Saturday, July 30, 2016


The heat is on and I can’t get too excited about slaving over a hot stove. So I go for foods that cook in a flash, foods like boneless chicken breast, fish, shellfish, pork tenderloin, lamb chops or kebabs, ground meat, eggs, cooked ham.

Fast foods--pan-grilled fish steaks, blender soup, quickie olive sauce. Potatoes and beans cook in the same pan.
I add salads and quick-cooking vegetables, ready-to-serve starters and side dishes, fast and flashy sauces and, for dessert, either fresh fruit or store-bought ice cream, cake, pudding.

I couldn't cook without a blender and/or food processor, which make short work of smooth and cool summer soups; grated or sliced veggies for salads; fast-chopped ingredients for  sauces.  A microwave also saves time and, better yet, keeps a cool kitchen. 

Precooked foods save time at meal times. For example, in the summer, I like to keep on hand potatoes, boiled in their skins and well-chilled.  These can become instant potato salad, Spanish potato tortilla, fast fries, or, be slathered with garlic and olive oil for grilling.  Cooked rice, macaroni, green beans, garbanzos and other legumes are equally useful, hot or cold.  When you grill, take advantage of those dying coals to roast peppers, leeks and eggplant to be served, marinated, with the next day's meal. 

Summer meals needn't be served hot, hot.  Cook the food and let it set until folks are ready to dine.  Add sauces, garnishes and side dishes at the last minute.  If food gets cold, don't sweat.

I put together three flash-in-the-pan meals, ready in 30 minutes. My menus are inspired by Mediterranean foods and, especially, by what’s in my garden right now—terrific tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and green and yellow beans.

Menu #1: a starter of chilled cucumber soup, fish steaks with olivada sauce, potatoes, beans and garden tomatoes.
1. Chilled cucumber soup; grilled albacore steaks with olivada sauce; potatoes, beans and sliced garden tomatoes.

2. Tomato-cheese salad, pasta with shrimp and zucchini.

3. Watermelon salad, breaded chicken cutlets with red pepper mayonnaise, cous cous taboulleh, microwave zucchini.

Ready, set, cook! Ingredients for a starter (cucumber-yogurt soup), main (pan-grilled albacore with olive sauce) and sides of beans and potatoes. All ready to serve in 30 minutes.

Menu 1. Cucumber soup, grilled albacore tuna with olive sauce, potatoes, beans and tomatoes.

Bring a pan of water to a boil. (You can save a little time by starting with hot tap water and covering the pan. Add salt once the water boils.) Add 4 medium potatoes (one per person). Cook them, covered, until almost tender, about 18 minutes. Add ½ pound green beans to the pan and cook until they are crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain the potatoes and beans and refresh with cold water.

Once the potatoes are cooking, make the cucumber soup. Then start the albacore tuna steaks. While fish cooks, use blender to make the olive sauce.

Serve the cucumber soup as a starter. Peel and slice the potatoes. Serve with the tuna, beans, sliced tomatoes and the olive sauce.

Cool as a cucumber! Chilled soup is garnished with fresh mint.

Chilled Cucumber-Yogurt Soup
Serves 4.

1 large cucumber (12 ounces), peeled
1 ½ cups plain Greek yogurt
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly-ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Mint leaves
½ cup ice water

Cut the cucumber into chunks, saving a few slices for garnish, and place in blender or food processor with the yogurt, garlic, oil, ½ teaspoon salt, pepper, lemon juice and a few mint leaves. Process until smooth. Taste and add more salt, if desired. Stir in ice water.

Serve garnished with thin slices of cucumber and chopped mint.

Slather the olive sauce over tuna, potatoes and beans.

Albacore Tuna with Olive Sauce
Bonito del Norte con Olivada

Have the albacore (bonito) steaks cut at least 1-inch thick. I used three good-sized steaks, weighing more than 2 pounds, because I wanted leftovers for making Niçoise salad for lunch the next day. 

Tuna steaks (4-6 ounces per person)
3 tablespoons olive oil

Flash in the pan! Thick steaks of albacore tuna are cooked medium rare in the time it takes to brown them on both sides. Cook them whole and remove skin and bones to serve.

Sprinkle fish steaks with salt, pepper and thyme. Heat oil on high heat in a large, heavy skillet (such as cast iron). Add the steaks and cook until browned on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Turn and cook until medium-rare, about 4 minutes.

(More recipes for albacore tuna here.)

Cooked medium-rare, white albacore tuna stays moist.

Quickie Olive Sauce

This sauce, which is somewhat like tapenade, is super quick to make. Slather it on the grilled fish, the potatoes, the beans. (Another version of olivada is here) Wild fennel is blooming near my garden patch, so I’m sprinkling some of the pollen on this sauce. (More about fennel pollen  here ) This sauce needs no additional salt, as the brined olives with anchovy contribute the seasoning. If you wish, thin the sauce with some of the drained olive brine.

By the way, if you’ve never tried anchovy-stuffed olives, you really should get some right now! They are totally addictive. (Here’s a mail-order source in the US .)

1 (350-gram/ 12-ounce) can anchovy-stuffed olives, drained
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Fennel pollen (optional)

Put all the ingredients in a blender and process until fairly smooth. Keeps, refrigerated, for up to a week.

Tune in next week for Menu #2. 


More of these to come from the garden!