Monday, September 24, 2012

UnRecipe: Summer Simplicity

Simplify. It sounds so gosh darn...well, simple, but sometimes that's all it takes to make a really good meal. You always hear chefs talk about letting ingredients speak for themselves and it's not just TV Land lip service, when you select produce at the height of its ripeness, the flavor reflects that. The tail end of summer is the best time to get your fill of flavorful vegetables -- they're sun-seasoned and there's just a wider variety of options both in the store and on farmers market tables. I notice our CSA box has more interesting things versus kale-a-topia. Which leads me to a pretty simple way to just savor this time of the season on a plate or even in a glass.

Fall prefunc meal - Photo by Wasabi Prime
It's not rocket science. Cherry tomatoes, yellow baby squash, mushrooms and a chopped onion pan roasted until caramelized and soft, sprinkled with a mix of garden herbs. Perfectly good on its own, but it can be a full meal when put on top of a creamy bed of polenta. A great option for Meatless Monday or any meal you wish to skip meat. I never grew up with polenta or grits and it's only been within the last few years that I've come to appreciate it, usually in restaurants. Recently I've started making polenta at home, which is about as easy as it gets -- cornmeal cooked in water or broth, made creamy with milk and cheese, serve up and enjoy. I go back to this super-simple recipe from Epicurious. I swap out the mascarpone for cream cheese or just leave it out completely and add more butter. Because everything's better with more butter. It's fast, which is nice in warm weather, you're not spending a lot of time over a stove. If you make it extra thick, it can set up in a pan in the fridge and you can slice it up like little cakes and grilled. The abundance of fresh corn is a  nice thing to add to polenta, bringing up the sweetness and adding more texture.

Polenta with summer vegetables - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I made a meatless and meat-ful meal using the vegetable-topped polenta. One of my favorite things to do with chicken is probably the most basic -- flatten a chicken breast or split it lengthwise, salt and pepper it and add a light dusting of flour before searing it in a pan. Before it's fully cooked, remove it and deglaze the pan with marsala and a little chicken broth. Add the chicken back in as the sauce reduces and thickens, it will gently finish off the cooking of the chicken and keep it tender. I'll sometimes finish with a little lemon juice and zest, just to brighten up the flavor. Essentially chicken marsala, nothing new, but it's one of my favorite dishes for its versatility as well as its ease of preparation, since most of the ingredients I keep on hand.

Truth be told, the lazy days of summer seep into our kitchen -- I just don't want to cook when it's warm out. Bleah, who does? I've been enjoying more meals out or just making simple salads at home. Having a stick-to-your-ribs meal of chicken with vegetables and polenta was a nice kick to the rear for getting ready for fall and winter. I've also been taking advantage of our mint plants, which continue to avoid insect feasts. Everyone thinks of mojitos or juleps for fresh mint cocktails but I've been in a gimlet state of mind, which is sort of like a gin version of a mojito, which is a rum drink, if you've never had the pleasure of one before. Fresh lime juice, some sugar to balance out the citrus, crushed mint leaves and your favorite gin, all shaken up to make a really refreshing summer drink. It's been the perfect ending to a lot of summer days at home, and it tastes even better knowing you're taking advantage of what your garden is providing. Even if your garden still has dinky little green tomatoes and jelly bean-sized strawberries. At least I can drown my gardening sorrows in a minty gimlet.

Gardening mixed results with a cocktail and hearty dinner to balance it all out - Photos by Wasabi Prime

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