A menu to savor the final moments of summer – The Denver Post

By David Tanis, The New York Times

The weather is warm, but the sun sets earlier, the surest sign that summer is nearly over. At my local market, the year’s last corn is piled high, and there are big baskets of shapely sweet peppers in every hue. It seems quite wonderful that stone fruits are still around — peaches, nectarines and plums.

So I look no further. For right there in front of me, the essential produce for my dinner is on colorful display: corn soup, a savory stew of peppers and onions, and peaches for dessert. Of course, any of the dishes in this menu could also stand alone.

Made with little more than freshly picked sweet corn, onions and water, the velvety soup is divine — and calls for no cream or dairy. The lovely creaminess comes from a thorough whizzing in the blender. But for the silkiest texture, it’s best to pass the puréed soup through a fine-mesh sieve. It’s an extra step, but worth it: It moves a wonderful soup into the sublime. Finish it with a drizzle of olive oil and torn basil leaves.

Then, to follow, I looked to those brilliant peppers. I love a dish of sweet peppers and onions stewed in olive oil, and this one takes cues from the Italian standard peperonata. A splash of vinegar tempers the vegetables’ sweetness, and the whole affair is studded with capers and olives. It smells gorgeous and is delicious served hot or at room temperature.

Chicken perfumed with garlic and rosemary is an easy, welcome partner for the peppers, and the Italian technique employed here — sautéing chicken with a weighted pan on top — is called al mattone. It yields a burnished, crisp skin and very juicy meat.

Instead of the usual spatchcocked bird, this recipe calls for large bone-in, skin-on thighs. For even heat, cook them in cast iron pans, if you can, though any heavy skillet will do. And for a bit of smokiness, cook the chicken (in the pan) over a hot charcoal grill. Getting the seasoning started early — an hour and up to 24 hours ahead — will result in the tastiest chicken.

For dessert, I wanted to put those peaches to good use, so I looked to a classic peach Melba. Peach halves poached in syrup and served with raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream, the dish was created in the 1890s by French chef Auguste Escoffier to honor Australian opera star Nellie Melba. But for this menu, I decided on a fresher-tasting, not-so-classic version, calling for sliced ripe peaches instead of the cooked peach halves. Look for the best vanilla ice cream, with real vanilla, or make your own. Easy to assemble, it’s a refreshing dessert, perfect when peaches and raspberries are in season, and very elegant.

I call this a last-gasp menu, a chance to savor the joy of sun-kissed summer produce that is bound soon to end.

Creamy Corn Soup With Basil

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving!
  • 2 large white or yellow onions, chopped (about 4 cups)
  • Kosher salt (Diamond Crystal) and black pepper
  • 6 large garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
  • 4 cups corn kernels (from about 8 ears)
  • 2 cups sliced squash blossoms (from about 18 blossoms, optional)
  • Handful of fresh basil leaves, for serving

Preparation

1. Put 3 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to look wavy, add the onions and season well with salt and pepper.

2. Let onions cook, stirring, until they begin to soften, about 4 to 5 minutes, then turn heat to medium and continue cooking until onions are quite soft, about 15 minutes more.

3. Add the garlic and corn kernels, and stir to combine. Add 6 cups water and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Taste the resulting broth and adjust salt to taste. (It should be well seasoned.) Cook for about another 10 to 15 minutes, until the kernels are tender. Stir in squash blossoms, if using, and turn off heat.

4. Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender. Pass the puréed soup through a fine-mesh strainer and into a large bowl, pushing down to press all the liquid out. Discard the fibrous debris left behind.

5. Check consistency and seasoning, and adjust as needed. (Add a bit more water if the soup seems too thick.) The soup can be made up to a few hours ahead up to this point, and tastes best the day it’s made. Reheat, if needed, before serving.

6. To serve, ladle into individual bowls. Drizzle about a teaspoon of olive oil over each serving. Quickly chop the basil, and sprinkle over to finish.

Not-So-Classic Peach Melba

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup ripe red raspberries, plus more for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 6 ripe, sweet freestone peaches
  • A few drops of lemon juice
  • 1 quart vanilla ice cream

Preparation

1. Make the raspberry sauce: Put 1 cup raspberries and 2 tablespoons sugar in a blender and whiz to liquify. Pour through a fine-meshed strainer and into a medium bowl. Keep cool.

2. Using a paring knife, peel and halve the peaches. Slice the halves into half-moon pieces about 3/8-inch thick. Transfer to a bowl. Add 2 teaspoons sugar and a few drops of lemon juice to taste. Toss to coat.

3. To serve, arrange peach slices in the bottom of 6 dessert bowls. Top each serving with a scoop or 2 of vanilla ice cream. Splash raspberry sauce over each portion. Garnish with a few raspberries if you wish.

Crispy Chicken Thighs With Peppers, Capers and Olives

Yield: 6 servings

The Italian technique employed here — sautéing chicken with a weighted pan on top — is called al mattone. It yields a crisp, burnished skin and very juicy meat. Instead of the usual spatchcocked bird, this recipe calls for large bone-in, skin-on thighs. Cook them in a cast iron pan, if you can, for even heat, but any heavy skillet will do. For a bit of smokiness, the chicken may be cooked (in the cast iron pan) over a charcoal grill. The accompanying sweet pepper stew can be made up to a day in advance and reheated, and starting your seasoning early — an hour ahead or up to 24 — will result in the tastiest chicken.

Ingredients

For the chicken:

  • 6 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 2 pounds)
  • Kosher salt (Diamond Crystal) and black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, grated or minced
  • 2 large sprigs rosemary, very roughly chopped
  • Pinch of red-pepper flakes
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 small lemon (about 1 teaspoon zest and about 3 tablespoons juice)
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the peppers:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium red onions, sliced in 1/4-inch half-moons (about 3 cups)
  • 6 bell peppers, in assorted colors, if possible, sliced 3/8-inch lengthwise (about 8 cups)
  • Kosher salt (Diamond Crystal) and black pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, grated or minced
  • Pinch of red-pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup green olives (like Castelvetrano)
  • 1/2 cup black olives (like Niçoise)
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon capers, roughly chopped
  • Pinch of dried oregano

Preparation

1. Start the chicken: Pat chicken dry and place in a large bowl. Season well with salt and pepper. Add garlic, rosemary, red-pepper flakes, lemon zest and juice. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and toss the thighs to coat, using hands to smear the mixture evenly over the chicken. Let marinate for 1 hour at room temperature, or, if time permits, overnight in the refrigerator.

2. Make the peppers: Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, wide skillet with a lid over medium-high heat. When oil begins to look wavy, add onions and stir to coat. When the onions begin to soften (don’t let them brown), add peppers and stir to combine. Season well with salt and pepper, and add garlic and red-pepper flakes. Stir to incorporate and reduce heat to medium. Cover, leaving the lid ajar.

3. Cook mixture for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until completely soft. Add olives, vinegar and capers, and cook for a few minutes more, just to meld the flavors. Taste and adjust seasoning. Sprinkle with oregano. Set aside. Serve warm or at room temperature.

4. Cook the chicken: Place a large cast iron or heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat. Add remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil. When oil is wavy, add chicken thighs, skin-side down. Shake the pan to make sure the chicken isn’t sticking.

5. Lower the heat to medium. Place a piece of parchment or aluminum foil on top of chicken and set another skillet on top. Add some weight — a brick or canned goods, for example — to the top skillet. Set heat to low and cook for 20 minutes, checking occasionally to be sure chicken isn’t sticking, until the skin side is beautifully browned.

6. Turn thighs over and cook for 10 minutes more, until thighs are cooked through. (To test, pierce the chicken with a paring knife. The juices should run clear.) If you wish, turn the thighs skin-side down again and let crisp for a few more minutes.

7. Serve 1 thigh and a large spoonful of stewed peppers to each guest. Leftover peppers, if any remain, will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

And to Drink …

Chicken marinated in olive oil, lemon, garlic and herbs is usually a formula for white wines. The pepper, onion and olive side dish seconds the motion, so my choice would be any of the myriad dry, fresh, non-oaky whites made around the world. That could include a Greek assyrtiko, an Italian Verdicchio di Matelica, a Corsican vermentinu (their word for vermentino), a French sauvignon blanc and any number of Mediterranean or Atlantic whites and their counterparts. You might celebrate the waning days of summer with an excellent rosé, unless you are the wise hand who drinks rosé year-round, in which case simply enjoy a bottle with this dish. Reds will also work, particularly light, nontannic choices like easygoing gamay wines, mencías from northwestern Spain and frappatos from Sicily. — Eric Asimov

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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