Beating the heat

Summertime - and the living is easy! But the kitchen is hot! It's time to turn to some cool and easy recipes.

salad 88 (photo credit: )
salad 88
(photo credit: )
Now when it's hot and everyone slows down, the last thing you want to do is spend a lot of time heating up your kitchen. Warm summer days bring us fresh herbs, delicious veggies and plenty of sweet, ripe fruits. If you're not lucky enough to be growing these luscious goodies in your own backyard, a trip to the nearest market is all it takes to make a great meal. Let the colors and aromas tempt you. Take home everything that looks good. Don't worry about how you're going to use it all - you only need a salad bowl. Summertime meals have to be quick and easy, and one key to preparing such food is choosing the freshest, most flavorful ingredients you can find. Each and every one of your ingredients should contribute some zest to the finished dish, since you won't be adding flavor by browning, grilling or roasting. If there's one food that really captures the essence of summer, it's salad. Main dish chicken salads are a staple of summer dining and entertaining, but adding or substituting vegetables works well for most salads. So you can go ahead and replace ingredients freely with whatever you happen to have on hand. The dressing can usually be sweetened, soured and seasoned to your taste. I've put together some summer recipes using local produce that is already bursting with flavor to help you prepare fresh and delicious food. You don't need a deluxe kitchen - although some basic equipment will certainly expand the possibilities. Start with an all-summer gazpacho soup. At our family meals, this is the ultimate appetizer. Nothing is more refreshing on a hot summer's day. My mother-in-law has Eastern European roots and garlic is one of the staples of her cooking. Her garlic laden version of gazpacho soup may not recall the traditional Spanish variety, but who cares - it tastes delicious. Esther's Gazpacho soup 1⁄4 cup olive oil 1 slice of bread 3 garlic cloves 1 small onion 1 can crushed tomatoes 2 cups ice cubes 2 tsp. vinegar 1 cucumber, diced 1 yellow pepper, diced Salt and pepper Put olive oil, bread, onion 1⁄2 tsp. salt and garlic in a blender, and let the bread soak up the oil for at least half an hour. Add the crushed tomatoes and blend to a smooth puree. Cover and chill the mixture in the fridge. Before serving divide the puree in two. To one half of the mixture add one cup of ice, 1 tsp of vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Blend until all the ice is crushed and pour into cooled cups. Garnish with the cucumber and yellow pepper, drizzle with olive oil and serve. Repeat with the second half. Asparagus and mushroom salad with shaved Parmesan 300 gr. thick asparagus, trimmed 300 gr. mushrooms, stems trimmed, halved lengthwise 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice 2 tsp. Dijon mustard 1⁄2 tsp salt 1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil Freshly ground black pepper 1 bunch watercress, coarse stems discarded 100 gr. piece Parmesan Remove tough ends from asparagus and steam until tender but still crisp (3-4 minutes). Drain and immerse asparagus in cold water; drain again. Place in salad bowl, add the mushrooms and mix. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, mustard, salt and olive oil. Drizzle dressing over asparagus salad and toss gently. Grind pepper over salad. Spread watercress on a platter and top with asparagus salad. With a vegetable peeler, shave the Parmesan into curls over salad. Arugula salad with spicy vinaigrette 1⁄2 cup orange juice 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar 1 tsp. olive oil 1⁄2 tsp. salt 1⁄4 tsp. sugar 1⁄8 tsp pepper 8 cups arugula leaves 2 cups torn lettuce 1 cup yellow and/or red cherry tomatoes, halved 1 orange, peeled and sliced into half-rounds 6 black olives 1⁄2 small red onion, thinly sliced In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, vinegar, oil, salt, sugar and pepper. In a salad bowl, combine the arugula, lettuce, tomatoes, orange, olives and onion. Add the dressing, tossing to coat well. Serves: 4 Pear, cranberry and mixed greens salad package of mixed greens 1 pear, sliced lengthwise 1⁄2 cup toasted pecans, 100 gr. Feta cheese diced 1⁄2 cup dried cranberries For the dressing: 1 1⁄2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar 1 1⁄2 tsp. Dijon mustard 3 Tbsp. olive oil Salt and pepper to taste In a bowl, place the mixed greens and top with cheese and dried cranberries. In another small bowl, whisk the olive oil and vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Arrange pear slices on top of the salad and sprinkle with pecan. Drizzle with dressing just before serving. Panna Cotta 250 ml. whipping cream 250 ml. milk 1⁄4 cup sugar 2 sheets of unflavored gelatin 2 tsp. vanilla extract Pour the milk, sugar and cream in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring from time to time. (Do not let it boil.) Cool for five minutes. Soak the sheets of gelatin in a bowl with cold water and press with your hands to soften them. Add to the panna cotta mixture while it cools. Rinse four small cups or bowls quickly under water, do not dry, and distribute the mixture evenly among them. Keep in the refrigerator about three hours or overnight. Serve in the cups, or unmold into a plate and top with raspberries.