The Good Life

Hot August Night — With Recipe*

Saturday night was sultry, hot, and unforgettable —  spent with cool people who shared stories of weddings, fast cars, national parks, fighter planes, dogs, and strange mishaps at work that made us laugh and forget the oppressive air.

We’ve had dinner with these friends for nearly thirty years.  We met as young marrieds, recent arrivals in town eager to make friends.  Through the local YWCA, we were matched in an ongoing gourmet dinner party group.  For several years, we fumbled our way through carefully curated, challenging menu assignments with earnest hopes that we would manage to pull it off right.  We kept going because we liked one another, there was always a part of the menu that worked well, and we got to cheer when someone improvised around difficulties with creative and/or store-bought solutions.

Then, it occurred to us that we could manage dinner parties without structured menus.  We happily veered off into our own version where the host chooses a date, time, and place.  They invite the core members and any other guests desired for additional sparkle, select the entree that they will prepare, and lay in the wine.  The guests bring appetizers, salads, vegetables, dessert, or whatever we want to make (and inflict upon our friends).

This Saturday, I opted to make an appetizer and a corn salad to be served with the grilled tuna.  The puff pastry spinach turnovers that were so much fun to make were too heavy for anyone to enjoy eating, but I wasn’t as upset at their sitting untouched as I would have been in the early years.  I knew from the start that they were a risk, but figured that the corn salad was a sure hit, so I could take a chance.

The August Corn Salad Recipe is fast, easy, flexible, and memorable — and more than makes up for poor appetizer choices.  Here’s a delicious offering to share with seven new and old friends seated along a picnic table draped with a green damask tablecloth.  Make sure that it’s dusk and that you’ve had a full, pleasurable day outside.  Watch egrets flying in endless blue sky filled with stars and gaze at boat lights shining in the distance.  Happily accept another serving.

AUGUST CORN SALAD    

{Serves 8; approximately 30 minutes to prepare}

{Created with kickstart of inspiration from epicurious.com}

8 ears of fresh, local corn

1 cup raw hazelnuts

2 garlic cloves, minced (fresh or flash frozen can be used)

5 tablespoons of fresh orange juice (from 1 navel orange)

5 tablespoons of champagne vinegar (unseasoned rice vinegar can be substituted)

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (from 1 fresh lemon)

4 ounces of Pecorino Romano cheese (shave or coarsely grate this yourself so it’s freshest)

1/2 cup coarsely chopped, loosely packed fresh mint

1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh tarragon (dried tarragon can be substituted)

1 teaspoon Ancho chili powder

1 teaspoon sumac

Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Toast the hazelnuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.  Shuffle the baking sheet occasionally, until nuts are golden brown, about 8 minutes.  (If you’d like, you can rub the hazelnuts when they are still hot to remove some of the skin.  I left it on because it provided visual interest — and also because my sous chef daughter and I forgot to do it until the nuts had cooled off.) Let cool and then chop coarsely.

Husk the corn, removing silk.  Slice the kernels from two ears directly into a large mixing bowl (run a knife from the base of the cob to the end, realizing that it’s better to cut the corn right into the bowl than watch kernels scatter onto the floor where the dog will eye them with considerable suspicion).  Add the minced garlic, orange juice, vinegar, and lemon zest and toss.  Season with salt and freshly grated pepper.  Set aside on the counter.

Cook the remaining ears of corn by either brushing them with oil and grilling them for about 10 to 12 minutes until they are tender and charred in places OR remove the kernels from cobs and cook in a large, dry skillet over medium-high heat for about 4 to 5 minutes until they are tender and browned in spots (do not be horrified by how your skillet is coated with thick, brown remains; it comes off easily when you soak it in hot, soapy water).  Let cool.

If you grilled the corn, cut the kernels off the cobs into the large mixing bowl with the prepared mixture.  Otherwise, add the kernels to the bowl.  Add the roasted hazelnuts, Pecorino Romano cheese, mint, tarragon, chili pepper, and sumac.  Combine the mixture and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Start here and then make it your own; consider adding in other summer bounty in diced celery or peppers.

 

Transfer the corn salad to a medium, ceramic or glass serving bowl.  Cover and bring to the gourmet dinner gathering and enjoy.  Toast the night, good friends, and a sultry August night by the water.  We used the Long Island Sound — but use what you have:  river, oceanside beach, stream, lake, pond, anywhere outside with stories and laughter late into the night.

 

 

 

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