E. Phillips Fox
I remember those glorious days of radio dramas when the announcer on one of the three major networks would exhort listeners to stay on NBC, CBS, or ABC to hear the next program in their lineup. Quaint, eh? Well it is my goal to suggest ways for you to not turn that dial, only this one is on your oven and range-top. On steamy days, why heat up your steamy kitchen? Even with central air or groaning window units, why bother?
Freezers, big and small, are commonplace now, but during those radio drama days pre-1960s, the home cook had to turn to salads, room-temp leftovers, cereal, or perhaps a trip to pick up a pizza or, in our case, a foray to a Howard Johnson’s for maybe a fried clam roll (of blessed memory). And I can still see my dad struggling with our brick outdoor fireplace attempting to grill burgers or hot dogs without turning parts of them into cinders: anything to avoid using the oven or the stovetop.
Today there are more drive-throughs than McDonald’s Roy Kroc or Wendy’s Dave Thomas could have ever imagined. But for folks who’d like to relax in their own home of a summer evening (more appealing than ever with central or room air conditioning), you can assemble a pretty darn good meal with help from a supermarket or high-quality take away from nifty restaurants. And here I must digress with a little story that I’ve chuckled over for years.
Many moons ago I was visiting friends who moved from upstate back to England. I was on holiday over there, and they invited me down to their place in Kent for a good old American barbeque—with all the fixin’s, including a small American flag in a jug as a centerpiece with roses and cornflowers to carry out the U.S.A. theme. An “auntie” and uncle from Australia were visiting and observing all the prep the couple hosting was going through.
“My dear,” said Auntie, “we have all that hot weather in January and February and even March, and I just serve my favorite summer meal.”
“I’m curious, what is your favorite food?” I asked.
She said, with excitement in her voice as if divulging the splendid secret to her entertaining, “Why, tak-ay ah-way, my dears.” It took a few seconds for this to sink in, thinking it might be an Australian speciality—a kind of kebob, maybe? Of course it finally sunk in after she began describing the venues in her suburb: “There’s Chinese, Italian, Thai, fish and chip joints—just oodles of possibilities.” We roared.
I still call places such as that “take-aways” but pronounced as she did in her faultless classy English. I wonder if Harland Sanders, the Colonel, had ever heard this take on take-out.
Here are a couple of no-cook recipes that are spattered and dog-eared. The first is a soup that, with one or two of those Parmesan crackers, fills me up, ready to face a bowl of cut-up watermelon cubes, peaches, blueberries, blackberries, or a bowl of chilled cherries. (I also ought to mention a starter I love: a handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved and tossed with a bit of olive oil and chopped fresh herbs and a final sprinkle of kosher or sea salt. It is so good and a snap to do.)
I’m cribbing this recipe from a year-old issue of Real Simple. I did change it, however. I don’t peel the zucchini, I just wash it well and dry it with a paper towel that I drape over a glass bowl and reuse when it’s dry. Waste not...
Zucchini Gazpacho with Basil and Yogurt
- 4 chopped scallions, white and light green parts
- 1 long seedless cucumber (or 3 regular cukes), trimmed
- 2 medium-sized zucchinis, ends removed
- 3/4 cup good fruity olive oil plus a bit more for drizzling
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt (not Greek) or crème fraîche, divided
- Salt and fresh-ground black or white pepper to taste
- About 8 large basil leaves or equivalent tarragon
- About 2 tsp. fresh rosemary
Add scallion pieces to the bowl of a food processor.
Peel the cucumbers, quarter them, and remove seeds (even seedless have a few) by running the edge of a spoon over the centers. Chop them coarsely and add to the scallions. Cut the wiped zucchinis into 1-inch pieces. Add to the processor (you might need to pulse the vegetables in two batches). Dump in the olive oil, the lemon juice, half the yogurt, and the salt and pepper. Process until well combined. Chill.
Just before serving, stack the basil leaves, roll them into a cigar shape and finely cut across in thin stripe. Add the rosemary, if using, to the remaining yogurt or crème fraîche. (You could also add finely chopped parsley.)
Spoon the zucchini mixture into four soup bowls (if it’s a warm day you could chill these in the fridge). Sprinkle the basil strips evenly over the soup, top with the yogurt or crème fraîche and serve.
My old friend Lynn Rossetto Kasper featured this next recipe in her book How to Eat Supper. This is certainly how to serve a marvelous salad during a heat wave—or any time.
No-Cook Chicken and Bibb Lettuce Roll-Ups
- 1 3-pound rotisserie chicken (a supermarket godsend)
- 1 medium red onion, cut in 1/4-inch dice
- Grated zest of one lemon
- Juice of 2 large lemons, or more to taste
- 2 jalapeno peppers seeded and minced, or Tabasco to taste
- One (9-oz.) jar Major Grey Chutney, fine chop any pieces
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise (I use Hellmann’s Light)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 3 large celery stalks, peeled if coarse, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1 cup whole salted almonds, coarsely chopped
- 1 large head Bibb lettuce, leaves carefully separated, washed and dried
- 1 bunch fresh basil, washed and dried
- 1 bunch fresh coriander (a.k.a. cilantro), washed and dried
- 8 radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
- 1 large cucumber, peeled, halved, and seeded, in 2-inch pieces
Pull the meat from the chicken carcass, discarding skin and bones (or freeze these and use for chicken stock). Cut chicken into bite-size pieces.
In a large bowl combine the onions, lemon zest and juice, jalapenos, chutney, mayonnaise, and salt and pepper. Fold in the chicken pieces. Taste the mix and add more lemon or mayonnaise to taste. Let this stand for a minimum of 20 minutes or refrigerate, tightly covered, overnight. You want the flavors to blend.
To serve, mix the celery and nuts into the chicken mixture—best done with a rubber spatula. Mound the mixture on one side of a big platter. Pile up the lettuce leaves on the other side. Pull off the leaves of the basil and trim the stalks from the coriander (cilantro). Coarsely chop and cluster the herbs in the center of the platter. Tuck the radishes and cucumbers next to the herbs.
Serve dinner on trays to folks out back in deck chairs—so very al fresco—or perhaps use a table set under the trees. I would surround the site with one of the myriad citronella candles now available, or bug-off incense sticks. (And I do get particularly incensed over mosquitos.)
Good-bye and “shoo fly.” Now there’s inspiration for a make-ahead dessert. Count me out on that one, and make it an apple pan dowdy.