Summer is a funny time for food. It starts with FRESH. EVERYTHING.
On one side of the coin, fruits and vegetables are so good I want to make every recipe I stumble on. I want to make a pie a day, fruit scones and sauces, ice cream and jam. I want salads of everything I can get my hands on, grilled anything, stuffed sandwiches spilling their juicy vegetable insides all down my arm while I try to pretend that I’m civilized and that I know how to use a napkin.
On the other side of that coin, though, I don’t want to cook at all. What could be more perfect than the freshest berries or sweet little peas eaten straight out of hand? Why mess with perfection like that? The most amazing lettuce tossed with a squeeze of lemon, drizzle of oil, sprinkle of salt—nothing else is called for or needed. A plate of vegetables and fruit, maybe a little sausage and cheese, a chunk of crusty bread and (hopefully! finally!) a sunny, not-too-humid evening on the porch with a glass of wine and the sounds of the city.
(That all sounds much more romantic than the more frequent reality—it’s too hot or rainy to grill or I’m too tired to cook anything by the time I get home. I like the romantic version better.)
That said, I think this recipe is a pretty good compromise between the two sides. Vegetables (whatever you like and is in season) are skewered and brushed with a smoky glaze before a quick sizzle on the grill to barely soften; shrimp and spicy smoked sausage are an optional, though delicious, addition. Add a chunk of salty Spanish cheese and that piece of crusty bread (along with that glass of wine) to elevate this to fancy party snack fare.
Speaking of the sounds of the city, I’ve been on a Chicago reading kick this summer. The two books so far that I’ve been recommending to everyone are 1001 Nights in Chicago by Ben Hecht (I got the edition with the introduction by Bill Savage, expert in all things literary and Chicago, and my former professor and thesis advisor), and Never a City So Real by Alex Kotlowitz.
1001 Nights, a compilation of 2-3 page character sketches written for Hecht’s 1920′s newspaper column, is easy to pick up and put down or open to any page and start reading–nothing feels as break-the-rules summer-y as that to me. Kotlowitz’s book is short, only 160 pages, but it’s a great look at some of the less-talked-about parts of the city and its people: the Bud Billiken parade, the southwest side’s union past, an artist who paints murals in public housing, a lawyer who works at the county courthouse. Kotlowitz’s book is pretty current, Hecht’s is nearly 100 years old, but there’s a not-so-surprising continuity in the people, history, and feel of Chicago.
Next on my list, whenever I get my hands on a copy, is The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream by Thomas Dyja, along with some requisite summer fluff reading. Anything on your summer to-read list?