Summer is here, and home gardens and farmers markets alike are flush with the vibrant colors and robust flavors of fresh onions, tomatoes, peppers and herbs. There are so many fresh food options during these months that I’m half-tempted to argue with crooner Andy Williams that summer is, in fact, the most wonderful time of the year.
Since no one enjoys heating up the kitchen (and the rest of the house) with meals that spend all day on the stove or in the oven, this month I have picked two of my favorite dishes that don’t have to be cooked at all! Both no heat recipes are quick, cool and packed full of garden freshness.
Find yourself with a glut of sweet basil? Pesto is the besto! Even if you have never made fresh pesto before, it comes together in minutes and you can use it for everything from pasta to sandwiches. Even better, you can make it with parsley, cilantro, even arugula!
Before we dive into this month’s no heat recipes, here’s a quick and simple tip for preserving those fresh herbs. If you have way too much of a leafy herb like basil or parsley, just drop it in the food processor with some olive oil and puree. Then pour the mixture into ice cube trays and freeze! They will thaw beautifully and taste as good as the day they were picked. It’s a great alternative to dehydrating, and you will retain much of the gorgeous green color as a bonus.
Simple Basil Pesto
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
- 3 cloves garlic
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- 2/3 cup olive oil
- Salt & pepper
- Place the first three ingredients in a food processor and process using the pulse setting until well chopped.
- Add cheese and oil and process until completely smooth.
- Toss with your favorite pasta and enjoy as a warm or cold dish.
CHEF’S NOTES: To use this pesto as a sandwich spread, start with ½ cup of oil and process until smooth. The mixture will be considerably thicker to make it easier to use as a condiment. Add more oil if needed to reach desired consistency. Want to change it up? Try parsley or arugula in place of the basil. Switch up the nuts too.
If you haven’t had gazpacho yet, you are in for a real treat. While its history is not certain, its flavor is undeniable. It’s also one of the simplest dishes you will ever prepare, but its flexibility is what makes it a real star in my book. Most often you will find gazpacho made with a tomato base, making it a perfect summer dish, but the fun doesn’t have to stop there. Melon versions can be just as fun and delicious.
Basic Tomato Gazpacho
Gazpacho is said to have had its start in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia. It remains a very popular dish in the area. One taste and you will understand why that is. Authentic versions are made by hand using a large mortar and pestle, but I am partial to the modern convenience of my trusty food processor.
- 1 pound ripe tomatoes
- 1 small cucumber
- 1 medium sweet onion
- 1 medium red bell pepper
- 1 slice of bread (stale is best)
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 small fresh jalapeno, seeded (optional)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Roughly chop the produce and add all ingredients to a blender.
- Pulse a few times to settle, then process until smooth.
- Chill for an hour before serving.
To add a bit of texture, I like to process all of the produce first until it is well chopped, then reserve a cup or so to stir back in after the rest has been blended smooth. Some recipes call for leaving the produce a bit chunkier, but I like the silkiness of a smoother blend. If you really want to dress this dish up, add some chunks of diced avocado just before serving and sprinkle with a pinch of fresh dill.
Jalapeno Watermelon Gazpacho
Want something sweet, with a hint of sass? For a refreshing summertime gazpacho with a kick, this is a guaranteed hit. Watermelon pairs perfectly with the heat of jalapeno, and a touch of red wine vinegar will make this dish sing!
- 4 cups watermelon cubes, seeded
- 1 medium red tomato
- 1 small cucumber, peeled
- 1 small fresh jalapeno, seeded
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons red onion
- Crumbled feta or goat cheese for garnish (optional)
- Add all ingredients (except for the feta, if you are using it) to a blender and puree until smooth.
- Chill for an hour and stir in the cheese just before serving.
CHEF’S NOTE: Some like it hot, but if all that heat isn’t your thing, just leave off the jalapeno, or start with half of the amount. In your kitchen, you set the rules!
Don’t miss next month when I share some of my favorite ways to use all of those delicious vine ripened tomatoes, including a tasty adult beverage and gourmet tomato sandwich you really don’t want to miss. Until then, I’ll see you on the road!
Michael Nolan is a professional gardener and food writer based in Atlanta. His digital cookbook, Food Camp: Kitchen Survival Skills, is available on Amazon or through his website, MyEarthGarden.com.