For better or for worse, when I’m trying to decide what to have for dinner — especially a weekend dinner — I’m hardwired to start the brainstorming with the main dish. And for better or worse, the main dish is usually a pile of protein. On Saturday morning, as Andy and I wandered the farmer’s market, that was implicit in the conversation we were having — the same conversation we’ve been having for roughly twenty-five years.
What do you want for dinner?
I don’t know what do you want?
I don’t know what are you in the mood for?
I don’t know what are YOU in the mood for?
I don’t know, Phoebe, what do YOU want for dinner?
(This is always her answer. It’s graduated to bonafide punchline in our house.)
We knew we weren’t getting salmon. (Ain’t no local salmon at our farmer’s market.) We did know that we were getting corn, carrots, greens, carrots, and about as many tomatoes that we could carry home between the four of us. It’s the end of August in New York, after all, and, as Mario Batali tweeted last week “Everything at the market is peaking right now. You cannot go wrong.” I’m paraphrasing, but our M.O. was essentially: Buy produce now, figure out use later. In fact, we had so much produce in the bag, that we asked ourselves if we even needed meat or fish or protein on the plate.
We did end up buying some sweet Italian sausage, but not a lot of it. Each of us got a grilled hot-dog size portion that took up about 10% of the dinner plate real estate. The showstoppers, naturally, were the vegetables. Here are a few of the sides we made, plus a few others I’ve been meaning to write about all summer long.
(Above: Sliced candy-sweet cherry tomatoes with basil, olive oil, sea salt, and a creamy, milky burrata that should be scooped up in every bite; Seriously, if you just add a baguette, it’s dinner.)
Roast Carrots with Shallots and Harissa This dish was the highlight, which is saying something because it shared the table with some serious summer VIPs. They were so fresh we didn’t really need to peel them, but we scrubbed a bunch, then halved horizontally. Then whisked together a tablespoon of olive oil with about a teaspoon of harissa, salt, and pepper. Tossed that with carrots in a baking dish, then roasted at 400°F for about 25 minutes. After 10 minutes, Andy tossed in thinly sliced shallots (so they were coated in oil). They are finished when they are dark golden brown around the edges. Finish with snipped chives. (These would be probably be very delicious served alongside a sliced avocado, Jean-Georges style.)
Sliced Tomato with Feta This is certainly not the first time I’m writing about this salad, but I like to remind people that there is a world outside of caprese. (Not that there is anything wrong with caprese.) You can slice whatever tomatoes you’ve got — green, yellow, heirloom, cherry — then drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with pepper, crumbled feta, chives. Add a bit of sea salt if you think the feta is not salty enough.
German Potato Salad I didn’t make potato salad on Saturday, but I’ve been meaning to share a revelation with you. It’s unclear how I’ve lived so long without realizing this, but all my favorite store-bought potato salads have something in common: They are made from potatoes that are sliced, as opposed to chunked. It wasn’t until we had dinner at our friend Pierre’s house in the beginning of the summer, when he served a homemade salad made from red potatoes that had been sliced to 1/8-inch thickness, that I asked myself: Why do I never slice potatoes that way? His potatoes were mixed with a yogurt-mayo-mustard dressing along with caraway seeds and bacon, but I tried the technique on my German Potato Salad (page 35, How to Celebrate Everything) and, not surprisingly, it did not disappoint. Book owners: Check it out.
Corn Salad with Cotija, Cilantro, Cayenne, and Lime This was a grilled shrimp taco dinner we had a few weeks ago and I think the first of about a dozen meals since where that corn salad has made an appearance. It is that addictive. Until I made this recipe, I thought that there was no higher calling for corn than on the cob, dripping in salty butter. I mean, that’s pretty ethereal, too, but this salad goes next-level: Char 4 to 5 medium-size peak-season cobs on the grill for about 5 to 7 minutes total (rotating the whole time), then remove kernels from cob and toss with about 1/4 cup cotija cheese (available at Hispanic markets and specialty supermarkets), 2 tablespoons thinly minced red onion or shallot, handful cilantro, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, a drizzle of olive oil, freshly ground pepper, salt, and the juice from one lime. Heaven.
And no, it is not lost on me that I have the luxury of talking about farm-fresh salads when, over the weekend, families’ lives have been devastated in Texas. DALS partner Family-to-Family has been in touch with Texas-based relief organizations and said the best way to help right now would be to send any of the following items to HURRICANE DISASTER ASSISTANCE, Hope Family Thrift Store, 1122 E 51st Street, Austin, TX, 78723: New undergarments (all sizes, children and adult), new socks (all sizes), toiletries (shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, etc), new bed pillows, new blankets, cleanup supplies, black trash bags, mops and buckets, leather work gloves, hand sanitizer, box fans, inflatable mattresses, utility knives. Please share this information.
You can also text “HARVEY” to 909-99 to complete a $10 donation to the Red Cross. For larger donations, visit redcross.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS.