Summer's here. Time to get grumpy and stay indoors, right? Well, maybe so, but what if a friend invites you to her garden party? And by garden party, she means a fresh-from-the-garden meal served in a real garden, where the temps are in the mid-90s, the mosquitoes are in the hundreds and there's no swimming pool. If you're a grumpy summer hater, you're probably going to say something like "Are you crazy? Call me in October."
But if you're an Austin gardener who's spent more than a few summers sweating over a hot vegetable garden, you might be inclined to say "yes," especially when the friend tells you she's got a plan that will keep you from roasting during the party. And, if the plan doesn't work, the friend promises to move the food and the drinks indoors.
In case you haven't figured this out already, I'm the friend with the plan. But before I get to the details, I'll cut to the chase: I didn't have to take the outdoor party indoors. Overall, the plan, worked - maybe not like magic, but at least as well as can be expected given the modest expense of the setup, which included cute red metal tubs of ice to keep the food cold; a low-tech patio water mister to keep the guests, if not cold, at least not hot; and a fragrant herbal oil diffuser to keep the mosquitoes confused.
(A side note about the misting system: The area closest to the spray emitters got a little too wet, but a heavy-duty fan directed on the diners helped to dry the air and keep the fine water particles in motion, which in turn, created a pleasant evaporative cooling effect. Not nearly as pleasant as floating in the deep end of a pool, but hey, if I had a pool, I wouldn't be trying to beat the heat with a cheap patio mister.)
Once the heat and the bugs were under control, we were free to ooh and ahh over the fresh and fragrant collage of cold potluck dishes made with many of the star ingredients of a Central Texas Summer - heirloom tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, sweet basil and, of course, peaches.
Every dish was beautiful and bursting with flavor. No big surprise, though. That's what happens when you invite gardeners who like to cook to your garden party. They've figured out that foods that grow well together in the same season taste good together on the same plate.
And speaking of smart gardeners, the next time I throw a summer garden dinner party, I think I'll borrow a cool trick that's catching on with some of the gardeners around town - blowup kiddie pools. Just thinking out loud here, but imagine this: Each guest gets her own little pool to lounge in while she's sipping frozen cucumber cocktails and nibbling on cold tomato salads and icy peach frozen treats. Hmm. Maybe summer's not so bad after all.
8 large heirloom tomatoes, several types and colors
25 'Chocolate Cherry' tomatoes
1 bunch basil
3 cloves garlic
4 large slices Texas French Bread Boule, 3 days old
1/2 small red onion, sliced
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Chop garlic and cover in 1/3 cup olive oil. Chop tomatoes and set aside. Clean and chiffonade basil, to end up with about 1 1/2 cups. Thinly slice cucumber. Thinly slice the onion and soak in 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar. Generously slather the bread with the olive oil/garlic mixture and toast in the oven until very lightly browned and crispy. Drain excess oil and scrape off any browned garlic. Combine tomatoes, basil, cucumber and onion with the vinegar and toss. Salt and pepper to taste, then refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow tomatoes to render their juices. Cut the toasted bread into bite-size chunks. Add remaining olive oil to tomatoes, then toss with bread. The bread will soften and soak up the tomato juices, but remain slightly chewy.
- Carla Crownover, co-owner of Austin Urban Gardens (austinurbangardens.wordpress.com)
Often called white gazpacho; this sensationally refreshing cold soup from Andalusia is of Arabic origin. Serve ice cold.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 cup blanched, peeled almonds
2 cups crustless white bread
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup seedless white grapes, halved
1 medium cucumber, peeled and chopped
Layer the ingredients in the storage container: oil, vinegar, almonds, bread, garlic, onion, grapes and cucumber, lightly seasoning each layer as you go. Add cold water just to cover. Cover the container and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. Stir the ingredients to combine. Working in batches, blend until completely smooth and strain. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serves six to eight.
- Prepared by Statesman food writer Addie Broyles from a recipe by Martine Torres-Apónte de Pèlegrin
Pasta Salad with Basil Pesto and Black Cherry Tomatoes
My homemade pesto is more like a spread than a sauce because that's how I like it. I regulate the consistency by the amount of olive oil I add to the mixture; you can make yours looser by adding more olive oil.
16 oz. dried garden pasta, such as spirals
8 oz. black cherry tomatoes, washed and cut in half
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves
1 to 11/2 cups basil pesto (see below)
4 cups basil leaves, washed and dried
1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4-1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 to 2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 to 1 cup pecans
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook pasta according to instructions. While pasta is cooking, loosely fill food processor container with basil leaves and garlic. Run the machine and add olive oil through the feeder tube until the leaves and garlic break down, but are not liquid. Add the Parmesan, lemon juice and pecans and run machine to blend ingredients together. Add more olive oil until you get the consistency you want. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook and drain pasta and put into serving bowl. Add half of the pesto and mix well. Add the halved cherry tomatoes and mix well. Taste; if you need more pesto, add it. Sprinkle top with oregano leaves. May be served hot, warm or cold. Serves 6 to 8.
- Cecilia Nasti, producer and host of KUT's 'Growing Concerns'
Cucumber Mint Lemonade
3 pickling cucumbers (or 2 regular cucumbers), peeled and chopped (see notes)
Juice of 6 large lemons (See notes)
11/2 cups evaporated cane sugar (more or less to taste)
2 cups water
1 generous pinch salt
Small handful of fresh mint leaves (peppermint or spearmint add best flavor)
2 cups thinly sliced cucumbers, peeled if skin is tough
Enough filtered water to finish filling 5-liter beverage jar
Purée chopped cucumbers until smooth in a processor or blender. Press lemon juice and cucumber purée through a strainer. Bring water and sugar to a simmer in a saucepan. Cook for a few minutes, stirring to dissolve sugar. Stir in salt. Add the sugar water mixture (aka simple syrup) to the juice mixture and pour into glass beverage jar. Gently twist and tear mint leaves to release oil and add to jar. Add sliced cucumbers and enough filtered water to fill jar. Stir, chill and serve over ice. Serves 6 to 8.
Notes: The lemons I used produced about 5 Tbsps. of juice per lemon. If your lemons aren't that juicy, add more. For the purée, I used pickling cucumbers, which have tiny, tender seeds that are rarely bitter; if you use larger cucumbers, taste the seeds first, and if they are tough or bitter, remove before puréeing.
- Renee Studebaker
Summer Succotash Salad
1 cup Christmas lima beans (or whatever limas are available), shelled
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup tender, young green beans, stemmed and snapped
2 ears corn, shucks and silk removed
1/3 cup 1015 onion (or other sweet onion), finely chopped
1/3 cup Anaheim pepper (or mix of Anaheim and serrano for more bite), seeded and diced
2 cups salad tomatoes (a mix of yellow, orange and red varieties, or whatever's available), sliced in halves
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup buttermilk vinaigrette (recipe below)
Bring limas to a boil in a saucepan, then reduce heat to simmer. Add garlic and pinch of salt; cook until beans are soft, but not mushy. Strain and pour into large mixing bowl. Bring green beans to boil; reduce heat and simmer just a minute or two until beans are tender-crisp. Rinse with cold water, pat dry and add to lima bean bowl. Bring saucepan of water to a boil and blanch corn for 1 minute. Remove corn and rinse under cold water. Using a sharp knife, slice corn from cob, being careful not to cut too deep. Add kernels to bean bowl. Gently scrape corn cobs and add about two Tbsps. of the juicy corn pulp to the bowl. Add tomatoes, pepper, onion and thyme to bowl. Pour on buttermilk vinaigrette and toss gently. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours to allow flavors to meld before serving. Serves 6 to 8.
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. evaporated cane sugar (or agave syrup)
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 to 3 pinches sea salt
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/3 cup olive oil
Combine all ingredients except oil in a small mixing bowl. Slowly whisk in oil. Refrigerate until ready to toss salad.
Note: This salad also makes a good cold side dish for roast pork or grilled chicken.
- Renee Studebaker
Peach Ice Cream with Blueberry Sauce
11/2 pounds ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, chopped (1 small basket from
1/2 cup water, plus any peach juice left after chopping
3/4 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup Way Back When Dairy cream, available at Wheatsville Coop
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. limoncello (See note)
Cook peaches and water in a covered saucepan on medium heat for about 10 minutes or until soft. Stir the mixture a few times. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Let mixture cool to room temperature. Pour mixture into food processor or blender. Add sour cream, cream, vanilla, lemon juice and limoncello. Pulse until desired consistency (I like it a bit chunky.) Freeze in 1 quart ice cream maker. Serve topped with blueberry sauce.
- Adapted by Suzanne Hurley from userealbutter.com, which adapted it from 'The Perfect Scoop' by David Lebovitz
2 cups blueberries
11/2 tsps. Boggy Creek Yaupon honey
1/3 cup turbinado sugar (or to taste, may need more)
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup water
Juice of 1/2 lime
Rinse blueberries and put in saucepan. Add honey, sugar, cinnamon and water. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Berries should burst and fall apart, about 10 minutes. Taste, add more sugar if needed and stir in lime juice. Serve hot or cool. For smoother sauce, strain berries. Makes about 11/4 cups.
- Adapted by Suzanne Hurley from Deborah Madison's 'Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone'
Note: Alcohol helps keep ice cream soft. I used limoncello my dad sent me from Italy, but Paula's Texas Lemon would work well also or peach Schnapps.