Every region of the country is known for certain culinary specialties. The Midwest, which formed my roots, is known for its grain and flour, popcorn, cereal and beef. The South is known not only for Paula Deen but for its pork and grits and the curry brought to our shores by English traders. New Orleans created a Cajun cuisine of Creole, French, African-American, and native Indian flavors. And down-home barbecue cooked at low temperature, all afternoon, brought us the culinary art of many regions like the Carolinas, Tennessee, Missouri, Iowa and Texas.
Doc’s was the name of our favorite barbecue pit master in Des Moines. You could smell the smoke a mile away which was the fragrant sign that Doc was in business again. One never knew for sure if he would be open since he spent as much time “playing craps and the ponies,” (that is gambling illegally), and avoiding the local police. In those days legal casinos were only found in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. But when Doc’s was open, we all knew where we’d be getting dinner. It was the best meal in town, especially on a warm summer night.
In The Silver Spoon, the renowned 50-year-old Italian cookbook recently published in English, there are 37 recipes for zucchini and six for zucchini flowers. An ample number are found in most cookbooks because zucchini is so plentiful, inexpensive and delicious and because there are so many different ways to prepare them. They are also easy and fun to grow.
During my childhood, our garden was large enough to enable zucchini and pumpkin to grow as large as possible. Their long vines wrapped themselves around the tomato plants as though they belonged to them. It really was an embarrassment of vegetable riches. We were always offering these vegetables to friends and neighbors. But it wasn’t always easy to give them away in late August since everyone had a surplus of the ever present summer squash available to them.
It’s good to know that the culinary terms salsa and sauce are used interchangeably by cooks in different parts of the world. The French and those influenced by European cuisine call them sauces while the Latin and Spanish regions of the world call them salsas. This topic will continue to arise in other columns, so I will limit my comments to some of my seasonal favorites, hoping they are yours as well. They are all easy to make in a short time and generate great applause from your guests. They are healthy, flavorful, nutritious and affordable to make.
The first we will discuss is steak on the grill — still a food that most of us enjoy. I invariably turn to my fave rave, complementary food sauce, the Argentinian condiment called Chimichurri. Try it also with vegetables of all kinds.
Head boats are 50-60 foot motor boats that carry fishermen and women to fish with rods and reels and bait or saltwater lures provided by the boat captain. The boats carry sonar to locate schools of fish and usually offer a terrific day on the water. My brother and I enjoyed these outings many times off the shores of Montauk New York and Connecticut. If the conditions were right, we could each land five to ten pound fish in a couple of hours.
Summertime brought schools of blue fish and strippers (striped bass) that challenged the best of us. We always enjoyed fishing for these species because they were a challenge to catch due to their sharp teeth and of course because of the delicious meal they provided. We loved the process involved in driving at dawn to the docks to meet and board the fishing boat; the trip out to the banks of the continental shelf where we anticipated finding large schools of fish. Most of all we reveled in the joy of catching, cleaning, preparing and eating a delicious meal. All of these steps made the trip a transcendent one.
Summertime calls for grilling your favorite cuts of meat and vegetables and enjoying eating s’mores made at an outdoor campfire under the stars, even if the campfire is just a Weber grill in your backyard. Grilling on an open fire reminds me of my favorite Spanish teacher who would transport us to Latin America with stories about visiting the Pampas of Argentina. Conjugating verbs and learning Spanish vocabulary became more palatable while listening to her tell us about the wonderful steaks of the Pampas that she enjoyed at roadside cafes with her friends.
But there was another treat she mentioned that was also delectable. This was the condiment called Chimichurri that Argentinians and others in the know eat like ketchup or BBQ sauce. It’s so easy to make and proves that the best dishes are often the simplest ones to make. Chimichurri is a green sauce made with puréed parsley. This condiment is often a surprise to people when they first taste it, but it is invariably appreciated and often adored. Chimichurri is excellent with all kinds of beef, chicken, pork or seafood and goes well with vegetables too. Because acid in the form of lemon juice and lemon zest are at the heart of the ingredients, Chimichurri lasts in the refrigerator for up to two weeks without any loss of flavor or freshness.
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