On Your Table: Savoring Summer’s bounty

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By Cathy Branciaroli, Food Correspondent, The Times

Tomatoes, the jewels of summer.

It’s that time of summer when produce beckons.  All of it. From that first bite into butter slathered corn on the cob, to that cherry tomato that bursts with flavor when you pop it into your mouth, to the juicy sweetness of red ripe watermelon.  Even zucchini, that butt of too many jokes.  Well, I’m sure you get the drift.  It’s that time of summer.

With so much deliciousness at the peak of ripeness this month, why limit yourself to considering just a single recipe for dinner.  Why not think about the many recipe-less ways to enjoy this seasonal bounty.   That’s what this column is about.  Hopefully with these ideas and a rotisserie chicken, dinner can be a feast as well as a breeze.

Let’s start with watermelon salad, otherwise known as summer in a bowl.
Cut a few cups of ice-cold watermelon into 1 ½ inch cubes.  Let sit to drain off some of the liquid.  Cut up an equal quantity of fresh tomatoes the same way.  Toss together in a bowl with1/4 cup olive oil, a few tablespoons of sherry vinegar, salt, pinch of herbs and crumbled feta, goat or blue cheese.  Toasted pecan halves add crunch.

Next up, corn on the cob.

We all enjoy boiled or steamed corn.  But how many have experimented with grilling those ears?  Grilling concentrates corn’s sweetness plus yields the added bonus of that smoky aroma wafting from the charred kernels.  This is so easy to do. Pull off the husks, remove silks off the ears, brush the kernels with vegetable oil, sprinkle with ground black pepper and place the corn directly on the grill grate. Grill about 6 minutes, with occasional turning.

Serve slathered with butter and seasonings.

Now for tomatoes, the jewels of summer.

Tim Mountz, the king of heirloom tomatoes from Happy Cat Farms in southern Chester County, says simple is best.  He should know, growing more than 300 heirloom types this season including fuzzy “peach” and super-sweet yellow varieties.

Tim says, “Don’t be afraid to select ones that seem fully ripe. That way you get the full complexity of flavors”.    He suggests slicing a baguette lengthwise, drizzling with olive oil and layering with thinly sliced tomatoes alternated, a rich creamy cheese and seasonings.  If you really must cook or bake summer tomatoes, he encourages making a free-form open face tart with tomatoes and combination of other summer vegetables.

And then we come to zucchini.

A supporting player in the vegetable world, it lends itself to so many preparations.  You could try the tart that Tim recommends, see recipe below.

Heirloom tomatoes and zucchini in an open-faced tart.

Or another easy one is open-faced tostadas, with corn, onions, black beans and cilantro.  Heat corn tortillas.  Saute onions in olive oil till softened.  Add diced zucchini and cook for a few minutes.  Then add some of that corn you grilled, diced tomatoes, drained/rinsed black beans and favorite seasonings.  Divide mixture evenly among tortillas.  Top with crumbled cheese such as cotija and cilantro, then serve.

Finally for dessert, layer your favorite berries, peaches or other fruit with yogurt, ricotta or mascarpone cheese in pretty glasses and serve cold.
Before you know it you’ve got a meal the family will love.

Open Face Heirloom Tomato Tart with Zucchini

Ingredients for Pastry
1 ½ cups flour

Salt

1 1/2 sticks butter, chilled and cut into cubes

About 1/3 cup ice water
1 beaten egg for brushing finished crust

Ingredients for Filling
2 tablespoons butter
1 red onion thinly sliced
Kosher salt + pepper
¼ cup fresh basil
1 cup ricotta cheese
4 ounces mozzarella cheese shredded
1 small-medium zucchini thinly sliced
3 medium heirloom tomatoes thinly sliced
1 cup heirloom cherry tomatoes halved
4-6 slices prosciutto roughly torn
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Olive oil for drizzling

Preparation

Make the pastry: In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour and salt until combined, 3 to 4 pulses. Add the butter and pulse until the butter resembles coarse cornmeal, about 15 pulses. With the machine running, add half the water until a rough dough forms and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If more moisture is needed, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Transfer the dough to a piece of plastic wrap and form into a disc about 2 inches thick. Refrigerate the wrapped disk for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Lightly flour a work surface, unwrap the dough and roll it into a circle about 12 inches in diameter. Transfer the dough to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

Meanwhile, add the butter to a skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the onions and season with salt and pepper. Saute, turning only once or twice until the onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Remove the onions to a sheet or tray and add the sliced zucchini, cooking in the same fashion.
Spread ricotta over the dough leaving a border around the edges. Sprinkle on the shredded mozzarella. Add the caramelized onions in an even layer and then layer on the basil and torn prosciutto slices.  Place zucchini evenly across the top. Now add the tomato slices and cherry tomatoes.  Sprinkle with salt + pepper.  Top with parmesan cheese. Drizzle with olive oil.  Fold the edge of the dough over the tomatoes. Brush the folded crust with the beaten egg.

Bake the tart for 30+ minutes or until the crust is golden, the center set and the tomatoes are very lightly charred. Allow to cool 5 minutes, then slice and serve.

Cathy Branciaroli also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her award-winning blog Delaware Girl Eats

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