Our contributing blogger, Lisa Glover, explores the flavors of summer.
A goal that I made at the start of this summer was that I would cook more. After a successful Sunday of making homemade sauce with my Grandma, I wanted to incorporate cooking into my busy, on-the-go lifestyle. Now that it’s approaching the end of summer, I can’t say that it’s an every night occurrence, but I certainly have made progress and have a couple of dishes that I’d like to share!
I was flipping through a magazine on a Sunday drive home from Hamptons with my friends when I came across this grilled peaches and chicken recipe and became inspired to replicate it. Fortunately, the drive from the Hamptons back to the western part of Long Island is filled with farm stands. We pulled over and right away I whipped out my camera. The tables were filled with an array of vibrant reds and deep greens, sprinkled with every shade in between. The display almost mirrored a work of art, and I had to snap a photo of it.
There’s something about buying locally grown produce that just spurs that excited feeling to take out the pots and pans. It’s that feeling of knowing exactly where the vegetables were grown that immediately sparks a stronger connection to what you’re cooking. I wanted to prepare a meal that would be ‘in-season’ so I picked up some local blueberries, peaches and zucchini.
I sliced the zucchini and baked it for about 20 minutes before drizzling olive oil and sprinkling parmesan cheese on top. I placed it back in the oven, alongside two cut up peaches. The chicken was grilled and marinated with a light peach sauce to bring out the flavor. The chicken sat on a bed of brown rice to complete the meal. I popped the peaches into the toaster oven for a few minutes to give it that grilled effect. To complete the plate, I threw in a few blueberries around the plate for added sweetness.
The grilled peaches really made the meal. The succulent flavor added zest to an otherwise, boring chicken dinner. The parmesan frosted zucchini bites were better than I imagined. Each of them browned slightly which gave it a grilled texture that was pleasant to the palate. First meal: success.
When thinking of what my next meal would be, I knew I wanted to incorporate gnocchi. Gnocchi is my favorite type of pasta; it’s my go-to dish at nearly every Italian restaurant and I love sampling how the chefs prepare it and the different ingredients and sauces they use. For example, I once had a dish that incorporated blueberries and mushrooms; something I wouldn’t necessarily immediately think could blend together. Eventually, I would like to work up the skills to actually prepare gnocchi from scratch, but for now I’ll just try emulating those from the restaurants I’ve dined in.
For me, shrimp and pesto always remind me of summer. Maybe it’s because we used to eat shrimp at my uncle’s summer house on August nights. Or maybe pesto brings back memories of hiking 10 miles of Cinque Terre in Italy, and experiencing the most savory pesto I’ve ever had at a local café. The two are a match made in heaven.
Something that I loved about preparing this dish is that there was no precise science to it. My ingredients consisted of gnocchi mixed with shrimp and asparagus, covered in a creamy pesto sauce, but there was no recipe telling me two tablespoons of this, or half a cup of that. I baked the asparagus in olive oil and spices before adding shrimp and pesto to the skillet. Once the gnocchi came to a boil, I tossed everything into a large bowl and then separated it into portions. Serving it with Riesling wine provides a nice compliment to the summer flavors.
I’m slowly learning to embrace cooking and enjoy experimenting with different ingredients. As the fall is approaching, I already have some ideas for how to incorporate pumpkin into these dishes. After working over 9 hours a day, I’ve become accustomed to take-out. Living in the East Village doesn’t help either because there is street after street of unique restaurants. However, I’ve found that cooking with a friend can make the experience even better. My roommate and I will set aside one night every two weeks to cook dinner together.
What nontraditional meals have you prepared that have been a success? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!