I Gusti dell’Estate

CIAO.  It’s been a while.  This summer has been so busy and yet the entire time I was thinking, “Man, I really want to write more on that thing I started a few months ago…”, but it just never happened.  I think I was waiting for a ‘theme’ to write about, and of course I think of something just as it’s coming to an end:  the flavors of summer, i gusti dell’estate.  So now that we’re here, at the end of summer and the beginning of fall, I figured it’s better late than never to write a summer-themed post.  ‘Cause I can’t let go, not yet!!

Summer is and always has been my favorite season.  When I was in school, this was a given because…no school.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think a kid has ever had another favorite season.  The competition is weak when paired against sleeping in and not doing homework for 3 months straight.  But even now that I’m out of school and working a regular job where I can’t just do whatever I want for the entirety of June, July, and August, summer still remains my favorite season for so many reasons.

Growing up in New England you learn to love little bits of all the seasons.  Yes, we may complain about it, but even winter is magical, especially in December when you get that first smell of snow in the air and twinkle lights appear on every corner.  But there’s just something about summer that makes me incredibly nostalgic and appreciative of nature, and the entire season I just want to be outside as much as possible.   To name a few of these “somethings”: the light and chirping of birds that wake me up too early in the morning but I can’t be mad because it’s beautiful out; how the air can be both hot and sticky and envelop you in a suffocating yet oddly comforting hug, or cool and fresh and smell like the sea or fresh cut grass; the feeling like I’m absorbing every bit of sunshine and warmth as I lay in the sand after floating in the waves off my favorite beach in Gloucester; and the way evening summer light makes everything look hazy and golden during my favorite time of the day throughout the entire year.  I could go on forever, and I’m sure you have your own list of feelings/smells associated with summer that bring a smile to your face just by thinking of them.

But by far, the tastes of summer are what make me cherish every second of this season that is far, far too short.  These are some of the tastes that have become inseparable with summer to me – flavors that, when they hit my taste buds, instantly bring me back to one of those long summer days.  So let’s all have a little crying-fest and reminisce about the foods we will miss the most as summer comes to an end.

Kimball’s ice cream

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People who know me knew this would be #1.  Kimball’s is ingrained into my summers like watermelon and corn on the cob are to the fourth of July.   Kimball Farm is (only) open from mid-April to Columbus Day weekend, and I feel like every time I’m there I’m thinking about how little time I have left.  I kid you not: on Columbus Day last year my family and I made our last Kimball’s pilgrimage (dogs in tow, this is a family affair after all), and after ordering and savoring every last bit of our ice cream, my dad proceeded to order $80.00 worth of half-gallon buckets of chocolate ice cream to hoard for the winter.  And the funny thing is that this doesn’t warrant strange looks from other people, because they get it.  They’re probably about to do the exact same thing.

Us New Englanders are ice cream people.  Funny story: my grandma moved from upstate New York to an assisted-living center nearby, and she’s continuously baffled by the amount of ice cream her fellow residents consume (“Every single night!!”).  But when you’re surrounded by farms like Kimball’s that make the creamiest, most heavenly ice cream known to man, it becomes a part of your culture.  When my friends from high school are home, it’s where we meet to catch up.  It’s also one of the first places I bring my friends from out of town, and so many of them have become as obsessed as I am (sometimes I think they’re visiting me just for Kimball’s, but hey, I can’t blame ‘em).  It’s one of the few things that my entire family enjoys: it can actually get my 19 year old brother to tag along with us.  That’s the power of Kimball’s.

If you haven’t had it, I highly recommend it.  My favorite location is the one in Carlisle, MA because it’s still just a small farm stand on the side of the road (no hoopla like zip-lining or hot air balloon-riding like the soon-to-be amusement park in Westford).  My favorite flavor by far is mocha almond assault (coffee based w/ fudge swirls and chocolate covered almonds), but when I dare to venture off, vanilla blueberry crumble, coffee oreo, and pumpkin are close seconds.

There are only a few weeks left until Columbus Day, and I’m already thinking about how I’m going to savor every last bit of the hot apple crisp with a scoop of pumpkin ice cream that I’ll have to bid adieu until next year.

Anything from our CSA plot

If you haven’t heard of CSA before, it stands for “community-supported agriculture.”  There are many different forms of CSA: sometimes a local farm grows the vegetables for you and you pick up a weekly assortment, or alternatively members are given their own farm plot where they can grow whatever they please.  The latter is what my family (aka my mom, aunt, and I and the freeloaders who feed off our labor) has in our hometown.  Back in May we spent the whole day roto-tilling our little plot, pulling up the incredibly dense weeds and grasses that grew since last summer.  We planted rows and rows of squash, tomatoes, carrots, beets, swiss chard, kale, strawberries, watermelon, eggplant, and peppers, and it has been amazing seeing this little jungle grow.

This past July I moved to Jamaica Plain, and every time I visit our plot I am baffled by the amount of food I’m able to take home (and grateful that for the entire summer I don’t have to spend a penny on produce at the store).  Back when I was living at home, one of my favorite things to do after dinner was drive over to the farm and walk the pups on the bike path as the sun set, hearing the faint static of the power lines standing tall against the brilliant pink sky.  The mosquitos were out, the crickets chirping, and we would leave with the promise of at least 3 baskets full of goodies.

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Being a part of a CSA forces you to be creative in the kitchen.  My weekly challenge after visiting our garden is figuring out what the heck I’m going to do with all this kale (so. much. kale.) or whatever vegetable happens to have sprouted up like wildfire that week.  I often feel like I’m on an episode of “Chopped” as I stare at the bounty of bright, colorful veggies and think how I’m going to transform them before they spoil.  It’s made me even more appreciative of eating seasonally and learning how to take advantage of what you have, when you have it.

Often times I simply eat things the way they came out of the ground: I can’t bring myself to cook the bright, plump tomatoes and so I usually end up taking a bite out of them as if they were apples, or (my favorite way) tossing them with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and leaves of basil pulled from the pot of herbs I keep on my back porch in JP.  This smell of basil with fresh tomatoes is another smell that I immediately associate with summer, and I wish I could bottle up that earthiness and have it year round.

Another way of utilizing all these veggies is simply throwing them on a baking sheet with olive oil, garlic, and some of your favorite herbs (I like thyme) and roasting them in the oven.  It’s my favorite thing to do with summer squash, eggplant, zucchini, or beets.  I like to roast up a big batch of them and throw them in salads for the week, or just eat them plain.

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My go-to for breakfast is whatever green I have an abundance of that week (usually kale…) with a fried (or hard-boiled) egg, and a piece of yummy toasted, buttered bread.

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Sometimes I feel like transforming these ingredients a little more and I’ll make things like kale pesto or zucchini bread.  If you think zucchini bread sounds weird, I highly recommend you give it a try because it doesn’t taste at ALL like zucchini and it’s incredibly moist.  I’ve included at the bottom of this post some of my favorite “recipes” (aka list of things I like thrown together without measurements) that are a step-up from eating these ingredients straight out of the ground but still highlight their natural flavors.

Fish & Chips

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From Mac’s in Wellfleet

I can’t eat this unless I am within 5 miles from the beach, it just doesn’t feel right!! I find it hard to order anything else whenever I am in Gloucester or the on the Cape especially.  It’s as if I’m one of Pavlov’s dogs and I’ve learned to associate the salty air with this basket of fried goodness: I automatically crave it.

The Cape holds a special place in my heart.  At the mention of it, I’m brought back to when I was a kid when we used to rent a house for a week and play in the mudflats, digging for clams and scooping up crabs (one time holding them hostage in a tank in our room for days before letting them free, sorry crabs).  The air in the Cape just feels different: it’s cool and fresh, and you can immediately sense the difference when you roll down your windows going over the Sagamore or the Bourne, your lungs and mind clear with a week of relaxation ahead of you.

Although we rarely get the chance to stay an entire week on the Cape anymore, I still crave at least one “Cape day” every summer, and so my mom and I have made this a tradition every year.  We pick one of the many small towns, explore the beaches and shops, and when our stomachs start to rumble we venture out to the local seafood “shack” along the road.  If all your self-destructing heart desires is fried seafood, these little places with the Cape Cod-style siding I love so much will never let you down.  The acidity of the lemon and the bite of the cole slaw lighten up the fried fish and french fries, creating one heavenly bite that you just can’t recreate away from the ocean.  After dinner we usually make it just in time for sunset at our favorite beach in Brewster where you can walk for miles and miles during low tide.  This plus an overflowing waffle cone of Campfire S’mores (my go-to flavor if I’m not at Kimball’s) is the perfect ending to the day.  Fewer things make me happier than a day like this.

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Homemade peach pie

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If there’s one lesson I’ve learned it’s that coarse sanding sugar makes ALL the difference on pies.

More specifically, peach pie made by my mom’s friend, Margie.  She happens to live across the road from previously-mentioned favorite beach in Gloucester (not a bad person to know, right?!).  This has become a summer tradition for the three of us; we’ve (I’ve) started calling it “peach and beach”, and it’s honestly the main thing I look forward to when summer rolls around.  I’ve started associating Gloucester with this peach pie, and we laugh at how poor Margie has to bake one up every time we visit (or else we won’t come…true friendship).

We arrive at her condo around lunchtime, greeted by my favorite purple and blue hydrangeas in bloom and the salty cool air.  Usually the pie has already been made, and it sits on the stove torturing me with its buttery, cinnamon-y smell.  She makes incredibly flaky pie crust from scratch, fills it to the brim with the juiciest and brightest fresh peaches, and folds the extra pie crust into a lattice that she covers with coarse sanding sugar.  It’s absolutely beautiful and I have to photograph it every time.  I could start a collage with the number of peach pie photographs I’ve acquired…hey, that’s not a bad idea.

But we can’t eat it yet: it’s best enjoyed after a day at the beach.  We set up camp in the sand and spend the day in and out of the frigid Atlantic.  That first dive under the waves is always bone-chilling, but you just have to do it: after that, I could float in those waves for hours.  This past summer we did just that and didn’t realize how far off shore we had drifted, almost getting caught in a rip-tide. WHOOPS.

Needless to say we earned the peach pie that day, our arms and legs pleasantly sore from treading water.  We returned to her condo tired and slightly burnt, ready for the much-anticipated treat.  All this build-up just makes it taste that much better.  Sitting cross-legged on her back deck, generous slice of pie and scoop of homemade (!) vanilla ice cream in a bowl in my lap, the cool air of the marsh giving my slightly-burnt skin a pleasant chill, I am at my utmost happiest.

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Man, why does summer have to end?!  I feel like I need one last beach day (preferably with peach pie) to say goodbye to the ocean.  The memories these foods evoke are some of the most powerful memories I have.  But part of what’s great about living in New England is that the next season has its own unique tastes, smells, and activities that I love (almost) equally as much.  It’s already started to get cooler here in Boston; the mornings have that crisp feel and smell, and it makes me crave apple crisp and walks with my dogs in the cranberry bogs surrounded by bright red and orange leaves.  I can no longer walk around Jamaica Pond until 8 or 9 PM, but the early setting-sun does give me that cozy feeling of hibernation and the desire to bake or use the crockpot, which also makes me very excited (I’m an old woman at heart and proud of it).  In the meantime I’ll soak up as much as is left of summer – the sun, the sea, and these flavors with such wonderful memories attached.   So ciao for now summer, ci vediamo in un anno!

Favorite recipes from CSA ingredients: 

Kale pesto

Use a food processor or blender to grind a bunch of kale.  Add in a handful of nuts (pine nuts, walnuts, or almonds) and small hunks of parmigiano reggiano or grana padano.  Continue to blend, pouring in olive oil until smooth.  Add a pinch of salt to taste.  I made a ton of this and poured it into an ice cube tray.  Now I can pop one out whenever I have a craving for pesto…which is pretty much every day.  It’s especially great for breakfast on toast with a fried egg. Yum.

Kale chips

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Tear kale into smaller pieces and place on a baking sheet with olive oil, garlic powder, salt, and pepper (or whatever spices you like).  Cook, turning occasionally, until kale is crisp.  This stuff is ADDICTING.

Kale salad

As you can tell I have an extreme abundance of kale in the summer! This is one of my favorite salad combos: kale, apples, almonds, goat cheese, and dried cherries.  Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Broccolini with figs and almonds 

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I used dried figs but fresh figs would be even better.  You can also use any other type of dried fruit or nut for that matter!  Roast broccoli in an oven at 375 F with olive oil and garlic.  Add in sliced dried figs and chopped almonds.  Perfect combo of sweet, salty, and crunchy.

Balsamic Swiss chard 

Super easy and my favorite way to eat Swiss chard (also works great with spinach, kale, or beet greens).  Heat olive oil and minced garlic in a skillet, add greens and sauté until wilted.  Remove from heat and add a splash of balsamic vinegar (the good stuff like Ina Garten would approve of).  Throw in some chopped almonds.

Spring rolls with peanut sauce

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These are fun to make and are perfect for throwing in a BUNCH of vegetables.  Chop up desired veggies into long slices (cucumbers, squash, spinach, kale, carrots, etc all work great).  Pour an inch of warm water into a sauce pan and place rice paper wrapper in, letting soak for a few seconds until soft.  Transfer to a plate and add in veggies.  This is the hard part:  roll it up like a burrito as best as you can (mine are always a mess, but they taste good so I don’t care!).  Dip into peanut sauce (whisk together some peanut butter, soy sauce, rice vinegar, minced garlic, and chopped peanuts).  My friend and I once made these and brought them on a hike, which proves you can and should eat them ANYWHERE.

Pasta salad with roasted corn and cherry tomatoes (adapted from a magazine that I can’t remember the name of, whoops!)

Boil a pot of water for your favorite pasta (I love this with farfalle) and prepare the vinaigrette and veggies as it cooks.

Mustard vinaigrette: Whisk together…

  • 1/4 C white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • 2/3 C extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, diced
  • zest of 1 lemon

Roasted corn: Place fresh corn on the cob under the broiler.  Watch and turn as it browns on each side.  Let cool and use a knife to slice off kernels.

Slice 2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes in half.

Once the pasta is al dente and drained, add in the vinaigrette, corn, and tomatoes.  Add a handful of basil leaves, or a little goat cheese to bring it all together.

Blueberry zucchini bread

Recipe here.  I just remembered I have a loaf of this in the freezer and immediately put it in the fridge to thaw.  Guess I know what I’m having for breakfast tomorrow 😉

Chocolate zucchini muffins

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Recipe here.  Last but not least, some chocolate!  These not only got my coworkers seal of approval, but my DAD’s as well.  That’s a big deal considering the man only eats red meat and potatoes!  I may have failed to tell him they contain zucchini until after he took a bite, but he had to admit they were delicious, despite his perplexed look (he may not trust me with food ever again). They’re ooey gooey and chocolatey and a great way to get rid of those giant zucchini.

Thanks for reading!  Comment below with your favorite summer foods, I’d love to hear your feedback 🙂

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