at room temperature, including Moms Roasted and Peeled Red Peppers, oven-Roasted Asparagus with Shallot-Mustard Vinaigrette, Pan-Gritted Mushrooms, and White Bean and Fennel Salad.

With more than fifty recipes in the vegetable chapter alone, it's easy to appreciate Marie Simmons love of seasonal produce. Asparagus with Warm Chopped Egg, Lemon, Capers and Olive Oil will herald spring as surely as the first robin. At the height of summer, try Baked Eggplant, Tomato and Basil Salad and enjoy the remarkable blend of flavors. When the weather turns colder in the fall, Baked Squash with Parmesan, Onion and Bacon is a hearty side dish. Or draw comfort from Rough-Mashed Potatoes with Garlic after a day outside in the winter snows.

Fresh & Fast is a direct reflection of Simmons' own cooking philosophy "Part of the secret to my enjoyment of cooking is that I make only what I feel like eating. From my mother, who is still a wonderful cook at the age of 84, I've learned that good food does not have to be complicated." Lending strong support to that theory are main-dish salads and pasta sauces that will come together quickly at the end of a hectic day, like Chicken Cutlet salad with Avocado, Tomato and Sweet Onion; Pasta with Toasted Walnut and Parmigiano-Reggiano Butter Sauce, and Broccoli and Peppers served over pasta shells.

As an active author, teacher, wife and grandmother, Marie Simmons cherishes her leisure time as much as she does time with her family. Good food plays a significant role in all facets of her life. Food is too important to be relegated to mere sustenance. Or as I like to say, life is just too short to waste on a bad meal," says Simmons. Luckily, she substantiates this credo with more than 300 delightful recipes in Fresh & Fast.

Many of these dishes reflect an international influence Baked Scallops with Bacon, sautéed Apples and Cider Sauce are inspired by a meal Simmons enjoyed in Brussels; her own Italian heritage is evident in Cavatelli with Spinach and Tomatoes; French green lentils are an essential ingredient in Lamb with Lentils and Caramelized Onions; and a touch of the Far East is obvious in Pasta Primavera, Asian style.

A little something sweet is always welcomed at the end of a meal, and Simmons presents a tasty complement of options. From a simple bowl of perfectly ripe cherries, to the nostalgic Grandpa's Peaches in Red Wine, to refreshing wine-Laced watermelon, to the more unusual fresh Pig Ice Cream, she offers light flavors to cleanse our palates. Other temptations include Caramelized Bananas with Rich Chocolate Fudge Sauce, a creamy Baked Ricotta Pudding with Lemon Sauce, or a homey Apple and Ginger Crisp.

Marie Simmons writes a monthly column for Bon Appetit and a weekly column, "Fresh and Fast," which is syndicated by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate to more than eighty newspapers nationwide. Her previous books include Muffins A to Z, Bar Cookies A to Z, The Light Touch and Lighter, Quicker, Better (co-authored with Richard Sax).


Famous Lemon and Basil Chicken

Preparation Time: 10 Minutes
Baking Time: 35 To 50 Minutes
Serves: 4

I call this dish "Famous" because I show my students how to prepare it every summer and spring. I also make it at home all the time. It is especially good cold or at room temperature, so double the recipe and use the leftovers the next day. (This is a great way to cook chicken for salad.)

  • 4 chicken breast halves with skin and bones (8-10 ounces each), fat trimmed, or 1 whole chicken (about 2 pounds), cut up
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 large basil leaves
  • 4 garlic cloves, bruised with the side of a knife
  • 4 thin lemon slices
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil


  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the chicken in a baking dish; sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper; arrange skin side up.
  • Loosen the skin from each chicken breast and slip a basil leaf between the skin and the meat. Add the garlic to the baking dish. Place a slice of lemon on top of each piece of chicken. Drizzle with the oil.
  • Bake, basting occasionally with the pan juices and turning the chicken and the baking dish occasionally so the chicken browns evenly, 35 to 40 minutes. If using a whole chicken, the baking time will be about 50 minutes.
  • To serve, place a browned lemon slice and garlic clove on top of each portion of chicken.

Melon and Berries with Lime Sugar Syrup


Preparation Time: 10 Minutes
Optional Chilling Time: 30 Minutes
Serves: 4

Watermelon is simplicity and perfection in one big sphere. Whether you eat it out of hand under the hot summer sun or serve it on cut-glass plates topped with a few choice summer berries, as in this recipe, watermelon never fails to please. Cut the watermelon into 1/2-inch thick wedges or into a size that fits comfortable on your best dessert plates.

Welect all or just one of the berries, depending on what looks good in the market. Lime and sugar perk berries up without making their natural taste. I use this combination on seasonally fresh fruits all year long.

  • 1 pint blueberries, raspberries or strawberries (or a mixture)
  • Juice 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 slices watermelon (1/2 inch thick) or other melon


Combine the berries, lime juice and sugar in a bowl; toss to blend, then set aside.

Arrange the melon on a large platter or on 4 individual plates. Top with a spoonful of the berries and chill for 30 minutes, if desired, before serving.


Farfalle with Fresh Tomatoes and Basil

Preparation Time: 10 Minutes
Cooking Time: 10 To 12 Minutes
Serves: 4

This dish is traditionally made with ditalini or other small pasta shapes that match the size of the chopped sauce. But I like the look and feel of butterfly-shaped pasta, and it holds the sauce nicely. The classic summer sauce, a mixture of fresh chopped tomatoes, basil, olive oil and garlic, is tossed with the hot pasta and served warm or at room temperature.

I often add any of the following to this dish: diced cucumber, fresh raw corn kernels, minced green pepper or red onion. A few finely chopped pitted brine-cured black olives are also nice.

  • 16 ounces farfalle (butterfly-shaped pasta; also called bow ties)
  • 1-1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and diced (about 4 cups)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 small garlic clove, crushed through a press
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)


Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente, or firm to the bite, 10 to 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the tomatoes, oil, basil, garlic and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.

Drain the cooked pasta: add it immediately to the tomato mixture. Toss to blend. Sprinkle to taste with cheese, if using, and serve.


Recipes and text from:
Fresh & Fast
By Marie Simmons
Photography by Alan Richardson
(Chapters Publishing Ltd.;
June 25, 1996;
ISBN: 1-881527-95-6
Reprinted with permission

This page originally published as a FoodDay article in 1997.

Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.

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This page modified January 2007

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