Memorial Day Weekend is not just for the “save the sales tax” sales, it’s also the beginning of the barbecue season. Our friends Erin and Patrick threw one tonight, and I had the delight of going through my cookbooks to determine what I would take. My cookbooks are like old friends to me. I remember when I first got them and connect the dishes made with certain events. I will often sit and read a cookbook like a novel, and I especially like the blurbs about the history of the dish and its significance to the author. Some books are near and dear to my heart. My Moosewood Cookbook was the very first one I purchased right before moving to Arcata. Another Moosewood book has the recipe for Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos, the very first dish I made for Steve (see, it is possible to woo a carnivore with just vegetables). My Sylvia’s Soul Food Cookbook was purchased at her restaurant in Harlem during our honeymoon. Sylvia happened to be in that day, and she came out to chat with us for a bit and sign our book. Then there’s The Barefoot Contessa.
During graduate school I happened to get lucky enough to be hired at Williams-Sonoma, a high-end kitchenware store. Besides teaching, that was my favorite job. I worked among intelligent, creative, funny, and kind people. The merchandise was of a superior quality, and I learned so much about food and cooking. We often held cooking classes and well-known chefs from our community and the nation would come in to lead the lesson. I learned from the customers as much as they learned from me. We all brought in goodies, and the goodies we loved most came out of Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. A good day was made great when someone brought in Garten’s Outrageous Brownies, Coconut Cupcakes, Pecan Squares, or Lemon Bars (which burst of bright lemon flavor). Her recipes are simple, call for ingredients normally on hand, and are fool-proof. If I had a customer who needed a last minute wedding gift idea, I placed a copy of this cookbook in her hand and said, “This is it.”
For tonight I decided to make Garten’s Fresh Corn Salad. It hits the main points in what I look for in a recipe: easy, elegant, and cheap. I hope you all try it; it is very good.
5 ears corn, shucked
1/2 cup small-diced red onion
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chiffonade fresh basil leaves (stack basil leaves on top of each other, roll up like a cigar, and slice to create ribbons of basil)
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the corn for 3 minutes to remove starchiness. Drain and immerse it in ice water to stop the cooking and to set the color. When the corn in cool, cut the kernels off the cob, cutting close to the cob.
Toss the kernels in a large bowl with the red onion, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Just before serving, toss in the fresh basil. Taste for seasonings and serve cold or at room temperature. Do not, do not, do not use frozen or canned corn– this dish relies on texture, and they just don’t have it.
The barbecue turned out quite well even though the May weather wasn’t ready to let go of the chill. Erin and Patrick supplied pork loin and chicken sausages, Coryn brought strawberry salad (and taught me the benefits of adding sea salt to salad greens– I sat there eating lettuce like it was potato chips), and Katie brought fruit kabobs. Lest you think that we are totally health conscious, there were cookies and cupcakes and plenty of beer and Mike’s Margaritas. There was great discussion, lots of laughter, and it was the perfect way to start off summer.