One of San Diego’s enviable perks is that our utopian climate allows for year-round gardens and subsequent harvests. That we have access to farmers market-fresh ingredients 365 days each year is surely a principal reason why seasonal menus are mouthwateringly delicious at hundreds of restaurants tucked into literally every nook and cranny of America’s finest city. These past months I’ve savored tantalizing entrées created from summer’s bounty in dozens of local eateries. Southern California, however, is not exclusive in its capacity to reap plentiful harvests … summer obviously brings farm-to-table goodness to restaurants and home kitchens in cities, towns and villages worldwide. So why not keep this summer sizzling by firing up the grill and storming the cucina, then basking in a cool al fresco evening while dining under the stars? For starters, here is a garden-fresh summer feast I’ve created using inspiration from a few of this season’s most memorable restaurant meals:
White Nectarine Caprese
(Inspired by Stone Brewing Co’s luscious White Nectarine and Prosciutto Salad)
4 balls of fresh burrata cheese
4 slices thinly shaved Prosciutto di Parma
2 ripe white nectarines or peaches, each sliced into six wedges
½ cup white balsamic vinegar
½ cup fresh arugula
½ cup fresh watercress
¼ cup toasted pistachios
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
In a non-reactive saucepan, bring white balsamic vinegar to a slow boil over medium-high heat. (For a slow boil, only the vinegar at the edges of the pan should be producing small bubbles.) Continue the slow boil for 15 minutes until vinegar reduces to about ¼ cup and begins to thicken into a honey-like consistency. (Adjust the burner temperature as needed to prevent scalding.) Set sauce aside and cool to room temperature.
In a small skillet, toast pistachios over medium heat until lightly browned and aromatic. Set aside and cool to room temperature.
Combine the arugula and watercress into a medium bowl and toss lightly.
Evenly drizzle the balsamic reduction sauce onto four individual salad plates. Place a chunk of burrata on top of the sauce, then tuck three peach slices around it. Top the burrata and peaches with a slice of Prosciutto and drizzle a small amount of EVOO over each salad. Lightly season with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. Sprinkle ¼ cup of greens over the salads and garnish with toasted pistachios.
Meatballs with Smokey Tomato Sauce Over Mascarpone Polenta
(Inspired by the savory Wild Boar Meatballs served at Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant)
For the sauce:
2 Tbsp. olive oil (do not use extra virgin, as it will be used for sautéing)
½ cup chopped yellow onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
16-20 oz. crushed San Marzano tomatoes *
¼ cup double concentrated tomato paste
½ tsp. harissa or chili paste (add more for spicier, smokier flavor)
½ tsp. red wine vinegar
½ cup water
1 Tbsp. sugar
4 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
Dried bay leaf
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
In a stockpot over medium-high heat, sauté onion in olive oil until medium brown. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, harissa paste, vinegar, water, sugar, oregano and bay leaf. Stir to blend well; cover and simmer over medium-low heat while preparing the meatballs. Periodically check the sauce for flavor and add salt or pepper accordingly. If you prefer a less chunky sauce, purée the sauce in a food processor prior to adding the bay leaf. Add meatballs (recipe below) to the sauce, cover and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes to an hour. Remove bay leaf, serve meatballs and a spoonful of the tomato sauce over Mascarpone Polenta.
* For fresh tomato sauce, use 8 to 10 ripe roma tomatoes. Score the bottom of each tomato and carefully drop them in rapidly boiling water for 5 minutes, or until scored skin begins to peel from bottom of tomato. Drain in a colander until cool enough to handle. Peel skin from each tomato, carve out the core and lightly squeeze to drain some of the excess water. Place the tomatoes in a saucepan. Using a heavy duty whisk or fork, crush tomatoes. Mix in an 8 oz. can of tomato sauce or a mixture of 3 Tbsp. tomato sauce combined with 8 oz. of low-sodium vegetable broth. Stir 1 Tbsp. of sugar plus salt and pepper to taste into the sauce, cover and simmer (stirring occasionally) on low heat for approximately 30 minutes.
For the meatballs:
½ lb. ground bison or ground sirloin
½ lb. ground lamb
½ lb. Italian sausage, casings removed
1 egg, whisked with ½ cup of milk (do not use non-fat or 1%)
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup grated asiago or romano cheese
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley (flat leaf)
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
½ cup lukewarm water
olive oil (not extra virgin, as it will be used for cooking)
In a large bowl, combine bison, lamb and sausage. Add egg/milk mixture, garlic, grated cheese and seasonings and lightly blend. Add breadcrumbs, blending well. Add the warm water ¼ cup at a time, blending until mixture is very moist but maintains its consistency when shaped into meatballs. (Meatballs should be larger, about 2” in diameter.)
In a large skillet with deep sides, heat olive oil over medium-high temperature. Using a slotted spoon, add meatballs to hot oil and fry, rolling frequently as they begin to crisp. (Covering the meatballs as they cook helps maintain their shape.) When crisp on all sides, remove meatballs to a paper towel lined plate, blotting to remove excess oil. Add meatballs to the tomato sauce and simmer, covered, over medium low heat for one hour or until meatballs are cooked thoroughly.
(Inspired by the decadent Mascarpone Polenta at Davanti Enoteca, where they serve it topped with ragú del giorno)
2 cups whole or 2% milk
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
¼ tsp. white pepper
1 cup cornmeal or polenta
3 Tbsp. butter
1 cup Mascarpone cheese
In a large saucepan over medium temperature, heat the milk, chicken broth and white pepper until boiling. Using a wooden spoon or wire whisk, SLOWLY stir in the cornmeal or polenta, breaking any clumps as you go. Continue stirring constantly until the consistency is smooth and mixture is uniform. Decrease the heat to low and stir in the butter until well incorporated. Continue stirring very frequently while cooking the polenta for about 30 minutes. (It is crucial to stir the mixture often in order to maintain a thick, and creamy consistency.) Approximately five minutes before finishing the polenta, add mascarpone cheese to the mixture, stir until fluff and remove from heat.
Grilled Garden Vegetables in Chimichurri Sauce
(Inspired by The Red Door’s highly addictive Roasted Seasonal Vegetables in Chimichurri Sauce with Toasted Pistachios)
1 dozen fresh baby carrots, scrubbed, green tops removed and sliced in half lengthwise
4 green onions, ends trimmed with 3” of green stalk remaining
1 small fresh mild green chile, sliced into julienne strips
1 dozen fresh green beans, ends removed
3 smaller summer squash (mix of yellow and green) cut into 1” dice
3 or 4 leaves Tuscan Kale or Swiss Chard, loosely chopped
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
¼ cup pistachio or almond granola
1 Tbsp. finely chopped dried cherries or cranberries
½ cup prepared Chimichurri sauce, slightly heated
Heat grill to medium. In a large bowl, toss vegetables, salt and pepper with EVOO. Space the carrots evenly in a foil pan or on a foil-lined cookie sheet. (Grill pans also work well.) Place roasting pan on the grill for 10 minutes. Lightly toss carrots, add the chile and onions, and grill 5 to 7 minutes. Toss the mixture again, add green beans and summer squash; grill for an additional 5 to 7 minutes, tossing occasionally. Add the Kale or Swiss Chard leaves and grill another 2 to 3 minutes just until leaves are wilted and vegetables are cooked al denté. Remove from grill, then season again with salt and pepper if necessary. Drizzle half of the Chimichurri sauce onto a medium-sized platter. Add the remaining sauce to the vegetable mixture and toss lightly. Spoon vegetables onto the platter, sprinkle with granola and dried berries, and serve.
Cook’s notes: Most any mix of summer vegetables can be used in this dish. Remember to modify cooking times for the vegetables you’re using based on the length of time each individual item needs. This dish can also be prepared and roasted in a 350 degree oven using the same grilling method and times.
For dessert, treat yourself to a well-earned break. Visit your local ice cream or gelato cafe, purchase a selection of flavors, scoop into small mason jars, drizzle with strawberry or chocolate sauce and serve accompanied by a few Pepperidge Farms Chocolate/Hazelnut Pirouette Rolled Wafers.
Author’s Wine Picks: Stonestreet Winery’s Bear Point Chardonnay; Paul Hobbs Wines Russian River Valley Chardonnay; La Crema Sonoma County Chardonnay; Rusack Vineyards Pinot Noir; Rodney Strong Vineyards Pinot Noir.
Prego Buon Appetito!!!