One of the pure joys of summer is the bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables that beckon from the farmer's market and produce aisle, or, if you are industrious enough, that are sprouting in your garden.
As the weather warms and the days lengthen, it's time to take a more leisurely approach to dinner, with a cocktail and appetizer on the deck, a salad or pasta course, and then a main course - or not. Put together any combination of these seasonal plates that suits.
What follows are 20 recipes for the most plentiful of the season's offerings: corn, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and peppers. Try these creative ways to bring the best of summer to your table.
Salad: Quinoa Salad With Grilled Corn, Tomatoes and Cilantro
Cook 1 cup quinoa, cool and pat dry. Toss with kernels from 2 ears of grilled corn, 2 cups chopped tomatoes, 1 chopped serrano pepper, and 3/4 cup chopped green onion. Make a vinaigrette with 3 tablespoons lime juice, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 minced garlic clove, and 13/4 teaspoons ground cumin to dress the salad. Just before serving, fold in 11/2 cups chopped cilantro.
Appetizer: Grilled Corn With Tequila-Lime Butter
Beat together 1/2 cup softened butter, 3/4 teaspoon minced jalapeno, 1 teaspoon each lime zest, lime juice, and tequila, 1 tablespoon minced cilantro, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Form it into a log and chill until solid. Soak 8 ears of corn in their husks for at least 30 minutes, then grill over a medium fire until golden and tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Husk the corn and pass the butter at the table.
Pasta: Sweet Corn and Shrimp "Risotto"
Saute 3/4 cup diced Spanish chorizo in 1 tablespoon butter, then add 1/2 cup each chopped green onion and red bell pepper; cook until tender. Add 4 cups diced zucchini and 1 pound shelled shrimp. Add 1/2 cup white wine and reduce to a syrup. Add 5 cups corn kernels and then add 1 cup shrimp stock 1/2 cup at a time, finishing with 1/4 cup whipping cream and 3 tablespoons slivered basil.
Main Dish: Green Chile, Corn, and Zucchini Frittata
Cook 1 chopped zucchini, 1/4 cup chopped green onions, and 1/3 to 1/2 cup chopped peeled green chile in 2 tablespoons butter. Add 1 cup corn kernels. Beat 6 eggs and stir in the vegetable mixture and roughly 1/3 cup grated Monterey Jack. Return the mixture to the skillet and cook over low heat until it begins to set. Scatter over another 1/3 cup cheese and broil until the top is puffed and brown.
Salad: Lentil Salad With Tomatoes, Zucchini, and Arugula
Salt 1/4 pound diced zucchini and drain for 30 minutes. Cook 1 cup lentils until tender, then drain and pat dry. Rinse the zucchini and pat dry and add to the lentils along with 3 tablespoons minced chives, 1 minced clove garlic, and 1/2 pound halved cherry tomatoes. Dress with 2 tablespoons olive oil and the juice of 1/2 lemon. Fold in 1/2 cup torn arugula leaves and 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts just before serving.
Appetizer: Crostini With Roasted Tomatoes and Goat Cheese
Slice 4 pounds plum tomatoes in half lengthwise and place in a single layer in a baking dish with whole peeled cloves from a full head of garlic. Pour over olive oil to halfway up the pan and roast at 300 degrees until the tomatoes are golden on top, at least 2 hours. Smear fresh goat cheese on a toasted baguette slice and mash a roasted tomato on top.
Pasta: Rice Salad With Shrimp and Arugula
Cook 2 cups arborio rice, then drain and pat dry. While warm, dress with 3 tablespoons each olive oil and lemon juice and add 1/2 pound cooked small shrimp, 1/4 cup minced red onion, 1 cup diced tomato and 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar. Fold in 11/2 cups torn arugula and 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts just before serving.
Main Dish: Swordfish With Tomatoes and Fennel
Saute 4 swordfish steaks with 1 clove thinly sliced garlic and 11/2 teaspoons fennel seeds in 3 tablespoons olive oil, about 5 minutes per side. Add 1/2 cup white wine and 1 pound whole cherry tomatoes; cover and cook until the fish is done. Uncover, transfer the fish to a platter, and raise the heat to high. Cook until the juices have reduced. Add 2 tablespoons slivered basil, spoon over the fish, and serve.
Salad: Woven Zucchini With Fresh Goat Cheese
Cut 4 zucchini in very thin lengthwise strips. Salt generously and set aside to soften. Rinse and pat dry. Whisk together 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 clove garlic, minced, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Cut 12 cherry tomatoes in half. Brush the zucchini with the dressing, then weave 3 strips crosswise and 3 strips lengthwise to make a raft. Top each raft with a dollop of fresh goat cheese and season with olive oil and slivered basil.
Appetizer: Zucchini Fritters
Shred 1 pound zucchini, salt, and set aside to drain. Rinse and squeeze thoroughly dry with your hands. Combine with 1 teaspoon each cumin and coriander seeds, ground, a chopped green onion, and 3/4 teaspoon minced jalapeno. Stir in 2 tablespoons flour and a beaten egg. Spoon 2- to 3-tablespoon mounds into hot olive oil and fry until brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels and serve with Greek-style yogurt.
Pasta: Free-Form Zucchini Lasagna With Lemon-Thyme Cream
Cook 4 lasagna noodles in boiling water, then drain most of the water and set aside, leaving a little water so the noodles don't stick together. Slice 1 pound zucchini lengthwise; grill on both sides. Cook 1/2 cup diced onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil, add 3 tablespoons white wine, 1 minced clove garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon thyme; add the zucchini and remove from the heat. Heat 1 cup cream with 6 fresh thyme sprigs, grated zest of 1/2 lemon, and 1 tablespoon Parmesan. Cut the lasagna noodles in half; lightly coat a cooked pasta square with the cream and place it on a plate. Top with ricotta and a few zucchini strips, then another creamy pasta square. Dust with more Parmesan and serve.
Main Dish: Zucchini Tian
Cook a sliced onion in 3 tablespoons olive oil with a minced garlic clove. Arrange in an oiled baking dish. Arrange 2 zucchini cut into rounds in overlapping rows on top of the onions. Scatter 20 quartered cherry tomatoes and 3 tablespoons chopped pitted black olives on top. Crumble over 4 ounces fresh goat cheese, drizzle with olive oil, and bake at 350 degrees until the zucchini has softened and the mixture is dry, about 11/2 hours.
Salad: Silken Eggplant Salad
Remove the stems from 2 pounds Asian eggplants and steam the eggplants until tender. Cool to room temperature. Whisk together 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon minced rosemary, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Cut the eggplant into bite-sized pieces and toss with enough dressing to coat lightly. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper and serve.
Appetizer: Grilled Eggplant With Walnut-Cilantro Pesto
Combine 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon minced garlic and 1/2 cup olive oil; set aside. Puree 1 teaspoon minced garlic and 1 cup walnuts to a paste. Add 1 teaspoon paprika, then slowly beat in 3/4 cup olive oil. Stir in 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Slice 11/2 pounds eggplant, brush with the flavored oil, and grill until tender. Arrange on a platter and dress with the walnut mixture.
Pasta: Fusilli With Spicy Eggplant (see accompanying recipe)
Main Dish: Eggplant Stuffed With Lamb and Pine Nuts
Cut 3 eggplants in half lengthwise and remove and chop the flesh; reserve shells. Cook 1 chopped onion and 2 tablespoons minced garlic in 1/4 cup olive oil. Add 3/4 pound lamb stew meat, then the eggplant. Add 1 cup crushed tomatoes, 1/4 cup pine nuts, and 1/2 cup chopped parsley. Spread 1 sliced onion and 21/3 cups crushed tomatoes in an oiled baking dish. Arrange the eggplant shells in the dish and spoon in the filling. Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Dust with grated Pecorino and bake until browned.
Salad: Quick Pickled Peppers
Cut a slit in each of 3/4 pound of shishito peppers. Simmer 21/2 cups rice vinegar with 3 lightly smashed cloves of garlic, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, 1 small onion sliced thin, and 2 small dried chiles. Blanch the shishito peppers briefly, pat dry, and put in a container. Cover with the vinegar mixture and let stand 8 hours.
Appetizer: Roasted Peppers Stuffed With Goat Cheese
Stir together 1 cup ricotta, 2 tablespoons chopped capers, 1 tablespoon olive oil, a pinch crushed red pepper, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, and 1 tablespoon minced chives. Cut roasted peeled red and yellow peppers into strips about 2 inches wide. Place a scant tablespoon of ricotta filling at one end of the pepper and roll it up end to end, pressing gently to keep everything together. Drizzle lightly with more olive oil and serve.
Pasta: Spaghetti With Wilted Peppers (see accompanying recipe)
Main Dish: Peperonata
Cook 1 sliced onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add 3/4 cup chopped tomatoes, 5 chopped, roasted, peeled and seeded bell peppers, and 3/4 cup red wine, and cover and cook until tender. Puree 1/2 chopped jalapeno and 2 cloves of garlic, add 1 cup chopped basil leaves and 1/4 cup chopped parsley, and then 3 tablespoons olive oil to make a loose paste. Stir the sauce into the peppers and heat through.
Fusilli With Spicy Eggplant
Makes 6 servings
1 pound eggplant
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup diced onion
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 teaspoon to 11/2 teaspoons dried red pepper flakes
11/2 cups chopped tomatoes
3 tablespoons capers
1/2 cup white wine
Slivered basil leaves
1 pound fusilli
1. Cut the eggplant into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes and place them in a colander. Salt liberally and put a heavy bowl on top to press down. Place in the sink or in another bowl and set aside for at least 1 hour.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the onion, and cook until it is soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sliced garlic and dried red pepper flakes, and cook an additional minute or two.
3. Rinse the eggplant and pat dry in a kitchen towel. Add to the olive oil and cook until it is tender, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and the capers, and cook until any moisture cooks away, about 5 minutes. Add the white wine and simmer until it reaches a thick sauce consistency, about 5 minutes.
4. Cook the fusilli in a large pot of rapidly boiling salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and add to the skillet with the eggplant mixture along with 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Continue cooking briefly and add the slivered basil.
5. Divide among 6 warmed pasta bowls and top with crumbled ricotta salata.
Per serving (without cheese): calories 419, protein 12 grams, carbohydrates 67 grams, fiber 6 grams, fat 10 grams, saturated fat 2 grams, cholesterol 0 mg , sugar 7 grams, sodium 130 mg.
Spaghetti With Wilted Peppers
Makes 6 servings
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, sliced in 1/4-inch half-moons
4 slices prosciutto, cut in 1/4-inch ribbons
6 red and yellow bell peppers
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 pound spaghetti
Grated Pecorino Romano
1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the onion and prosciutto, and cook until the onions have softened but not browned, 6 to 7 minutes.
2. While the onions are cooking, clean the peppers: Cut off the tops and bottoms and remove the seeds and core. Cut into lengthwise quarters and trim away the ribs. Cut into 1/4-inch crosswise strips. Add the peppers to the skillet with 1/2 teaspoon salt and reduce the heat to low.
3. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are limp, about 45 minutes. The prosciutto will be frizzled and the onion caramelized. Add the garlic and parsley, and continue cooking while you prepare the pasta.
4. Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of rapidly boiling salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and add to the skillet with the peppers. Stir to mix well and divide among 6 warm pasta plates. Dust generously with grated Pecorino Romano and serve immediately.
Per serving (without cheese): 405 calories, 14 grams protein, 66 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 9 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 8 milligrams cholesterol, 7 grams sugar, 386 milligrams sodium.