Gathered in season, served at the peak of ripeness, fruit is a perfect reflection of the moment. — Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food
I know what T. S. Eliot says about April and all, but sometimes I wonder if the cruelest months aren’t the hot ones of summer. At least, that is, if you long for the produce that comes in during high summer. I mean, I do long, I yearn, I stay awake at night, fretting over unrequited desire. Each week, I throw sidelong glances at the market tables, restraining my hope, prepared for disappointment. It’s too soon, too soon, there can’t be corn yet, any tomatoes would only be regrettable and forgettable. Peaches? Surely not.
And then it happens. Really, there are hints, if you look closely. A few ears of corn shoved to one side of a table full of greens and beans and the first summer squash. Some baskets of cherry tomatoes, the early raspberries trickling in. Despite these early indicators, the true summer harvest always seems to hit for me with gale force winds, sprung up overnight. I sail right in. Swamp me, please.
I’ve waited so long, but then, and here’s the cruel part, when summer finally arrives, in all of its abundance, it’s almost too much. After those weeks of holding back, summer’s suddenly all wanton and abandoned, and I can”t keep up. There’s just not enough time, money and room in the belly to appreciate it all. I wander the aisles of the farmer’s market, a bit dazed, and within about half an hour I’m thirty dollars poorer, my bags are overflowing, and I’m not sure how I’ll ever get to really enjoy all those tastes I’ve spent ten months waiting for. Now I’m awake at night scheming menus and meal plans to use up the piles of wonderfully ripe produce that sit on my counter, always inching perilously nearer to the precipice of rot.
And of course I wouldn’t change it for the world. Summer, the real summer of the possibility of heat stroke and the infinite wonder of ice cold lemonade and slipping into wading pools and tossing off the sheets at night, that kind of summer, happened these past couple of weeks. And brought with it the produce-that-seemed-like-it would-never-come. We sliced the first tomatoes. I taught my almost-three year old how to shuck corn. I bit into the first ripe Flaming Fury peach, and really, for a moment, I wanted to cry, overcome by the taste-memory of peaches of the past, the hope of years of peaches to come, and the unalloyed pleasure of the peach of the moment. Ah, cruel summer. Torment me some more.
So. Saturday night dinner. Almost too simple to record, but I offer it here to remind that sometimes the best preparations are the simplest. With one little flourish, an espresso based rub via Bobby Flay that we made a few weeks ago and have been going to over and over to add a touch of complexity to grilled meats.
A Saturday Summer Supper
- Sliced tomato with fruity olive oil and coarse sea salt and thin ribbons of fresh basil. (Normally, I would sprinkle on a little balsamic vinegar, but I really wanted to taste just the tomato on that first one. The flavor really opens up after the tomato for a half hour or so in the oil).
- (Tantre Farms) corn on the cob. My oh-so-secret method is to shuck, rinse, drop in boiling water, cover the pot, turn off the flame. Take out in four or five minutes. Roll around in unsalted butter and sprinkle with fleur de sel which is like fairy dust or crack for fresh vegetables. Make sure to leave a puddle of butter and salt on the plate for mopping up with a baguette.
- Alice Water’s Swiss Chard Gratin. This was written up the other day over at The Wednesday Chef, but I swear to god I had The Art of Simple Food open to that page before I saw the post. Of course butter and cream help just about anything, but this is one of those more than the sum of the parts dishes. Easy and delicious and its creaminess a nice counterpoint to the rest of the meal. Highly recommended for those of you with CSA swiss chard languishing in the fridge.
- Thick cut bone in pork chops, coated with espresso rub (see below). I never remember to put the rub on until about an hour before and that works fine, but I suspect longer would be better. Chops a little more than an inch thick took about twelve minutes on the grill and rested for ten (we were aiming for medium rare and these tilted toward medium, so you could be even more aggressive in pulling them off the goals).
- For dessert, a peach. Ah.
Bobby Flay’s Espresso Rub for Grilled Meats
1/4 cup ancho chili powder
1/4 cup finely ground espresso
2 tablespoons Spanish paprika
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground ginger
Coat the meat with a bit of olive oil first and then rub all over with the mix. Works really well for pork loin and ribs, in addition to chops. Rub keeps well in a jar in the refrigerator.
From Bobby Flay’s Grilling For Life. (A very nice book, by the way, for those who are in the process of moving beyond basic burgers on the grill but still need some good advice and recipe ideas).