Throw open a window and poke your head outside! You just may hear a familiar sound chattering through the atmosphere, announcing that summer is in full swing. With timing as precise and predictable as the robins that arrive to bob for worms in our lawns in the early spring, a month or so ago ( I was, unfortunately, still in hibernation mode!), a million gas grills across America clicked on cue to signal the beginning of another year’s “Season Spatulatum”. With the primal power of a mating call, grills once again beckoned us to decks and patios, beaches and mountain tops, enticing us to roll out our favorite summer foods for yet another long parade of al fresco dining! For at least the next three months,burger flipping shall reign supreme, potatoes shall be magically transformed from mounds of mashers into delectable bowls of **“potatis salad”, corn on the cob will send rivulets of melted butter down your arms, and ripe, luscious berries will stain your sun-soaked lips. Ah, me, just ponder for a moment the unparalleled joy summer eating holds in its promise!
All that grilling yumminess in the air has once again coaxed me out of my lair to share with you some of my summertime food classics. It is time to delight in the bounty of the season and the unfettered pleasures of outdoor living (hold the mosquitoes, please), so let’s get started!
** “Nobody makes a good potatis salad like Santa.”: A line from my all-time favorite novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. If you have not read it and can handle laughing yourself sick this summer, I highly recommend it.
Before I get started, let me remind you of some previously posted recipes that are perfect backyard fare. Check out my recipes for Potatoes Gribiche, a wonderful mouth-puckering treat that turns oven-roasted potatoes into a wonderful salad, the world’s best Crockpot Boston Baked Beans, and Cold Asparagus With Pecans, an unusually tasty summer vegetable dish that can be made well ahead of mealtime.
In our family there is no such thing as a barbecue without potato salad … plenty of it. Following is my version, developed over a lifetime in leg chains, indentured to one summer family feast or another. (You know who you are!) It has its roots in the style favored by the French, in which a vinaigrette is gently folded into cooked potatoes while they are still very hot. This method allows the potatoes to absorb the flavors of the dressing, which dramatically improves the final flavor. I use no mayonnaise; I find it heavy and lacking in flavor in potato salad. I have also upped the ratio of vinegar, because when I didn’t, I always had to add more at the end. I think I’ve finally gotten it right. This way of dressing a potato salad is rather unusual in this country, and I find that people always comment on how exceptionally good it is.
MIM’S POTATO SALAD
2 ½ lb. Red Bliss potatoes
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 heaping tsp. Dijon mustard
Two 1 ½” shallots, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
2 ribs celery, diced.
Wash and cut potatoes into 1” cubes. Do not peel; keep a little color and fiber in there. Simmer in salted water to cover until they are tender but still able to hold their walls, so to speak. Cooked, but not to death is what I’m getting at here. Drain well and put into a bowl.
While the potatoes are cooking, put the vinegar, shallots and Dijon into a medium-sized bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Pour some of the dressing over the hot cooked potatoes and over the next 20 minutes or so, every few minutes, fold the potatoes gently into the vinaigrette, to keep the potatoes continually touching more of the vinaigrette and absorbing it. If it seems at all dry, add more of the vinaigrette and fold it in. You should be able to see the vinaigrette disappearing as the potatoes suck it up.
Take a taste and see if you need more dressing, as this is an individual thing. Continuously (and ever so gently) folding the potatoes into the vinaigrette really alters the flavor of the potato salad, and is well worth the few extra minutes it involves. Just before serving, stir in the celery and the eggs; this will allow you to keep it at room temperature, which is how it tastes best. Also, this means you don’t have to worry about the danger of holding eggs at room temperature or the celery getting soggy. If the salad seems a bit dry at this point, once again shake up the vinaigrette and add a bit more, to taste. You’ll be surprised at how much of the stuff the potatoes suck up, which is why I always make a bit more than is usually needed. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
Please do not skip over the following recipe as one that you think either:
1) You are too inexperienced to make, or
2) Will take way too much time and effort to pull off
Au contraire, my friends. Please stay with me here. I want to help you do two things with this recipe:
1) Wow the hell out of people at your next barbecue get-together who think anything on a bun is “ho-hum”
2) Get over whatever hang-up you might have regarding the “complexity’ of bread-making
I have made a lot of bread in my day, mostly in recent years, because when I was younger I (oh-so foolishly), assumed that it was some skill so far above me that I would be unable to “master” it during the difficult years when I was raising my young children. Later, when I was suffering the (infinitely worse) diabolical tortures of raising my older children (yes, yes, even for those of you still enjoying adorable toddlers, it’s coming your way. Why do you think our colonial ancestors arranged “apprenticeships” for their teen-aged children — with some uncle who lived 200 miles away?), I was way too involved in matters I would have preferred to side-step, and frankly had neither the time nor the energy to give a hoot. But now I have entered a (heavenly, should you care to inquire) space that’s all mine, and have made enough bread so that I can confidently assure you that the following recipe is well within your capabilities and time constraints, no matter where you are in your life, and (should you desire it) will garner you star status well beyond the effort it requires. One of the things I love about it is the easy way it uses to get you to the final roll. You take the really nice, easy-to-handle dough, and turn it into a snake-like thing, then lop off pieces, which are ridiculously easy to turn into wonderful rolls.
These Onion Buns are simply phenomenal. In my day I have made Kaiser Rolls, Dinner Rolls, you name it. Nothing has ever matched what these rolls do for a burger or pulled pork sandwich. The bun carries its own flavor to the party, without dominating it. Crispy, and only slightly oniony. You will really love these. Make them. Call 911mim if you need help. What else do you need?
Are you ready?
Makes 18 3” burger buns or 24 dinner rolls
The Fiddlehead Cookbook
2 ½ cups warm water 110° to 115° F).
2 T dry yeast (2 packages)
¼ cup honey
4 cups unbleached white flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
½ cup small-diced onions (1/2 medium)
¼ cup oil
1 T salt
1 to 1 ¼ additional cups white flour, only as needed
2 eggs, beaten well
¼ cup untoasted sesame seeds
In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine water, yeast, and honey. Allow to stand for 3 to 5 minutes until active and bubbly.
Stir in 4 cups white flour, whole wheat flour, onions, oil and salt. Knead for 10 minutes, until dough forms a smooth, springy ball that comes away from the edges of the bowl cleanly or no longer sticks to your hands. Add additional white flour only as needed to bring dough together into a ball.
Place in a large, well-oiled bowl, turning dough so that it becomes lightly oiled on all sides. Cover loosely and set in a warm spot to rise until doubled in bulk and dough does not spring back when lightly touched. Punch down. If you have time, allow dough to rise until doubled again. It will take half the time of the first rise.
Lightly oil 3 cookie sheets. Dust with cornmeal if you like.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead into a smooth ball. Cover loosely and let rest for 5 minutes. To make hamburger buns, roll into a long rope and cut into 18 equal pieces. Knead each piece into a smooth ball. Using a rolling pin or your hand, flatten each ball into a ¾” pancake, and place on cookie sheets. These may also be formed into your favorite dinner roll shapes.
Preheat oven to 350º F. and place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven.
Let buns rise until doubled, then brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped on the bottom.
Remove from the oven and arrange in baskets to eat immediately, or transfer to racks to cool. Wrap tightly and store at room temperature or freeze for later use.
Next is one of my absolute favorite summer desserts. The idea came from an old friend, who used to make something similar in a sheet pan with canned blueberries. Sorry. Great idea, but I wants moi blueberries freshly cooked, and without anything except their own wonderful flavor (read: no darned spices!) in there! I have brought my own touch to things, with the incorporation of lemon biscotti (no prob here, I get them from Stop and Shop) for the original graham cracker crust, which I think blends better with the blueberries. And, I have put it into a 10” spring form. It is a big hit on the summer circuit.
Preheat oven to 350º F
8 lemon biscotti, store–bought, crushed
½ cup slivered almonds
½ cup melted butter
¼ cup sugar
Mix and press into a 10” springform pan
8 ounces cream cheese
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
Beat with an electric beater and pour over shell. Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool.
4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
¼ cup unbleached all purpose flour
Put blueberries in a small saucepan. Blend the sugar and flour in a small bowl; add to the berries and cook over moderately low heat for about 5 minutes, or until cooked and thickened. Cool, then spread on top of cooled torte. Chill well.
8 ounces heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla
Sugar to taste
Sliced almonds for top (optional)
Whip until thick enough to drop in a mound. Spread over blueberry layer. This may be finished several hours in advance and refrigerated.