Here we are again at summer’s end, and, if ever there is a time of year to enjoy fresh produce in its glorious prime, it is now. Farmers’ markets are full of gorgeous summer fruits and vegetables — fragrant, ripe and sweet.
It hasn’t been on a refrigerated truck from across the continent. Picked mere hours, not days, ago, it all simply tastes different: brighter, fresher, more flavorful.
So, it’s the time to let the food do the talking. You have permission to do less, and to even do nothing at all. The seasoning needs only to emphasize and support, not overwhelm. A little salt, a splash of oil, no more. Especially now, the cook’s mantra is: Don’t do too much. And that is the approach this meal definitely takes.
You’ll want to capitalize on the ambrosial: incredible tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, green beans and summer squash. Savor the succulence of new crop garlic and onions. Breathe in the heady fragrance of fresh herbs. Linger with tree-ripened figs and the last of the summer’s berries.
All of those ingredients are included in this menu, with the exception of tomatoes, but don’t leave them out. Pass a bowl or two of colorful cherry tomatoes for nibbling or provide a plate of thickly sliced larger tomatoes to accompany the main course.
A fresh sweet pepper roasted at home can be revelatory. The flames of an outdoor grill, stovetop burner or broiler add a touch of smokiness, while loosening a pepper’s tough skin. But take care not to overcook: Do not place the pepper in a closed container after roasting, as some suggest. Instead, just leave it to cool uncovered on a plate — the skin will still come off and the flesh will remain firm, not mushy. As counterpoint to the pepper’s sweetness, look to salty capers, olives and anchovy fillets. The combination is simple and enduring. Serve this carpaccio-style on individual plates as a first course or compose the elements on a platter as an antipasto.
I like to marinate lamb chops of any sort (loin, rib, shoulder or leg) with lots of chopped rosemary, sage and garlic, then pan-fry them slowly in extra-virgin olive oil. It may seem extravagant, but this technique flavors the chops through and through, and they taste good even at room temperature. A delightful accompaniment is a seasonal stew of fresh green beans, corn and summer squash. For the best marriage of flavors, cook the vegetables until rather soft and juicy. The chops get no sauce, while the vegetables get a bright finish of gremolata, in this case a mixture of parsley, scallions and lemon zest.
To free up space on the stove, this no-stir oven method effortlessly produces a delicious polenta. Ricotta adds lightness and transforms the polenta into an elegant side dish. You could also choose to serve it as a main course paired with the vegetable stew for a meatless meal. The polenta may be baked up to two hours in advance and reheated, if desired.
The classic Italian panna cotta — the name means “cooked cream” — is a pure white custard dessert set with gelatin instead of eggs or starch. It is very easy to make and can be prepared up to two days in advance, in individual ramekins or a larger mold. Right now, it’s best served with a compote of figs and berries; other times of year, with whatever is in season, or a simple fruit coulis. Alternatively, a caramel sauce or a bittersweet chocolate sauce drizzled over the panna cotta could be quite nice. Wait until just before serving to unmold.