Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cooking to Save the Planet: Grilled Squash, Green Bean Salad, and Pasta Salad with Pesto

It's been a while since I've written anything here about cooking.  Since it's a hot, lazy, summer Sunday afternoon, and we've just finished what we both thought was a perfect meal for such a day, I thought I'd share some ideas now for simple, healthy meals that make maximum use of fresh vegetables as they come into season.

In May, a small weekly farmers' market opened down the street from us.  It permits only local farmers selling locally grown food to participate.  It's sponsored by a Baptist church several blocks west of us, and takes place on Saturday mornings.

Yesterday, we walked to the market early in the day, and found that the first of several summer crops has come into season.  The young, tender summer squashes looked especially good, so we bought several of them, along with fresh young green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, lima beans, and blueberries.

When we got home, I snapped the green beans and steamed them just enough to take the crunch out of them.  After I had taken them out of the steamer, I chopped a slice or two of sweet Vidalia onion, some celery and parsley, and mixed these with the green beans and a large toe of garlic, mashed.  Then I poured into the bowl a dab of wine vinegar and double that amount of olive oil, added salt and fresh-ground black pepper, and tossed and tasted to see if the seasonings needed to be adjusted.

The bowl in which I had prepared this salad went into the refrigerator, with a handful of black olives added to it and tossed in.  I covered the bowl with a plate and put the wooden implements I had used to toss the salad on top of the plate--points I mention, because saving the wooden fork and spoon saves washing dishes unnecessarily (and when I cover a bowl of salad with a plate, I use the chilled plate as my dinner plate when I eat the salad).  Having one's hands in hot dishwater on a hot summer's day is not appealing.

And here's what I did with the summer squash: I sliced it lengthwise into three slices for each of the three squashes, heated just enough olive oil in the bottom of a large skillet to keep the slices from sticking as I quickly fried them, and sprinkled on top of each slice a combination of salt, pepper, and dried sweet basil.  When I had heated the skillet and oil, I carefully arranged the slices in the frying pan and quickly fried them on both sides until they were thoroughly browned.

Then I put the squash slices onto a plate and sprinkled them with grated parmesan cheese.  On Friday evening, I had made another salad by tossing linguine with pesto sauce we'd made last summer and frozen (fresh basil, garlic, parmesan, ground walnuts, olive oil, and salt).  We didn't eat all of the pasta for our Friday evening supper, so that bowl of salad was also sitting in the refrigerator covered by a plate.

And so our summer Sunday dinner was complete, after I fried-grilled* the squash today: a fresh green bean salad accompanied by a pasta salad with pesto sauce, and the squash slices served warm.  Light, easy to prepare, vegetable-rich and made from locally grown vegetables (we grew the basil for the pesto sauce, though, admittedly, its other ingredients came from the store).  This is how we tend to eat throughout the summer, and I recommend versions of this meal to readers looking for simple, healthy ways to cook summer meals that feature local foodstuffs.  You can, of course, vary the ingredients and seasonings according to what you have on hand or what is seasonally and locally available.  We often add sliced hard-cooked eggs and some cubed boiled potatoes to the green bean salad, for instance, sometimes with tuna fish, if it's to be the main dish.

*We often do grill squash slices prepared in the way I describe, brushed with a bit of olive oil and sprinkled with seasonings.  Today, it seemed too much trouble to get the grill out and light it for three summer squashes, so I improvised the skillet method I outline above to replicate the grilling.

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