Fun to say, just as easy to make: Gazpacho

Gazpacho. It just sounds fun, right? Even better? It’s simple. I’m talking 10-15 minutes of simplicity. And it doesn’t require heat, which is a bonus in this jungle-like weather we’re experiencing lately. (Which hasn’t exactly stopped me from cranking the oven up to roast a chicken. I’m a gluttonous sadist like that sometimes.)

I don’t remember the first time I had gazpacho, but I know it wasn’t in a restaurant. I know I made it, and I believe I used a recipe from Joy of Cooking. I’ve since found you don’t really need a recipe for this. The bases of gazpacho are innumerable; there are versions utilizing day-old bread or avocado, versions topped with ceviche, others enhanced with stock. But, when local markets such as ours are rife with heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers, I say go with the tried and true, the simple and classic.

As long as you prep your mise en place (which is just a fancy way of saying you have all of your shit together and ready to go), this takes no time at all.

The start of prepping mise en place.

This is taking fresh, local ingredients, giving them a rough chop, and throwing them in the food processor. (Which isn’t to say the culinary history of gazpacho is simple. As with all foods, I encourage anyone interested in cooking to conduct a little research into what it is they are fixing, particularly if the food’s roots are found within another food culture. A little extra education never hurt anyone–unless it involves educating yourself about something illegal, in which case, nevermind–plus I guarantee you’ll discover new ways to utilize ingredients or enhance a meal.)

Because I’m also a sucker for fresh corn during the summer months (just ask my husband who is probably about two weeks shy of asking me when I’m going to stop using it so much), I served grilled corn on the cob as a side. (If you leave some husk intact, it makes for a more rustic presentation, or just a handy way to grab the corn and tear into it, so really it’s fancy and utilitarian.)

Simple Gazpacho (serves: 2, with some leftovers)

Note: You can really alter the presentation of gazpacho depending on the color of tomatoes you utilize. I’ve used all red tomatoes here, hence the bright red presentation. Obviously if you use yellow tomatoes or ripe, green tomatoes (such as zebras), you’ll have a corresponding color presentation and a different taste. Likewise, you can use orange or yellow bell peppers instead of the green and red used here. If you want a thicker consistency, add day-old bread, roughly chopped. Or, you know, save the bread (um, preferably a fresher loaf) to serve on the side.

7-8 medium-sized heirloom tomatoes, cored and quartered

1/2 medium red onion, peeled and roughly chopped

1/2 to 1 roasted red bell pepper (I made a batch of these a day or two prior, so I really wasn’t counting this step. So, I totally lied to those of you without roasted red peppers on hand. No worries, though–simply roast whole or halved peppers drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt in a 400-degree oven for about 40 minutes, flipping halfway through. Afterwards, place in a paper bag and let cool. When cool enough to handle, remove the charred skin, which should slip off easily at that point. Feel free to bitch about how I said earlier this whole thing takes 10-15 minutes to throw together. Whatever–just take it as a lesson to always have roasted red peppers on hand. Seriously, they pep up other soups and are great on salads or egg sandwiches. Or in omelets. You know what? We’re even now because of all the extra meal ideas I just gave you, so no bitching.)

1 medium cucumber, seeds removed and roughly chopped

1 medium green bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed and roughly chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

2 Tbsp. tarragon vinegar (sherry or red wine vinegar could be subbed here)

1 Tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. salt

3-4 dashes hot sauce or 1 roasted jalapeno (optional)

In a food processor or blender, pulse all ingredients until desired consistency is reached. (I prefer a smoother soup, so I pulsed this about 30 times. If you like it chunkier, pulse less.) Taste and season with more salt as needed.

Grilled Corn with Cilantro-lime Butter

Olive oil

2 ears of fresh corn, husks peeled back and silk removed (husks should remain intact if you want a more fresh-from-the-farm look)

Cilantro-lime butter (I’ve cheated and used butter from a terrific vendor at our market, but you could make some at home by smashing chopped fresh cilantro and lime zest into softened butter. Or, you could use an herb such as rosemary or oregano with lemon zest. It’s butter. You’re not going to screw it up if it’s of good quality to start. That means no margarine. Seriously. Chuck it and get real butter.)

Heat over medium high enough olive oil to coat the bottom of your grill pan. Place the corn on the grill with the husks slightly draped across the side to avoid burning. Grill for about 15-20 minutes, rotating the corn every few minutes so each side makes direct contact with the grill pan. (And yes, there will be much popping occurring in your kitchen with the corn placed directly on a hot surface. Don’t worry, though; after the first one or two times, you’ll get used to it and stop yelling, “What the hell was that?!” It’s fine, relax. Or, if you want to avoid a possible coronary, pull the husks back up around the corn after you’ve de-silked the ears and let soak in water for about 30 minutes prior to grilling. Me? I like to be kept on my toes in the kitchen.) Remove, plate up, and serve with the cilantro-lime (or other flavored) butter.

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Summery Corn Chowder

I know, nothing says summer like standing over a hot stove! But, because corn is  abundant during the summer, this really is a great seasonal meal option.

So this is basically a recipe (somewhat tweaked and made vegetarian) from the Gwyneth Paltrow cookbook, which really is a great resource to have on hand, no matter what you think of her. (And by the way, why is she such a divisive subject? Please, don’t act like you wouldn’t do exactly what she does if you were that loaded, pretending that a $150 t-shirt is a bargain. Because I’ll be honest: I would do exactly the same thing.)

Anyway, I’ve found her recipe for corn chowder to be a healthier, lighter alternative to the perhaps heavier versions laden with heavy cream. I employ a Dutch oven for this recipe, one of the greatest items to have available in your kitchen. Because the pot gets seasoned the more you use it (and the more you properly season it), it imparts a better flavor. Or at least I’ve convinced myself it does. Again, fresh corn on the cob is the best to use here, but if you have to use the frozen stuff or (ugh) the canned stuff, go ahead. It just won’t taste as fresh, so don’t blame me. Nor will you be able to make use of the corn cobs that are added to the pot during simmering to make the chowder base thicker. So there–it’s just not going to taste right. Go get some fresh corn on the cob. Trust me.

Also, I know there is some trick to cutting kernels off the cob without making a tremendous mess (cut over a towel or in a bowl, whatever), but I don’t feel like I’m really cooking unless there are random bits of ingredients all over the counter. Plus, I have a cleanup crew on hand whenever food hits the floor, so that mess takes care of itself.

Beagle Cleaners, LLC

Corn Chowder

Olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2-3 garlic gloves, minced

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme (no, the dried stuff won’t do here)

2 c. corn kernels, cut from about 6 fresh cobs (reserve the cobs)

2 c. vegetable stock (again, I prefer homemade)

1 c. milk (I use 2%)

Salt and pepper

Drizzle 1 Tbsp. of olive oil in the bottom of a Dutch oven and heat over medium. Once the oil is heated, add your onion, garlic, and red pepper and let saute (stirring occasionally) until tender and the onions are translucent (about 7-8 minutes). Add the thyme and corn kernels and saute for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the reserved corn cobs, vegetable stock, and milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 30 minutes. When ready to serve, remove the corn cobs and the thyme stems and season liberally with salt and pepper.

I love this served with some habanero hot sauce and a great sandwich or salad. It’s not a cool dish, but for some reason, this just tastes like summer to me.