Eating Summer
August 22, 2004

Maybe it's a visceral reaction to Sandra Lee's Cheez-Whiz pasta sauce or her light beer and reconstituted limeade tailgate cocktails, but I've been in a flurry of food lately. Good food, that is.

A few days ago I wasn't in the mood to do much for dinner other than drag home a rainbow of Heirloom tomatoes from the Thursday market, so I did just that. Dude, I simply adore all these crazy colors! Just two years ago black tomatoes seemed sort of wrong. But now? I can't get enough of these crazy-looking fruits. I bought a few of the little green stripey ones; a purplish-red one that looked like it had been for a Marcel wave; and big yellow one, as fat and round as the August sun. All I had to do for our light summer dinner is slice the tomatoes up, give them a drizzle of McEvoy olive oil, and finish the plate with a crumble of chèvre. It's easy and you can just revel in the the taste of warmed earth.

Okay, you realize that I don't mean to say that tomatoes taste like dirt, right? Good.

Last night I was lucky to have a bumper crop of Farmers' Market produce in the house. Before I started work Saturday morning, Dr. Mathra came shopping with me. After we dashed from favorite stand to favorite stand, collecting ears of corn, heavy avocados, sprigs of thyme, sheaves of feathery cilantro and freshly-caught fish, I sent my husband home with our booty nearly bursting the shopping bags. One of these days I should invest in one of those old lady net grocery bags. But they're so trendy in the Ferry Building now that it's a bit off-putting. Some people at the Saturday market are actually dragging around suitcases on wheels. They're the carry-on size, but still, it's kinda odd to see people using Travel-Pro luggage for grocery shopping.

For our dinner, I was thinking of loosely following a Chris Schlesinger recipe for an avocado-corn puree/vinaigrette he recommends serving with grilled bluefish, but I didn't really want a puree and I had this itch to add fennel. Throughout my cheesemongering day, I plotted and planned how to change the recipe.

Often when I get home from work -- especially on Saturdays -- I'm so exhausted and hungry that I don't want to cook anything. I just want food and I want it in my mouth now! I get rather cranky about it. However, on this particular Saturday, my flagging blood-sugar was bolstered by a very generous manager. Julie McCoy came back from her break and informed those of us still there in the later part of the afternoon that she had paid for all of us to have cups of gelato down the hall at Ciao Bello. We could cash in on this frozen prize during our breaks or, as I did it, on our way home. So damn nice -- that's what makes a good work environment, you know? I grabbed my hazelnut biscotti gelato and headed to the MUNI. It was that small cup of deliciousness that enabled me to go home and cook.

While Dr. Mathra prepped my pans (read: cleaned them), I set up all my ingredients. I cored and thinly sliced the fennel and threw it all in ice water to keep the slivers crispy. The ears of corn were shucked and blanched in boiling water -- yes, I realize it's not my preferred method, but when I'm making a quick salsa that will be depending on so many other flavors, it will do -- and the kernels sliced off. I whisked up a vinaigrette of our special Provençal olive oil, lime juice, Zinfandel vinegar, and garlic and let it stand while I finished the salsa. Cilantro was minced, fennel was drained, and the two were combined with the corn before being tossed with the vinaigrette.

As Dr. Mathra pan-seared the Pacific King salmon, I added cubed avocado to the salsa (I waited until the last minute to avoid unsightly browning on the cubes) and tossed everything very gently to avoid unnecessary smashing of the creamy, buttery fruit. Before sliding the pink and crispy fillets onto the bed of fennel, corn, and avocado, I used the back of a spoon to hollow out a little resting place in the salsa.

We celebrated this little feast with a bottle of San Juan Vineyard Syrah that we brought back from our travels. This darkly-fruited wine was quite amazing with the grilled salmon and bright salsa.

The salmon was perfectly cooked and tasted of deep cold waters mixed with mellow sunlit bays. Its juices oozed over the tangy salsa, which really could have been a course on its own -- I mean, the Brentwood corn kernels were sweet and juicy, complementing the still crunchy (and not too strong with the anise taste) fennel slices that refreshed the tongue after it lolled over the bacony velvet of the avocado chunks. Those avocados were $2.00 each and worth every penny.

Tonight, I wrapped spears of zucchini in prosciutto and lightly seared them in a hot pan. They were served with drops of a caramelized onion and thyme puree that I whipped up in my beautiful saucier. I won't take the credit for this dish as it was Michael Chiarello's "Easy Entertaining" that gave it to me. It was amazing and I will use the leftover thyme-onion puree on grilled steaks later this week.

I sautéed baby artichokes in a bit of olive oil to round off our Sunday supper. I was a bit disappointed in the ones we brought home this weekend. In fact, I ended up tossing more than half our haul because they were actively wormy. Would you believe that the baby artichokes I got in Trader Joe's all wrapped up in plastic trays were incredibly perfect and delicious? Ah, you win some and you lose some at farmers' markets.

Wine Brat wants me to remind her to tell me about lobster mac and cheese. I'm a little scared. And a little intrigued.

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