When Summer Simply Does Not Behave

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Kind of a Bummer Summer

What a crazy summer this is being. Temperatures dip into the 40’s at night, then rise into the 80’s by day–some days. Other days are cold and grey, with sullen wind but no rain. This reminds me forcibly of the cool, grey summers of the 1970’s and early 80’s, when we often enjoyed (ok, experienced) similar temperatures in June and January.

My greens are still happy as grigs, the kale remaining tender and delicious even as it bolts in the sudden heat. My fall peas are scrambling madly up their netting, setting handsome crops of pods but not yet swelling into proper plumpness. My onions are sizing up and my herbs are perfectly happy.


However, my heat loving crops are not very happy. The tomatoes I swaddled in bubblewrap are producing plenty of foliage and quite a few flowers, but the sudden bursts of heat after a string of cold days causes too many of the blossoms to drop. Still, I’ve got a good crop of green tomatoes coming along, though slowly.

Of the grafted tomatoes,  the Sungold/Sweet Million combo is the winner, probably because I kept its pot in my sunporch all summer. Protected from cold nights, this plant set lots of cute fruit that ripen into delectable nuggets. I suspect it did so well because I leave the screen door ajar all day for my elderly cat. This also allows free access for bees and other pollinators that are attracted by the sumptuous scent of my Klehm’s Hardy gardenia. The gardenia could grow outside, but I keep it indoors where I can delight in its long, long bloom season, and it is very handy for pulling in the pollinators.

Ichiban Eggplant

The grafted Ichiban eggplant also produced nicely, and I found some lovely ways to enjoy those long, slim eggplants. For instance, here’s a super easy recipe that tastes amazing and takes almost no time to prepare. Serve these pretty grillers over rice or in split pita bread slathered with yogurt or baba ganoudj. Yum!

Grilled Teriyaki Eggplant

4 Japanese eggplants, 6-8 inches long
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce

Slice eggplant in half lengthwise, brush with teriyaki sauce and grill over medium coals or gas on both sides until tender (about 5 minutes per side; start with skin side down). Serves four as an entree or eight as a side dish.

Cooking When Weather Is Crazy

This summer’s weather has been so changeable that it is almost impossible to plan a menu more than a day or two ahead. Make cold salads and the day will be as raw as October. Make hot soup and you’ll get a cloudless day with record-breaking heat. Here are some simple yet extraordinarily delicious salads that taste great any time.

Both have the same basis: white beans and tuna. Despite sharing quite a few ingredients, they taste very different. The French version is richer, the Italian version spunkier, both are easy to make and somewhat addictive.

The French Way

When I served this French tuna salad at a recent lunch party, everybody asked for the recipe, which is so simple it is almost embarrassing. Kalamata olives are quite salty, so I never add salt to this, but you may want to do so if you use less salty olives.

French White Bean and Tuna Salad

7 ounces cooked tuna, flaked (drained if canned)
1-1/2 cups cooked cannellini or any white beans, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup artichoke hearts in oil, thinly sliced
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, quartered lengthwise
2-3 tablespoons capers, drained
1 tablespoon vinaigrette
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1-2 teaspoons cider vinegar (to taste)
few grinds black pepper

Combine all ingredients, toss gently, cover tightly and refrigerate overnight or for at least an hour. Serve over mixed greens (including some arugula for bite).

The Italian Way

I also love the Italian tuna salad I learned to make as a student in Perugia. For a taste twist, use lemon infused olive oil and white balsamic vinegar instead of lemon juice; utterly sublime! This is especially lovely over shredded Red Romaine or Butter lettuce.

Italian White Bean and Tuna Salad

7 ounces cooked tuna, flaked (drained if canned)
1-1/2 cups cooked cannellini or any white beans, rinsed and drained
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
4 crimini or brown field mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/4 cup flat Italian parsley, stemmed
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
few grinds black pepper
1 cup Sungold or any cherry tomatoes, halved

Combine all ingredients except cherry tomatoes, toss gently, cover tightly and refrigerate overnight or for at least an hour. Add tomatoes, toss gently, and serve over mixed greens.

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