I wanted to get this one down before the big, juicy tomatoes are gone. In fact, we have a bit longer than we think before that happens. They’re usually here til mid-October, and sometimes they’re less expensive then, since the more antsy eaters have moved onto winter squash. By then, a dish called Beach Pasta will already feel nostalgic and taste even better than its Labor Day rendition, which is already magical, oily, and briny.
The book Pasta Fresca is one of my favorite cookbooks. The pages brim over with simple Italian pastas, heavy on the oils and butters and cheeses, but also on the vegetables. Many of the dishes are quite close to one another. In the small variations lies the genius of this nifty book. Beach Pasta is just a surprising variation on a dish I make all the time: raw tomato sauce and mozzarella tossed with hot pasta. But sometimes, you had mozz for lunch (as I did every day two weekends ago, with a rainbow of roasted peppers and olive oil). That’s one time this recipe is irreplaceable, because it replaces the mozz, with a can of tuna. A complete meal forms, protein and all, without diminishing the immediacy and freshness of the cheesy original.
The first dinner, I simplified the published recipe completely, doctoring the tomatoes and tuna with nothing but a tiny bit of shallot and a clove of garlic. The second time, I was truer to the Pasta Fresca formula, only I added some shallot and parsley and crunchy bread crumbs in addition to the olives and basil called for.
More than the tomatoes, what I miss come fall is the ease of summer meals. The equipment here is just a pot, a bowl, a cutting board, and knife. You can make the sauce in the time it takes to boil water for pasta, but if you have a few minutes in the late afternoon, better to make it then and allow an hour or two for marinating. The breadcrumbs add an extra step and an extra pan, but I think they’re worth it.
Here’s an uncharacteristic move: I made a Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme.
I haven’t eaten a bite of “traditional” fast food in at least 10 years (Shack Shack not included). But when my editors at First We Feast suggested we branch out from classics like roast chicken and chocolate chip cookies to show people how to craft their own versions of cult favorites like this Taco Bell Crunchwrap thingy (which I had to Google around a bit to understand because I am that out of the fast-food loop), I said OK.
Turns out that even though the tortilla-wrapped taco looks like something made in a high-tech lab, the handheld burrito-taco hybrid is a lot more natural to make than you’d suspect. At once soft and crunchy, rich and fresh, it’s genuienly worth copying if you like Taco Bell but are anxious to eat less MSG, or if you don’t like Taco Bell but do like origami. Click through to First We Feast for the full guide.
The right selection of stuff on top of lettuce makes the difference between a dutiful salad and a professional salad.
I say selection, because with salads less really can be more. Often a mediocre salad, edited, would have been a great salad, in my opinion. Especially this time of year when the farmstand abundance practically begs you to put in more and more and more. Maybe so at the beginning of the CSA week, but by the end, with just a few scraps left, editing is a lot easier. Fortunately for me, what I found myself left with morphed beautifully into a salad that reminded me slightly of a sabich sandwich: beets, eggs, and cucumbers for crunch. I added croutons, because I always do.
This particular edit totally worked. But that’s not really a sign of any big salad talent over here; fewer ingredients just have a higher chance of success. This approach also means you spend less time prepping and more time out of the kitchen on summer afternoons.
And, in case you read last week’s post and were wondering, well what do I put that yogurt dressing on?? Here’s one delicious thing!
In salad season, sometimes an eater can overload on vinaigrettes. In such moments, I remember that oil and vinegar aren’t the only way to dress a pile of greens. Yogurt is at least a good base for dressing as oil and vinegar, and here’s why: if you start with full-fat, or at least low-fat, yogurt, then your dressing already contains the rich feel of oil and the necessary tang of acid, but you’ve only used one ingredient.
This knowledge turns out to be critical not only when you need a break from balsamic, but also when you find your pantry kind of bare or you’re hoping to whip up a salad in a friend’s kitchen and her oils and vinegars just don’t meet your standards. (Mayo is also a possibility, but I find yogurt to be both more complex and lighter.)
Here’s how to whip up a batch.
Start with yogurt. You want plain yogurt for sure. I prefer a full-fat yogurt, for mouthfeel and taste (your dressing ends up resembling something Caesar-y if you have enough fat). But of course, use what you have and you like. Lower-fat yogurts will be more tangy, so keep that in mind as you choose the rest of your ingredients.
Add some liquid. This will sound crazy, but water is a very viable ingredient for thinning your yogurt to the consistency where it will dress your salad. But other options are oil — it really does not need to be a particularly perfect oil — or lemon juice, or any kind of acid you can pull from your fridge, like pickle juice!
Bring in umami. Lest your yogurt dressing fall flat, ramp it up with something ultra tasty. A spoonful of mustard works. My favorite way to go, though, is a healthy grate of Parm.
Don’t skimp on salt. A yogurt dressing could be as minimalist as yogurt, water, and salt. Salt is what brings out the complexity of the yogurt, so add pinches until the flavor pops.
Paint the canvas. Good as it tastes unadulterated, yogurt dressing is a blank canvas, which you can embellish however you’d like. Garlic is good (you’ll have garlic breath after, but whatever). Fresh minced herbs are good; dry work too. Try tons of freshly grated black pepper, and perhaps a pinch of ground cumin if it goes with your salad’s flavors. If you’re using lemon, maybe some lemon zest would be nice. Chilies (dried or minced fresh) bring in the spice.
A recipe for my current favorite way to make yogurt dressing is below, if you want a place to start. And here are a couple awesome salads on which to deploy the yogurt dressing:
There are so many “secrets” to perfect roasted chicken that we end up overloaded and overwhelmed about what method to choose. Even me — and I’m someone who roasts a chicken a month, if not more often. The reason for all the recipes isn’t just because roasted chicken is a near-perfect food that we seem devoted to perfecting. And it’s not because chicken cookery truly is complicated: each part of the bird is ready at a different time and temperature.
No, the real reason is that almost every chicken recipe is trying to make up for the fact that purchased whole chickens come out of the wrapper really wet. To get crispy skin — the ultimate goal — without drying out the meat, we mess with the prep and the oven temperature and the time before cooking that we salt.
In the quick couple weeks when summer fruit ripens around here, I have a hard time doing anything but nibbling straight from the pint box. Ordinarily, the high price of local/organic/ripe berries prevents me from overbuying, but every so often a couple berries remain after my morning snack. This recipe is for those times. The best local/organic/ripe berries don’t last very long, which means that fresh berries become leftovers in almost no time. And leftovers this good cannot be wasted.
So that’s the moment when it’s time to bake, in my opinion. But not anything too complicated: it’s hot, there are pools to sit by, etc. That translates to a cornmeal cake or maybe my grandma’s oil cake. Or, now, a petite batch of blueberry crumb bars, custom fit to that scant cup of berries you have left.
Low enough on ingredients that you could probably whip up the bars using the pantry of a poorly stocked rental house, these buttery bars pair nutty whole wheat flour (though you could obviously use white) with lemon-scented berries. The top crumble is the same dough as the bottom crust. A longish time in the oven turns sweet berries into jam, practically, making this a good choice also if those bluebs were a little more sour than anticipated.