For many of us, August is a time to get out of the city and enjoy the tranquility of summer. For others, August is a time to enjoy the tranquility inside the city, with less crowds and a slower pace. Wherever you find yourself this month, make sure you find your way to a farm stand. The sun-warmed, ripe tomatoes, plump eggplants, juicy melons, and gem-like stone fruits of August make the produce stand look like a candy shop. Treat these ingredients simply, and let their natural flavors shine!
My family loves corn on the cob, simply grilled and served with salt and butter. After shucking the corn, I rub it with olive oil and a few cracks of black pepper. When ready to grill, I wrap the seasoned corn in aluminum foil and place onto a hot grill. If you are lucky and have a campfire, you can place the corn directly on the hot coals of the fire. Just make sure to turn the wrapped ears frequently.
When corn is cooked to your liking (about five to 12 minutes depending on the fire heat and your preferred level of char), let the corn cool in its foil packet. This allows it to continue to steam as it cools.
You can then add butter and serve — or try it Mexican-street style with mayonnaise, chili powder, a squeeze of lime, chopped cilantro, and some crumbled cotija cheese. If you can’t find cotija, queso fresco or a mild feta will work.
Make a few extra ears and save them for a corn salad with all of those same ingredients plus a can of drained, rinsed black beans or chickpeas.
I love summer tomatoes so much that I refrain from eating them most of the year, because nothing compares to the juicy sweet, acidic flavor blast of August tomatoes. My favorite breakfast during the tomato season is the traditional pan con tomate of Spain. This snack is so delicious and requires no cooking except toasting some good bread slices. (See the recipe below.)
The garlicky tomato topping can be used for a number of things in addition to toast, such as a sauce for grilled chicken, a pizza topping, a pasta salad sauce, and a condiment for steamed greens.
My family’s favorite jam is blueberry, hands down. Making jam doesn’t have to be a huge project, and is a great way to make sure no fruit goes to waste. Blueberries can be very runny, but if you add a fruit that is high in pectin such as plums or apples, it will thicken it right up naturally.
Make a small batch in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Keep the few jars that it yields right in the fridge so you don’t have to worry about sealing and dry storing the jam. Use the delicious jam over the next week or two for all kinds of things including puff-pastry tart filling, pancake topping, or a fancy sandwich spread with some good brie or camembert. The ideal picnic food!
We all love juicy sliced watermelon and classic fruit salad. But when there are more melons around than we know what to do with, try mixing it up with a savory application. Watermelon salad with mint or an ice-cold watermelon gazpacho are both elegant additions to a friend’s pot luck cookout or a sunset beach dinner.
Every year in August, I put aside some time to make a classic Eggplant Parmesan. It takes time to do it right.
You need to salt and drain the raw eggplant slices, bread and fry each slice, assemble the layers in a casserole dish with fresh mozzarella, basil, Parmesan, and a simple tomato sauce. The results can be sublime.
Although this is not an easy or quick dish, it is well worth making when eggplants are at their beautiful peak. Either make a small batch and eat it over a few days or make a giant batch as I do, and freeze the leftovers in family-sized portions in gallon Ziploc bags. If you get all the air out of the bag and make sure it is sealed tightly, these precious leftovers will be perfect long after eggplants are out of season.
Joanna DeVita is executive chef at Léman Manhattan Preparatory School. DeVita is the mother of two children and loves nothing more than sharing her love and respect for nature, good ingredients, and the joy of cooking with them.
Yields enough to top four slices of toast
1 large, ripe beefsteak tomato or 3 medium ripe plum tomatoes
3 tbsp. excellent-quality olive oil
1 raw garlic clove
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Flake sea salt (preferred), kosher salt, or fine sea salt, to taste
4 slices toast — sourdough, ciabatta, multigrain — whatever you prefer
DIRECTIONS: Cut the tomato(s) in half. Using a cheese grater, grate the tomato’s cut-side until only the peel remains.
Discard or eat the peel. Reserve the grated tomato insides in a small mixing bowl.
Grate half of the clove of garlic on a microplane. Reserve the ungrated clove for another use, and add the grated garlic to the mixing bowl with the tomato pulp.
Season the tomato pulp with 2 of the tablespoons of olive oil, black pepper, and a pinch of salt.
Let mixture sit to develop flavor while you toast the bread.
Spoon or brush the tomato mixture over the hot, toasted bread.
Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the bread, letting it drip down the sides. Sprinkle with some more sea salt, to taste. Enjoy!
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