According to the calendar, it’s officially summer! And since the sun is finally peeking through the clouds here in Southern California, I’m ready to really start thinking about our summer menus. (Up until a couple of weeks ago I was still making soup! It’s been chilly!)
The most important thing I think about when the summer weather hits is to make sure we’re eating seasonally. Which mostly means tomatoes! We hardly eat fresh tomatoes any other time of year, so this is greatly anticipated. We use tomatoes in a lot of ways, but I’m really looking forward to the simplicity of tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. My two favorite and ultra-simple ways are sliced tomatoes with sliced fresh mozzarella fanned out on a plate, sprinkled with fresh basil, salt, pepper, and drizzled with a good olive oil. If I happen to have a rip avocado, all the better! A version I make for lunch involves cherry tomatoes and those little mozzarella balls mixed together with the usual fresh basil, olive oil, salt, and pepper. I find that when things are in season—you don’t have to get too fancy.
Another thing that’s important to me this time of year (as we are nursing along a 35-year-old air conditioner), is to not turn on the oven unless absolutely necessary. This means lots of grilling. As long as it can be cooked outside and not heat up the house, I’m game. As you know, tri-tip is a favorite over here, but we do ribs, flank steak, carne asada, and salmon on repeat during the summer. Just add some grilled veggies and simple salads. Maybe I’ll get brave and try a grilled pizza this year. We make homemade pizza regularly, but I can’t imagine turning the oven on to 500 degrees. I’ll keep you posted on that.
Obviously, the main dish salad is a summer staple as well. It’s easier to eat lighter in the summer and the veggies are so good! Pinterest is full of good ideas, but mostly we just take some leftover tritip or grilled chicken and add it to a big ol’ green salad with lots of fun extras like feta cheese, olives, and some fresh corn. It’s a great way to stretch a two-day dinner out of some grilled meat.
And when I just can’t even stand to think about cooking, the charcuterie board comes to the rescue. We started doing this when the kids were little. We still call it Funny Dinner because when we set down bread, cheese, and fruit for dinner when Chloe was little she said, “That’s a funny dinner.” I try to always have on hand what I would need to throw together a dinner like this—a baguette, good cheese, salami, nuts, olives, fruit, and hopefully some tomatoes and mozzarella. This dinner is always a good excuse for a glass of red wine, so that’s a bonus!
Lastly, I’ve decided that I want to have a go-to summer cocktail this year. Our trip to Italy last year introduced me to the Aperol Spritz, and it truly tastes like summer in a glass. I indulged in a few in Stockholm last week and now we are officially stocked with prosecco, Aperol, and club soda. Cheers to summer!
What are your summer food favorites? Tell me more about that tomato pie that I’ve heard you talk about.
Do you remember that summer I decided that every Sunday I’d roast a chicken and create meals from that bird for the rest of the week? I think my plan was to have a lot of different kinds of salads–rice salads, veggie-based salads, classic chicken salads. I wanted dinner to be easy and light, more from the fridge than from the oven.
As I recall, it was a failure from the beginning. First, this chicken that I imagined would last all week never lasted past Monday. It’s very hard to resist a roasted chicken after all. Second, no one wants to eat chicken every night. Three, I’m the only one in my family who actually likes salads.
Still, the essence of summer eating was all there: the easy meal, the effort to keep the oven off, and the incorporation of as many vegetables as possible. Because we had such a cool, rainy spring this year, I feel like I haven’t truly transitioned to summer eating yet, but the temps are starting to creep up, so I’m making plans.
Like you, tomatoes are at the heart of my summer menu. I make a lot of simple tomato salads all summer long along with fresh tomato sauces, some of which require no cooking, others that involve throwing little Sungold tomatoes into a pan with olive oil and garlic, heating things up and letting the flavors mingle.
You mentioned my beloved tomato pie, which I usually make at least twice during tomato season (it would be positively decadent to make it a third time, but sometimes I can’t resist). The recipe is from NC’s own Vivian Howard and can be found here.
I’ll make bruschetta on Sundays (Sunday dinner being our fanciest dinner of the week), which is my favorite appetizer (if you don’t count pimento cheese), fresh tomato sauce, and Margherita pizza. Note that all of these dishes involve a great deal of basil, which is my second favorite thing about summer. Pesto pizza will have a starring role all summer long and there will be tubs of pesto in the fridge because sometimes a girl just likes to eat it by the spoonful.
I don’t each much pasta in the winter months, but when summer rolls around, I cut myself a little more slack. The summer pasta salad is just too easy. I’ve made a tuna pasta salad for years that’s one of Jack’s favorites (and which I might use this summer to lure him over for a visit!). You mix up a pound of cooked and cooled rotini with canned tuna, broccoli, sliced red peppers, artichoke hearts, snow peas and a balsamic-mustard vinaigrette. It makes what we call a two-night meal and is so healthy I don’t even think the pasta registers as a carb.
One of my favorite things about summer is serving fruit with dinner. Like anyone with functioning tastebuds, I enjoy a good peach + blueberry fruit salad, and I look forward to local cantaloupes, which appears at dinner nearly every night during peak cantaloupe season.
I love your idea of the charcuterie board “funny dinner” and may have to give that a try this summer. And who knows? Now that the nest is empty (or nearly empty; Will’s home for the next two months), maybe I’ll give that Week of Chicken thing another shot. Second time’s the charm, right?