I had such fantasies when we invited our friends Todd and Anne for dinner. It wasn’t a special occasion dinner — only a sort of a “last gasp of summer” kind of night since both our families are going our separate ways for the rest of the month and the next time we see them we’ll be all busy with things like teacher conferences and homework supervising. I thought the occasion offered the perfect excuse to experiment with all those recipes I had been dog-earring and bookmarking for the past few weeks. Plus, The Sprouted Kitchen had just landed on my doorstep and I loved what I saw — whole grains and the most inspiring vegetable-heavy dinners that take advantage of beautiful, gem-like, peak-season summer produce. (These three weeks are the ones I look forward to all year long and to waste a single August eating opportunity is a crime!) I drew up a menu for Tuesday night, the night they were coming over. There were beet slaws and buttermilk dressings. Exotic grains and chilled soups. Yes, this would be one to remember.
But there I was on Tuesday afternoon, a few hours from dinner with no time to shop, still looking at the line-up which was not so much inspiring as it was taunting. Various assignments and appointments had conspired against my Fantasy Summer Menu and so instead of sniffing melons at the market (as I had imagined I would be doing), I found myself in what is increasingly becoming my default position: Standing in front of refrigerator scratching my head. Luckily it was only Tuesday so we still had a lot of food from our weekend shop. And luckily I had my Big Feel-Good Batch of Barley that I could transform to something nice in minutes. The rest of the menu holes I filled in with dishes that were the opposite of brand new, i.e. dishes I had been making for the past fifteen summers. But as soon as Todd and Anne and their kids arrived and sat down to the meal, I was reminded why the dishes have lasted fifteen summers — because they work! And they’re delicious! I totally forgot — when produce is this good, you don’t have to perform any culinary acrobatics to make a successful meal. You don’t have to outshine yourself just for the sake of it! You just keep it simple and let the food do the talking.
A Summer Menu
It worked out well because Grandma Jody’s Chicken is just as good at room temperature as it is hot from the skillet so I could make it an hour or so ahead of time and leave on the counter tented with foil. When the doorbell rang, everything on the menu was ready to go — except the gin and tonics.
Starters: Baguette slices, figs, parmesan, ricotta mixed with lemon zest, thyme, and honey. Gin and Tonics.
Dinner: Grandma Jody’s Chicken with Arugula and Heirloom Tomatoes (page 13, Dinner: A Love Story), Bacon-Corn Hash (page 29), Herbed Barley Salad (page 245)
Wine: A beautiful Italian Sauvignon Blanc, a gift from my babysitter Ali who had just spent the month in Florence.
Dessert: Emily’s Peach-Blueberry Cobbler and Cold Watermelon