There are plenty of things totally worth indulging in during the summer. Lazy days at the beach, ice cream pit stops at the Frigate in Port Jefferson or Baci in Williston Park, roasting s’mores over a campfire at Wildwood State Park- all perfectly desirable undertakings. Cooking though?
Not so much.
Firing up my kitchen appliances along with the requisite amount of enthusiasm on a smoldering summer day usually involves more bodily moisture and fatigue than I am comfortable with. In fact the ratio of dehydration to culinary fulfillment is skewed so far into pain-in-the-neck dimension that outsourcing to our local favorite restaurants becomes dangerously more appealing during the summer months.
So my solution? I’ve compromised with myself. The bulk of my foodie endeavors are largely relegated to the non-stifling months of the year while- over the course of the summer- salads, barbecues, and easy summer side dishes reign supreme. It really is a win-win. I get to satisfy my hankering for cooking creativity without feeling like I’ve just finished a Bikram yoga session in the middle of my kitchen. The recipes in this post are just a few of my favorite summer side dishes. They can be paired up with your favorite protein on the grill or with a charcuterie spread for an even quicker (and nearly flameless) meal.
Delectable and extremely simple to make, this little number has been a favorite since childhood when my sister and I would be thrilled beyond belief to walk into the kitchen and find our mother slicing up its unmistakable ingredients. While traditionally prepared with the much creamier buffalo mozzarella, this exceptional foodstuff can sometimes be hard to come by, so fresh mozzarella made from cow’s milk can be substituted just fine.
I’ve chosen to leave measurements out of this recipe as they aren’t critical in this salad and depend highly on ones individual preference. Aside from the cheese you’ll need extra virgin olive oil, vine-ripened tomatoes, salt, and basil. Use fresh basil if you have any on hand for even more depth of flavor, but dried basil works just fine too. Slice the mozzarrella and tomatoes to the thickness of your choosing and lay them out on a serving dish, alternating mozzarrella and tomato slices. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil over the entire dish and then sprinkle over some salt and dried basil to taste.
String Bean & Potato Salad
My favorite thing about this salad is that it’s essentially a one-pot wonder, utilizing the same small saucepan of boiling water to handle both major ingredients. It’s likewise very easy to make, if a bit more time consuming, but the uncommon combination of the string beans’ earthy crunchiness with the potato’s more mellow flavor is a nice change that is worth the extra time in front of the stove. You’ll need one pound of green string beans, three medium Yukon gold potatoes, extra virgin olive oil, white or white wine vinegar, salt, and pepper.
Wash your potatoes well as you will not be peeling them and drop them into a small saucepan full of water. While waiting for it to boil, cut the ends off your string beans and rinse them under cold water. Once the potatoes are just tender enough to poke easily with a fork, remove from water and set aside to cool off. Wait for the water to come back up to a boil and then drop in your string beans, cooking until just tender and still crispy, about 5-7 minutes. Meanwhile, cut your potatoes into two-inch cubes. Drain the string beans well and place into serving bowl. Drizzle with four tablespoons of oil, one tablespoon of vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss well then gently fold in the potatoes. Serve immediately.
Shredded Carrot Salad
I first learned this recipe from a friend many years ago. Even then, in my pre-baby abundance of time, the alluring simplicity of this recipe was easy to recognize. It is completely raw and comprised of pantry staples one usually always has on hand- carrots, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Admittedly, the grating process may be a smiiiidge on the annoying side and a bit detrimental to the fingertips, but you’re welcome to utilize a food processor if you’ve got one on hand and/or are looking for more work. Personally, an unrelenting glutton for punishment and my aversion to dishwashing being what it is, I use my good old-fashioned box grater to handle all my grating needs.
Wash and peel three large carrots. Grate them into a medium-sized serving bowl. Press (or mince) two cloves of fresh garlic and drop this into the bowl. Add three tablespoons of olive oil, one tablespoon of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste to the bowl as well. Toss everything together and serve immediately.
This combination is hardly in need of explanation. It’s straightforward, easy, and familiar. Strangely enough, it also satisfies that innate fixation we’ve all got deep down, with finger food. A board made up of a few of your favorites can easily work as either an antipasto or as a light side. You can do this summer side dish up as fancy as you like or keep it exceedingly simple. Here I put together a meat-free version with some homemade oil-cured olives that have been flavored with oregano and orange rind, some Spanish olives, my favorite olives in lemon and garlic I get at Whole Foods, and the absolute best cheese ever- Barber’s Red Cheddar (made by the Barber family in England since 1833- you should check it out!)
You could also add some crackers or crostini, tapenade or hummus for spreading, and charcuterie like prosciutto, jamón serrano, and sopressata. Different variations of cheeses work great as well like manchego, pecorino, or a good smoked gouda. If you’ve fired up your grill already, try lightly toasting slices of Italian bread and serving these on the board alongside cloves of garlic and a small bottle of excellent extra virgin olive oil. Rub the garlic into the slice of bread, drizzle with oil and enjoy as-is, or topped with your favorite item off the antipasto board.
Another family favorite here! Yes, a bit of stovetop action is required in this one, but not too much. It utilizes one of summer’s biggest garden bounties, zucchini, along with a few other common ingredients. You’ll need three medium-sized zucchini, one small white onion, dried oregano, dried parsley, salt, pepper, fresh garlic, and extra virgin olive oil.
Wash your zucchini and cut into thirds and then slice each third into quarters. Cut your onion into thin slices and mince two gloves of garlic. Place zucchini, garlic, and onions into medium saucepan and add one teaspoon each of oregano and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste then drizzle about two tablespoons of olive oil over the top. Toss everything together. Cover and cook over a medium-low temperature, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is just tender- about 7-10 minutes.
And there you have it, some of my favorite easy summer side dishes! The foolproof ones that see me through some of the balmiest days of this wonderful season. Perfect for weeknight meals with the family or to share with guests at a weekend gathering. I am certain you’ll find at least a few new goodies in this bunch. Go ahead and give them a try, experiment, switch things up, and then let me know what you think! Happy summer, friends!