Dear Shoppers: Cooking for the family or for gatherings of friends presents challenges unknown once the weather cools down, primarily those involving keeping cool while in the kitchen and keeping the food safe for consumption from refrigerator to fork. But planning ahead can introduce efficiency as well as economy into the summer kitchen.
In summer, when you want to be in and out of the kitchen quickly with minimum fuss, fumes and fervor, not to mention fever, you will benefit from a pantry that is stocked with items you will need over and over again. Marinades and salad dressings will be your first line of defense, and you can whip them up in no time if your arsenal is maintained. Shop for the largest bottles of your favorite oils and vinegars and decant them into smaller bottles that you keep within reach in your kitchen. Have on hand several types of mustard including a good Dijon and a sweet mustard too. Add to that your basic Asian flavoring ingredients such as good-quality soy and hoisin sauces, sesame oil and one of the many spicy oils available. If you do not make your own barbecue sauce to keep in the fridge, keep a big bottle of your favorite brand and also bottles of ketchup and cocktail sauce. And I always have an opened container of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce on hand and some fresh ginger.
For some reason I find that I use thickeners such as cornstarch (for stir-frys), arrowroot and tapioca more in the summer — must be those cobblers and pies that use those up. And I keep a good supply of whole grains for salads and summer soups — quinoa, couscous, bulgur, brown rice, barley, and my favorite, wheat berries. You can pick up some squash, peppers and tomatoes at the market and have a Tex-Mex, Italian or Asian-flavored salad in 20 minutes with the staples mentioned above. And the combinations are endless!
One other thing I always have on hand in rather large quantities is lemons. I use lemons for the iced tea that I drink all day, but also for many salad dressings and marinades. Even in those recipes that may call for vinegar, I use some lemon juice to add a light, fresh, and seasonal lift. I also use lemon juice in the homemade mayonnaise that I make and also have on hand at all times. That and pesto that I make myself and store in the refrigerator in small containers with a film of olive oil on top or in the fridge are two staples well worth learning to make and use in summer as the base for a sauce or a flavoring agent.
Those of you who know how much I like and use fennel will not be surprised that I think that fennel is right up there with onions as a staple in the produce pantry. And believe me, I am working on finding a farmer who will grow it for our markets. It is extremely healthy for you and, as a substitute for part of the onion in any summer recipe, it adds another layer of flavor that will enhance any dish. I call these staples because they both keep well — fennel up to a week in the refrigerator — and they can be on call for any number of recipes that use summer produce.
Well there is your list — and a couple of recipes too for that summer pantry that will make things a lot easier for you in the summer kitchen. I am sure I will think of some others as we move through the season together, and I will pass them along. Even now my husband is yelling “Limes, limes!” He is thinking more of the gin and tonics he likes to make after a hot day working in the yard than any dinner dish, but limes can be used for those salad dressings and marinades too — if you have any left after imbibing.
See you at the market!