All seasons have their virtue. Fall pumpkins inspire cozy risottos and beef stews, winter citrus brightens up cold days, and spring perks up our meals with shades of green from asparagus, ramps, and peas. Then summer arrives, triumphantly marching in with her sunlight, heirloom tomatoes, and ocean breezes.
Summer is when nature is really just showing off. Meander through your local market and you’ll find stalls bursting with stone fruit, peppers, dozens of leafy greens, tomatoes, corn, and even locally sourced honey and nuts.
As much as I love my Saturday morning shopping ritual this time of year, life sometimes gets in the way (it is wedding, vacation, and graduation season, after all.) Thankfully, organic grocery deliveries are becoming more accessible, and Farm Fresh To You is redefining what it means to enjoy farmer’s market produce at home.
One Tuesday afternoon, a box was delivered to my office filled to the brim with radishes, melons, corn, butter lettuce, and squash, so I set to work coming up with a few menu ideas to try over the weekend.
When it comes to summer cooking, my philosophy is simple: less is more. Less cooking means more time outdoors. Less time near a hot oven means more opportunities to relax with chilled drinks. Less prep means ingredients are left in their natural state, highlighted only by a quick sear, a zesty dressing, or a drizzle of oil with flaky salt.
This philosophy serves me well for a favorite summer pastime: picnics! It might be one of my favorite ways to indulge in a lazy summer day. Since moving to Los Angeles in 2008, my husband and I have gone to the Hollywood Bowl every year, and it never feels quite like summer until we do. Something about live music, a warm evening, a cold drink, and a homemade picnic is the perfect recipe for celebrating the season.
Last month we packed up taleggio, arugula, and mustard sandwiches, pasta salad with cherry tomatoes, and chocolate chip cookies, but there was a little twist. I’m seven months pregnant, so my favorite glass of rosé was replaced with lemonade. Staying hydrated has become a top priority, and on days when drinking glass after glass of water loses its excitement, I’m thankful for sweet treats like iced tea or agua fresca, the fresh Mexican drink blended with seasonal fruit and water.
And as for what to pack in my next picnic basket, likely destined for the beach, I’m inclined to prepare a sturdy salsa. I’m enormously fond of guacamole and classic pico de gallo, but summer’s bounty offers endless ways to be a little more creative and use produce in new ways. Summer is also a very forgiving season. If you don’t have cantaloupe, use honeydew. Swap jalapeños for the shishito peppers, or sprinkle toasted pita chips with a bit of cayenne before baking.
It was Henry James who wrote “Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language,” and I believe he’s right. Let the season guide you in the kitchen, head outdoors, expose your limbs to sunlight, and try to embrace those lingering afternoons as often as possible before fall arrives, ideally with a good meal in tow.
Watermelon-Lime Agua Fresca
- 4 cups diced watermelon, rinds removed
- 3 cups water
- 2-3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus more as needed
- 1 tablespoon sugar
When the days are warm, a refreshing seasonal drink is always in order. This popular Mexican beverage gets something right: celebrating fruit at its peak of freshness. Use what’s in season, add a splash of citrus, and enjoy all summer long.
In a high speed blender, puree the watermelon with half the water (1 ½ cups), lime juice, and sugar until smooth. Strain into a large pitcher, then stir in the remaining water. Taste, and add more lime if desired, or a touch more sugar if the fruit is less sweet to start. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving over a tall glass of ice, garnished with lime wedges.
Cantaloupe, Corn, and Cucumber Salsa
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 ears corn, shucked
- 3 shishito peppers
- 1 cup diced cucumber
- 2 cups diced cantaloupe
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- Juice of 1 lime
- ½ teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
- Freshly cracked pepper
- Tortilla chips, for serving
What makes this salsa special is the play on sweet and spicy from the combination of charred corn, juicy cantaloupe, cucumber, and shishito peppers. For a little extra heat, swap in a minced jalapeno, and be sure to dice everything the same size so you get a little bit of everything in each bite.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. While the pan warms, hold the corn in place vertically over a large bowl and slice off the kernels. Add the kernels to the hot pan, along with the shishito peppers; season with ½ teaspoon salt and a few turns of pepper. Cook until the corn begins to caramelize and the peppers are starting to char, about 5 to 7 minutes. Pour corn into a large bowl; remove the peppers and mince before adding to the bowl.
Next, add the cucumber, cantaloupe, cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Toss well, then grab a spoon and give it a taste; adjust seasonings as needed.