By Nancy Caivano
Recipe links below.
Here we are, right in the middle of summer. You can smell the charcoal from the grills, hear the kids splashing in water and feel the balmy breezes as they idly drift by. Summer is (or should be) a relaxing time, free of fussing and hard work in the kitchen as well as everywhere else. It is the time to kick back with a glass of lemonade and watch the kids turn cartwheels in the grass, or build sand castles— definitely not the time for intricate cooking.
Other than the heat, this is a great time of the year. It seems that everyone is more relaxed, laid back, willing to kick back with something cold and stay a while, rather than hurry home. People seem to get together a lot more, for barbecues, picnics or just to sit in the backyard and enjoy each other's company. I think because it gets dark so much later, that people seem to stay out longer. I was just at my brother's house for a very impromptu barbecue after watching my nephew Nicholas in his little league game, and we stayed until almost 10:00 PM— something we never would have done in winter.
In this month's column, I offer three pasta and three risotto recipes that let you spend minimum time in the kitchen and much more time relaxing. Some of them can be served cold, some warm, and all of them are make ahead. They are perfect for barbecues, to tote along on picnics, or to enjoy as you sit on your porch and watch the clouds drift by. These dishes rely on tasty dressings and marinades, fresh vegetables (crisp and plentiful in the summer) and some cheeses. I think you'll enjoy making and serving them as much as you enjoy eating them.
We start with our pastas. These are not your typical macaroni salad swimming in mayo, or the common pasta salad with bottled Italian dressing and a few veggies. These are pasta salads that can be main courses or sides, depending on your event. In Pasta Salad with Grilled Lemon Chicken, Roasted Peppers and Goat Cheese, the chicken is marinated in a lemon vinaigrette, then grilled with colorful red and yellow bell peppers, and combined with pasta, aromatics, herbs, black olives, two cheeses (Romano and goat cheeses) and a light lemon vinaigrette that really ties all these flavors together. Next, we have a warm pasta salad, Warm Pasta Salad with Grilled Marinated Eggplant, Sausage, and Mushrooms — a luscious, savory dish. The eggplant marinates in a balsamic vinaigrette, then is grilled for a slightly smoky flavor. It is combined in the pasta with grilled Italian sausage, grilled mushrooms, onions and tomatoes, herbs, Romano cheese, and the marinade doubles as a terrific dressing. This would be lovely served with some grilled bread and a nice class of cool red wine. Our last pasta is a very pretty dish, Orzo Salad with Shrimp and Sage. Orzo makes great salads and this one is no exception. The Orzo is combined with sautéed shrimp and aromatic vegetables, and then tossed in sage browned butter, mixed with some tomatoes and Romano cheese and served— that's it! This dish can go warm or cold; I personally prefer it warm. This dish and all the others in this column can be made a couple of days ahead of time. If the dish should be served warm, you can warm it in the oven, microwave, or on the grill (protect with a foil wrap).
For our risotti this month, I have some treats for you. In Risotto Salad with Grilled Asparagus, Dried Tomatoes and Smoked Mozzarella, the risotto is made in the traditional manner and then cooled on a baking sheet in the refrigerator. It's then combined with a dressing and smoked mozzarella for a really lovely combination of flavors. The asparagus takes on a slightly different flavor when grilled, really perking up the dish. Our next risotto, Risotto Salad with Grilled Shrimp, Zucchini and Tomatoes is a sprightly, colorful dish, and a great way to use up some of the zucchini and tomatoes you might have growing in your gardens. The risotto takes on the flavors of the fresh shrimp, bold tomatoes and zucchini, plus the final apple cider vinaigrette flows perfectly with the other flavors. Our last risotto, Warm Risotto Salad with Peas, Pancetta and Ricotta is very simple but full of flavor. The risotto is enhanced by aromatics, crisped pancetta and fresh peas, then allowed to cool slightly, with creamy ricotta and extra virgin olive oil added at the last moment to really bring out the flavors.
Of course, I couldn't let this kind of feast go on without a couple of yummy desserts, so I have two for you. I have always liked individual desserts, and I have two for you here that absolutely scream summer! Strawberry-Lemon Napoleons are gorgeous on the plate, as well as in the mouth. The pastry is made from pre-baked phyllo (which you can do ahead), layered with lemon cream, fresh strawberries and strawberry sauce. These would be terrific for a more formal setting, such as a birthday or bridal shower— you will impress your guests to no end, and they don't have to know how easy they are! Our other dessert, Summer Berry Cobblers with Lemon-Buttermilk-Almond Ice Cream is bursting with summer berries, topped with a pre-baked pastry round (which, again you can do ahead) and a homemade ice cream that is made with lemon curd, buttermilk, almonds and amaretto. The combination of lemon, almond and berry flavors meld together make one out-of-this-world dessert!
Well, that's it for this summer's columns. I hope you have a wonderful summer season, and enjoy your Fourth of July and Labor Day celebrations. I will, as the Beach Boys said, "See You In September" when I'll take a look at what autumn has in store for us.
This page created July 2000
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