A Special “Easy” Menu to Celebrate the Bounty of Summer

Enjoy this simple summer-inspired menu for your family.

How can it be that I missed spring and it’s already getting deep into summer??  I cooked a season full of wonderful spring menus, took many pictures to document the bounty of this season, and then the months slipped away while I didn’t have the luxury of posting a few blogs.  No need to cry over spilled milk–summer might offer me a few moments of extra time to record my adventures in the kitchen.

I started this blog post in April highlighting another one of my family’s favorite meals and still think it is appropriate at this time of year. It includes many of the farmers market’s darlings of the season: tomatoes, blueberries, basil, green beans and carrots.  The menu includes chicken picatta, a quick sauté that fits into my summer schedule, and a basil pesto pasta that is a cinch to put together.  I always include a caprese salad with this meal because the balsamic vinegar and olive oil marries perfectly with the pesto.  Green beans and carrots are delicious in the summer, add color to the overall plate and offer nutritional balance to this meal.   A blueberry buckle is an excellent dessert option with local blueberries available at all of our farmers markets and supermarkets.  I just made this recipe for my dear friends, Jim and Julia, and Julia hoped I would post this recipe soon.  For you Julia, of course!

A Special Easy Menu to Celebrate the Bounty of Summer

Chicken Picatta

Basil Pesto Pasta

Green Beans and Carrots and Caprese Salad

Blueberry Buckle

Chicken Picatta is a classic example of a quick sauté with a simple pan sauce and now with many butchers slicing scaloppini of chicken, it is quick to make.  My kids love a sauce and actually think meat on its own is not a complete dish.  I tend to agree.  Many new cooks find making a sauce difficult, requiring hours of time and complicated techniques to conquer.  For this dish, I use purchased chicken broth and a bit of flour to create a sauce that is good enough to lick off your plate over (at least my children think so), AND it is easy.  You can also substitute scaloppini of veal or turkey instead of the chicken.

The trick to a quick sauté with a pan sauce is to quickly sear the floured meat in a combination of olive oil and butter (but I normally use just olive oil) until almost done.  After you take the meat out of the pan, add a few chopped shallots and sauté, stirring up any fond that was left from the meat.  Then douse the shallots with some white wine or vermouth and reduce until almost gone.  Add the broth and reduce until it tastes good.  Remember to taste your food; if the sauce still tastes like raw wine and chicken soup, you need to reduce the sauce more.  Once the sauce has flavor, add the chicken back in the pan to finish cooking.  The flour on the meat will help thicken the sauce, but this is a sauce, not a gravy, so it should be thinner.  All you need to do is add the finishing touches to make it a picatta sauce: the capers and a squirt of lemon.  This is the basic technique for all pan sauces and once you perfect this dish, you will feel confident to make other pan sauces with other meats such as a duck breast, pork chop or filet mignon.

My trick to making a good pesto is blanching the basil before making it.  Basil oxidizes quickly once it is cut and I have become shocked when my basil pesto pasta turned black before I even had a chance to bring it to the table.  If you blanch the basil and refresh the leaves in ice water before you process them with the garlic, cheese, nuts and olive oil, your pesto will stay brilliant green even when you don’t cover the leftovers with oil to seal in the cut basil.  Beside that tip, making pesto is a breeze; just remember to save a bit of the pasta cooking water to finish the sauce.  The starchy pasta water is the perfect thinning agent but I have used cream for a richer sauce if you are in the mood for that.

Many of my menus include more vegetables and side dishes than meat and that is the way I like it.  If you have a meat with a nice pan sauce, I recommend to keep your vegetables simple.  Here I offer a classic vegetable technique preferred by Thomas Keller in his French Laundry Cookbook: Big-Pot Blanching.  You perfectly cook your vegetables in a copious amount of water in an attempt to keep the water still boiling when you add the vegetables to the water.  After the green beans and carrots are cooked, I simply dress to perfection with olive oil and a touch of salt.

I ALWAYS make tomato-mozzarella salad for chicken picatta and basil pesto pasta, even in winter.  When tomatoes are not in my garden or in my local farmers market, I get the clamshell campari style tomato.  They are grown hydroponically but with my trick, you can make these watery tomatoes taste fine for this salad.  I bring out the flavor by letting the sliced, salted tomatoes drain on paper towels for at least a half an hour.  I even give them a sprinkling of sugar along with the salt to imitate the sweet summer tomato.  My recommendation though is to make this dish in summer when there is no need to doctor up Mother Nature.

The only thing I need to say about the blueberry buckle is to make it; it will become one of your staple recipes.  Julia, enjoy the buckle and let me know how it came out.

Spring held many dinner parties, cooking events and family meals that were worth documenting.  The events included Ryan’s engagement party, the Woodside Priory cooking class, HIP Housing appetizer cooking demo with Stephanie Lucas, Anna’s graduation party in Walla Walla (truly an experience cooking for 50 people in the small kitchen of the unofficial Delta Gamma house, “The Zoo,”–see above picture), Katie’s high school graduation party and  for Jeannie’s 50th birthday, a cooking class for her friends and their daughters at the beach.  The summer season has already included my husband’s birthday, Cynthia’s 85th birthday at the beach and 4th of July at Lake Tahoe.  I just might have to do another year-end style post telling you about all the missing posts throughout the first half of the year.  Keep “posted.”

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