Monday, August 22, 2011

It's too darn hot

It's too darn hot,
It's too darn hot.
I'd like to coo with my baby tonight,
And pitch some woo with my baby tonight.
I'd like to coo with my baby tonight,
And pitch some woo with my baby tonight,
But brother, you bite my baby tonight,
'Cause it's too darn hot.
                                                                              ~ Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate (1948) ~

August in Central Texas.  You may as well book a one-way ticket to Hades on a flight with no beverage service.  Not only are we in the midst of severe drought, it is hotter than all get-out.  In fact, we have had nearly seventy days of 100 degree-plus heat as of this week.  And tomorrow?  More of the same, only we'll get to break a record for the most 100 degree-plus days in Texas since 1925.  Our water bill has tripled as we struggle to keep our back yard green.  Our electricity bill?  We won't even go there...

In the intense heat, appetites decline, tempers flare, and willingness to be cooperative and a good sport are replaced by irritability, anxiety and high need for distraction.  Although I'm not claiming to have the universal panacea for this heat-induced malaise, I will put forth my suggestion that eating cold, summery foods and sipping light, summery wines does take one's mind off the beastly reality of this particular Texas summer.  A friend recently commented that all he wanted to eat lately was cold food and drink his way through a case of white wine.  And to that I raise my wine glass and say, "Huzzah!"

Here's what I've been enjoying recently:

Zucchini Carpaccio with Roasted Tomatoes and Lemon

    This light, lemony salad is beautiful on the plate and refreshingly bracing on the palate.

1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup EVOO, divided
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 medium zucchini, ends trimmed
1 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
2 Tbs. lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1.  Roast the tomatoes:  Place tomatoes on a small baking sheet and drizzle with some of the EVOO.  Salt and pepper generously.  Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until caramelized.  Set aside to cool.
2.  Slice zucchini into thin ribbons, using a mandoline.  Alternatively, cut into very thin rounds with a sharp knife and drop into a large bowl.
3.  Add roasted tomatoes and remaining EVOO.
4.  Add lemon zest and lemon juice, stirring gently to blend flavors.
5.  Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Serves 4.
Roasted Artichoke Salad

       Once you taste this recipe from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, you'll never purchase marinated artichoke hearts again.  I did not use the 4 Tbs. vinegar she suggests you add during the final stage since I thought that the vinaigrette had plenty of acid.  I also substituted piquillo peppers for plain roasted ones, since that's what I had on hand.  This salad tastes great on days two and three, and it makes plenty!

Fusilli with Shrimp, Orange, Olives and Arugula

       You can substitute farfelle or spirals for the fusilli in this fabulous mix of summery flavors from Giada de Laurentiis.  I also subbed spinach for the arugula since I couldn't find the latter in my local market.

Lemon Panna Cotta with Sugared Blueberries and Sugared Lemon Peel

      I love lemon panna cotta for its creaminess and tang.  This is velvety and rich, thanks to the addition of vanilla paste.  Sugaring the blueberries and lemon peel is easy.  And serve this dessert in elegant champagne coupes or some other stemware.

3 cups half and half, divided
1 envelope (or 2 tsp.) unflavored gelatin 
1/2 cup sugar, less 1 Tbs.
peel from 1 lemon
3/4 tsp. vanilla paste (or you can use 1/2 vanilla bean, split, or my last choice, 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract)
lemon curls (see below for procedure) from another lemon
1 cup blueberries
extra sugar for dusting

1.  Pour 1/2 cup half and half into a medium bowl, sprinkle gelatin over and let sit until gelatin blooms, about 15 minutes. 
2.  Meanwhile, combine remaining half and half, sugar, lemon peel and vanilla paste into a medium-sized saucepan.
3.  Heat gently over medium heat until mixture begins to steam, stirring to dissolve sugar.
4.  Remove from heat, cover and let steep for 10 minutes.
5.  Stir gelatin mixture to incorporate gelatin well, then pour hot half and half mixture through a strainer into gelatin mixture, whisking gently to blend.
6.  Divide mixture among four to six stemmed glasses, depending on the size of the glass.
7.  Cover and chill for at least 6 hours, or overnight.
8.  Meanwhile, use a zesting tool to make about 1 Tbs. lemon curls.  Spread on waxed paper, sprinkle with sugar and let dry.
9.  To sugar blueberries:  Make sure blueberries and washed and dried, but chilled.  They need a little condensation for the sugar to stick, but too much water will dissolve the sugar.  Spread the blueberries on a small plate and sprinkle with sugar.  Roll the blueberries around in the sugar until coated.  Set aside to dry.
10.  To serve, place a few blueberries on top of each serving of panna cotta and garnish with 2 or 3 lemon curls.  Serves 4 to 6.

Wines to drink:  Choose light, crisp whites like Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (CA), crisp and full of white peach and citrus.  It's my favorite go-to sauv blanc.  Or you could try an Albarino, such as the Martin Codax 2009 (Spain) or even a Gruner Veltliner, such as the very affordable Austrian Pepper 2009 (Austria).  Dry, Alsatian whites would work with this menu as well.  Look for Trimbach and Pierre Sparr lables.  And don't forget to ask your wine guy at Spec's for help.

May your tastebuds be entertained without breaking a sweat!

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