This has been my first summer without a grill in five years. I cannot overstate how lucky I was to have one at my fingertips in this city, and how completely that spoiled me for life on the other side.
If I were to tell you the withdrawal nearly killed me, would you pardon the hyperbole?
Luckily, I’ve gotten my fix in other ways — a Fourth of July barbecue here, a beach-weekend dinner there, and, my favorite, a meal with family and friends at home in Virginia.
My aunt and uncle heard I’d be down south for the weekend and quickly agreed to make the trip from Pennsylvania for a Saturday-night meal, pup in tow; when local friends also accepted the last-minute invitation, we had a dinner party on our hands.
One of the highlights of my childhood summers — other than the expanse of days spent at the pool, playing cards during adult swim (practically the only time you’d find me out of the water) and begging the lifeguards to close off the diving section for one more game of Sharks and Minnows — was the annual week or two I got to spend at camp. I quickly learned that the Girl Scout version wasn’t my cup of tea, but when I discovered Nature Camp and 4-H, it was all over. But as great as those weeks of bunk beds, outdoor activities, and minimal adult supervision were, my traditional welcome-back dinner was even better. (Camp had its appeals, obviously, but the dining-hall food of the late ’80s and early ’90s definitely wasn’t one of them.) Upon my return to civilization, Dad would grill the steak (such a treat!), my sister and I were tasked with shucking the corn, and my mother’s homemade pesto was used to crown thick slices of August-ripe tomatoes — my favorite summer meal, and still my personal standard-bearer of seasonal eating.
Our impromptu dinner party would hew as closely as possible to those classic lines; in keeping with the idea of summer simplicity, my mom and I worked out an easy menu of Spanish-style shrimp, two salads (corn-tomato-basil and basic greens), steak, and peach cobbler.
The shrimp, sauteed with generous amounts of olive oil, garlic, saffron, and cumin and finished with fresh lemon juice and chopped parsley, took no more than 20 minutes from start to finish. Served hot out of the cast-iron skillet with plenty of bread for mopping up the juices, this was the perfect start to the meal.
Earlier that afternoon, I’d charred a red bell pepper and several ears of corn on the grill; the rest of the salad came together quickly, with torn basil, roughly chopped farm-stand tomatoes, and just-squeezed lime juice rounding things out — all of the flavors of the season, there in a single bowl. Accompanied by flank steak (marinated in bottled Italian dressing and quickly grilled), dressed greens, and copious amounts of wine and eaten while surrounded by friends and family, I couldn’t have been happier. This, folks, is the epitome of summer.
Now that I’ve seen how the haves and the have nots — those with and without space for a grill, naturally — live, I’m thinking of running for office. I may just be the perfect candidate, too. My platform? Cookouts for everyone!
Last-Minute Sort-of Spanish Shrimp
By Mark Bittman, from the New York Times
- Yield: 2 servings, or more with pasta or bread
Total time: 15 minutes
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 pinch saffron
1 dried chipotle, left whole [I used chipotle powder instead.]
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Three-quarters to one pound shrimp, peeled or not
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley and lemon wedges for garnish
- 1. Put the olive oil in a skillet just big enough to hold the shrimp in one layer and turn the heat to low. Add the garlic and adjust the heat so that it barely sizzles; when it colors nicely, add the saffron, chipotle and cumin, and stir for a minute or so. (All of the seasonings can be adjusted to taste.)
- 2. Add the shrimp and season well. Raise the heat a bit and cook, turning once or twice, until firm, 5 minutes or less depending on their size. Garnish and serve.
Charred Corn Salad with Basil and Tomatoes
From Bon Appetit | July 2012
I added a roasted red pepper and a jalapeño and omitted the onion, but otherwise stuck to the script — it’d be pretty much perfect either way, though.
- Yield: 8 servings
Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 cup (loosely packed) fresh basil leaves, large leaves torn
1/3 cup (or more) fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
- 1. Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to high. Rub corn with 1 tablespoon oil. Grill, turning frequently, until corn is charred and heated through, 10-12 minutes. Remove from grill; when cool enough to handle, cut kernels from cobs and transfer to a large bowl. DO AHEAD: Corn can be made 3 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.
2. Place onion in a strainer and rinse with cold water to mellow its flavor. Drain well. Mix onion, remaining 5 tablespoons oil, tomatoes, basil, 1/3 cup lime juice, and thyme into corn. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and more lime juice, if desired. DO AHEAD: Salad can be assembled 1 hour ahead. Let stand at room temperature.