Courses for a hot summer

If ever there’s a time for simple, informal meals, it’s now, as the thermometer rises and appetites flag.

Let’s face it: When the dinner hour rolls around, food can wait because everyone’s first priority is a tall, cold drink.

Still, it’s nice to have more than salted nuts and predictable cheeses to go along with those cocktails. And it’s also pleasant and very civilized to have a cold first course as a bridge into a meal that, more often than not, is cooked on the grill.

In the summer, I’m a big fan of food that can be prepared in advance and served cold or at room temperature. There are all sorts of possibilities that meet those criteria, including meat preparations and soups. I’m particularly fond of patés and terrines, and though some of them are complicated, the two recipes that follow – for spicy pork paté and chicken liver paté – are simplicity itself. Both are stovetop preparations that are finished in the food processor. The onion, anchovy and olive tart is another uncomplicated choice, and if you’re really pressed for time, you can always use a commercial crust from the supermarket freezer.

Soups are a wonderful way to start a meal, and they’re particularly welcome in the summer if they’re cold.

Fortunately, cold soups are some of the easiest to prepare in the entire realm of soup cookery. In addition, they can be made a day or two in advance. The recipes for watercress soup and curried zucchini soup require brief cooking, but the cucumber soup never touches the stove.

In addition to their roles in a dinner menu, patés and cold soups are great items to have on hand in the refrigerator. Either of these patés makes a wonderful snack or a tasty sandwich. The cold soups are a great pick-me-up on a hot afternoon, and they can be the basis for a light lunch. A thermos of cold soup and a paté sandwich travel well, making them ideal companions for lunch at your desk.

Cold Watercress Soup

If you want to gild the lily, garnish each serving with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream and sprinkle with chopped chives.
6 cups chicken broth
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 large potato, peeled and cubed
1 bunch watercress
Coarse salt


Combine the chicken stock, onions and potatoes in a pot, and boil until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Remove from heat. Cut and discard the bottom 1/2-inch of watercress stems. Coarsely chop the remainder of the watercress, and add it to the pot. Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender until smooth. Season with salt.

Chill. Before serving, adjust seasoning. Makes about 6 to 7 cups.


Cold Curried Zucchini Soup

For gardeners, this spicy, invigorating soup can be a partial solution to the question of what to do with all
the zucchini in the garden this time of year.
6 cups chicken broth
2 medium onions, chopped
4 medium zucchini, sliced
4 teaspoons curry powder, or to taste
Coarse salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt


Combine the chicken broth, onions and zucchini in a pot, and simmer until the vegetables are softened, about 15 minutes. Working in batches, purée the contents in a blender until smooth. Season to taste with curry powder and salt. Chill. Before serving, whisk in yogurt and adjust seasoning if desired. Makes about 8 cups.


Chicken Liver Paté

In this recipe,“shallots” refers to the small brownish bulbs, often said to have a taste between garlic and onions, not the green onions that are often called shallots in Louisiana.
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 pound chicken livers
3 tablespoons shallots, minced
1/4 cup brandy
4 tablespoons cold butter
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper


Cut away and discard connective tissue from the livers. In a large skillet, cook the livers and shallots in melted butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the livers are pink in the center, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the brandy, and stir to combine. Transfer the contents of the pan to a food processor, add the cold butter, and purée until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve cold with toasted bread or crackers. Makes about 2 cups.

Spicy Pork Paté

Season this assertively with cayenne so the spiciness
will come through when it is spread on bread.
1 pound pork butt, cubed
1/2 cup lard
1 cup dry white wine
8 cloves garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper


Combine the first six ingredients in a heavy pot. Cook at a simmer, covered, until the pork is softened, about 90 minutes. Remove the bay leaves. Purée the pork and liquid in a food processor until smooth. Season to taste with salt and peppers. Serve cold or cool with crusty French bread. Makes about 2 cups.

Cold Cucumber and Dill Soup

This is probably the easiest soup on the planet to make,
and it is very refreshing on a hot day.
3 cups chicken broth
3 large cucumbers, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup plain yogurt
Coarse salt
Fresh dill

Working in two batches, combine the chicken broth, cucumbers and yogurt in a blender, and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt. Chill. Serve cold garnished with chopped fresh dill. Makes about 6 cups.

Onion, Anchovy and Olive Tart

The dough is not the same, but this will probably remind you of pizza. As with pizza, it’s easy to eat more than one slice. And, yes, if you don’t like anchovies, you can omit them, though it would be a shame to do so.
For crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup lard
3 to 4 tablespoons cold water

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Work the lard in to the flour with your fingertips or a pastry cutter until the mixture is mealy. Drizzle in the water, mixing with a fork, until the dough comes together. Knead a few times, and form into a disc. Wrap in plastic film, and refrigerate for 30 minutes or more.

For filling:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 anchovy fillets
8 black olives, pitted and halved


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook the onion in olive oil until softened, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. On a floured surface, roll out the dough, position it in a pie pan, and trim and crimp the edges as desired. Spread the onions in the pie shell; arrange the anchovy fillets so each slice will have one; scatter the olives over the top; and bake in the bottom third of the preheated oven until the crust is golden-brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 6.


 

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