Late summer is truly the best time for produce. Those heirloom tomatoes are plentiful, corn is the sweetest, and all other fruits and vegetables give us their best, as they say goodbye until next year. As Elvis once sang, “It’s Now or Never” — to enjoy the best of Baltimore’s local crops. Unfortunately, all of our best locals are late this year. Blame the weather: a long warm spring; too much rain; not enough rain … whatever. I now have a new respect for farmers who must rely on the weather to keep their crops pristine. But better late than never!
This summer, I learned a lot about roasted chilies and peppers. Fresh chilies and bell peppers can be roasted over a gas flame or on a baking tray under the broiler. The secret is to keep turning them until they are evenly and completely charred. Then place the hot cooked peppers in a plastic bag and close tightly for 15 to 20 minutes. Peel them, scraping off the black char, cutting stems, seeds and veins. The veins are the spiciest part of the peppers. Never rinse them under running water. I wipe with a wet paper towel.
I also bought a cast-iron skillet and use it more and more, in and out of the oven. Although heavy to handle, cast iron makes browning meat, chicken and fish taste crusty and delicious.
My friend, Elaine Lowen, is famous for her delicious lemon squares. The recipe I’ve included is from the book “Cook, Pray, Eat Kosher,” which is exactly how Elaine lives her life.
This may just be the right time for a delicious pot-luck picnic, as many students are also saying goodbye to summer and hello to school. Here are some suggestions for a successful farewell to summer.
Luscious Lemon Squares
¼ cup unsalted margarine
⅓ cup powdered sugar
1½ cups flour
1½ cups sugar
3 tablespoons flour
⅓ cup lemon juice
> Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish.
Cream margarine, powdered sugar and flour in mixer and press into glass dish. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Filling: Beat eggs until fluffy. Slowly add sugar flour and lemon juice. Pour onto crust and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool and refrigerate to congeal. Before slicing to serve, sprinkle top with sifted powdered sugar and garnish with lemon zest. Freezes very well. 15 to 20 squares.
Grilled Corn and Poblano Salad with Chipotle Vinaigrette
3 ears of corn, roasted or cooked on a grill to brown kernels
1 fresh poblano chili pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 fresh limes, juiced
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped*
½ teaspoon salt
1 ripe, firm avocado, pitted and cut into chunks
½ cup fresh chopped parsley or cilantro
½ cup red onion, thin half slices
> Cut kernels from corn and place in a large bowl. Cook poblano pepper until the skin blackens all around. Place in a plastic bag to steam. Peel and seed the poblano, cutting into half-inch pieces. I rinse the poblano and pat dry after removing skin and seeds, or not if you like a lot of spice. Add to the corn. In a smaller bowl, whisk the olive oil, lime juice, chipotle pepper and salt together, and pour over the corn mixture. Add avocado, parsley and red onion, and toss gently to coat. 4 servings.
Roasted Chicken Thighs with Late-Summer Veggies and Pan Sauce
6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (2½ to 3 pounds)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ pound green bean, stems removed (I like the French ones) (2 cups)
10 ounces grape tomatoes (I use assorted colors)
½ large red or sweet onion, cut into half-inch thick slices
½ cup pitted Nicoise or Kalamata olives
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced about 1/8-inch thick
¼ cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon pareve margarine, optional
½ cup loosely packed basil leaves, sliced into half-inch strips
> Generously season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Position 2 racks near the center of the oven and heat oven to 425 degrees. Heat a heavy (cast-iron) oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat on stove. Pour 1 tablespoon of the oil into the hot skillet and swirl to coat. Arrange the chicken skin side down in the pan and cook until skin is golden brown, about 7 minutes. Turn chicken over. If a lot of fat has accumulated, spoon it off and discard. While chicken browns, toss the beans, tomatoes, onion, olives and garlic in a large bowl with the remaining oil. Season with ¼ teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper. Spread the vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet. Place the skillet and chicken and the vegetable pan in the oven, with chicken on the higher rack. Roast the chicken until a thermometer in the center of a thigh registers 170 degrees, about 18 to 20 minutes. Continue to roast vegetables until very soft and beginning to brown, maybe another 8 to 12 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate, discarding as much juice as possible. Place chicken back into skillet. Set over high heat, add the wine, and boil until reduced to about a quarter-cup sauce, 4 to 6 minutes. Swirl in the margarine, if using (I do). It should be syrupy. Remove the vegetables from the oven and toss with the basil. Place vegetables on a serving plate or individual plates, and arrange the chicken thighs on the vegetables. Drizzle with the pan sauce. Serve immediately. 4 servings.
Tips & Tricks
• Make edible salad bowls! Take shredded parmesan cheese and spread all over one hot small to medium nonstick pan. When light brown, turn over on a bowl and shape it for a salad bowl. Pack separately for a picnic or travel. Be careful. They are fragile.
• When a recipe calls for “grilled corn” kernels, I often use Trader Joe’s frozen roasted corn. Defrost, pat dry, and it works great.
• For a great sandwich (or challah) spread, finely mash two ripe avocados. Mix in a little lemon or lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. For more spice, add some powdered ranch dressing mix.
Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.