Caprese, mon amour

Probably the best thing about summer cooking is that it takes so little to make something wonderful.
Think about it.
Winter revolves around generating heat, warming yourself over the hot oven, roasting tubers and boiling soups, glutting on fat and starch and heavy cream.
Chicago’s long, ragged season of frost lasts for nearly six months and the summers are short, and often brutally hot and humid.

I don’t want to bother with an oven right now. So, it’s a good thing I have a long, varied playlist of salads in my mental repertoire. I am so good at combining raw vegetables and fruits that I even considered becoming a raw vegan at one point! Seriously. And with all this juicy, summertime produce laying around, why bother messing with perfection?

I think a nice Caprese salad is just about one of the best things ever thought up by the human mind. Shakespeare? Meh, I could take it or leave it, but bring on the Caprese!

All you really need to make a delicious caprese salad are the following ingredients:
Really good heirloom tomatoes, bright red and at their peak of ripeness.
Really good mozzarella, not the spongy, block kind of processed mozarella, but real, honest-to-goodness, soft mozzarella packed in brine.
Really good basil, I prefer large leaves, deep green and fragrant.
Really good olive oil, extra virgin, preferably cold pressed, with a lovely greenish-yellow sheen and a buttery flavor.
(P.S. Spectrum makes the best olive oil I’ve ever tasted in my life).

Cut the tomatoes and the mozzarella in thick, hearty slices. Alternate tomato slices with basil leaves, then mozzarella slices. Sprinkle with sea salt and coarse black pepper and drizzle with olive oil.
I think the best way to enjoy caprese is while reclining, on a beach, or in a hammock or the sunny greenery of your own backyard.


Cucumber and Mint

Crisp and refreshing, those are the words I want to describe every meal I make from now until September.
I’ve lost my appetite for just about anything heated, as I sit in my sweltering living room and try to survive the 90 degree temps without air conditioning.

It’s salads and sandwiches for us, with maybe a popsicle or two for good measure.

When I think of cool and refreshing summer dishes, I think a nice, chilled cucumber and mint soup.
How can you go wrong? Not only is it fast to whip up, it tastes like something you spent all day slaving over. Big on flavor, low on labor. That’s my favorite kind of summer “cooking.”

Chilled Cucumber Soup
2 large English cucumbers (the long, thin variety)
1/4 small red onion
6oz fresh mint
1 cup chilled water
Juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt to taste
Dollop of yogurt

Peel and de-seed cucumbers, cut into 1/2 inch chunks. Set aside in large bowl. Dice onions and add to cucumbers. Roughly chop the mint and add to cucumbers. Pour water and lemon juice into large blender, add about 1/4 of the cuke mixture. Blend until only slightly chunky. Keep adding cucumber/onion/mint mixture until all is finely blended. I like a slightly pulpy texture to the final product. Add sea salt to taste (I put in about 1/2 tsp).
Top with a dollop of yogurt.

That’s all.
That’s it.
You can whip this up and serve as a refreshing appetizer for your BBQ or your cocktail party.
There’s no way you can eat this and not feel refreshed.