We take what we love about most about nachos (crunchy chips and an unapologetic amount of cheese) and loaded them up with the best flavors of summer. Grilled corn, fresh tomatoes, avocado, pickled radishes and shredded chicken with bourbon-brown sugar BBQ sauce.
I don’t know about you, but spring was something of a damp squib. It seemed to rain pretty solidly throughout April and May (you know the old rhyme: “April showers, May even more showers, let’s just forget about June entirely”) and while the garden is now as lush as it’s been in years (“July – finally! – flowers”), we hadn’t had much of a chance before the outset of summer to get out there and enjoy it. Now, at last, the heat is on, the tees and shorts are in rotation, and we’re fully into the swing of the season.
So we wanted to celebrate with something that represented all the things we love about summer eating. The flavors of outdoor grilling and BBQ. The fresh seasonal produce like corn and tomatoes. The potential for spending an evening on the deck with friends and easily-shareable finger food. Wasps. (Just kidding, we hate wasps.) And so our mind, as it often does, turns to nachos. Now, there may be many of you for whom nachos are irrevocably twinned with cool weather sports events or movies. And that’s fair enough – you’re in front of the TV, and you want something you can make a meal of without tearing your eyes away from the action. But for us, celebrating summer means taking it outside. (Also, we’re terrible game-night dunces, and only annoy our more sporty friends with idiot questions such as “How do they choose which team has the brightest socks?”)
Note: This recipe is part of our ongoing collaboration with Serious Eats.
The building blocks of a classic Caprese salad are re-imagined in these summery toasts. First, cherry tomatoes are blistered in a skillet until bursting with juice. Then creamier burrata takes the place of the more standard mozzarella. And in place of basil leaves, a quick and easy chive oil adds an herbal accent. The result makes for a great snack or light meal.
When local tomato season begins, we could happily eat nothing else. I can’t recall a summer when we didn’t turn over our lunch almost entirely to slices of crusty peasant bread, thick slices of heirloom tomato, perfectly-ripe and bursting with flavor, a little torn mozzarella, a drizzle of good olive oil, perhaps a few snipped chives or basil leaves, and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt. Like a scent that brings you back to childhood, a good open-faced tomato and mozz evokes a carefree summer’s day. Of course, the key is that the tomatoes have to be at their peak, and most year-round varieties, grown for their ability to be shipped cross-country, just don’t have that essential tomato-ness.
Without losing the essentials of what makes that pairing work so well, we can use the same kind of flavors to add a little sophistication to a light lunch, dinner or party snack. Instead of slicing fresh tomatoes, we toss the cherry variety in a very hot cast iron pan and char them just until they burst with juicy tomato flavor. Turn off the heat and add a little sliced garlic which cooks just enough to take the edge off; instead of mozzarella, we turn to its creamier, more indulgent cousin, burrata; and instead of chopped chives, we make our own chive oil, which gets drizzled over the whole shebang.
Note: This recipe is part of our series with Serious Eats.
Tortilla chips don’t get no respect. Most often bought in bag form and dipped into hot cheese, their potential to form part of a tasty meal is overlooked. Combine home-made chips, salsa verde, spicy chorizo and eggs, serve up with fresh radishes and vinegary pickled onions, and you have yourself a chilaquiles dish that’ll make you think twice the next time you’re tempted in the snack aisle.
Note: This recipe is part of our ongoing series with Serious Eats.
We’ve been fascinated with tomatillos ever since we first grew them in our deck herb garden a few years back. We bought two seedlings from a farm sale, and watched them grow and develop their papery husks, like hanging lanterns, eventually to get filled out by the fruit within them. Unfortunately, one plant was unceremoniously trampled by a backyard chicken, so we didn’t get quite the yield we would have liked – but fortunately, pollination had already taken place (tomatillos, unlike tomato plants, cannot self-pollinate, so you’ll need more than one to grow fruit). We had enough to make ourselves a really tasty salsa verde – the green cousin of a tomato salsa. Tomatillos share the same growing season as tomatoes, so at the beginning of summer we’re still too early for local varieties, let alone in our backyard, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find them at the grocery store.
Salsa verde is packed with tomatillos, chilis, and love-it-or-hate-it cilantro (guess which way we go?), and you can add as little or as much heat as you like by varying the variety and amount of hot chili peppers. We usually opt for jalapeños, but if you want a little more fire you can look for serrano peppers. This time, we decided to use the sauce, not as a dip, but as a base for chilaquiles – a Mexican dish combining freshly-made tortilla chips with salsa and toppings – kind of like nachos, but saucier and paired with eggs.
When we want the flavors of bulgogi and the convenient outdoor grilling method of a burger, there’s an easy solution: combine them. By sticking with the tried-and-tested burger, glazing it with a spicy soy-ginger-garlic-gochujung sauce, and stacking it with kimchi mayo and pickled daikon radish, you can keep the best of both worlds without offending culinary purists.
This recipe is part of our ongoing series with Serious Eats.
We’ve all experienced what I like to call “fusion fails”. Two culinary concepts which, taken individually, are perfectly respectable, but in combination create a whole that is … let’s just say less than the sum of its parts. For example, I love fruit, I love cheese, but bits of fruit IN cheese? No thank you. I love bacon, and I’m a fan of vodka, but bacon-flavored vodka (yes, this exists)? I’ll pass. The most successful fusions take two examples which aren’t so far separated on the food spectrum that you have to take a leap of faith that the result is even edible, let alone worth the trouble of combining them. Croissants and doughnuts can at least both be found on the bakery shelf, and thus we have the cronut. And bulgogi, the Korean staple, uses thin strips of beef that are marinated and seared, so why not apply those flavors to a perfectly grilled burger? To be honest, making up names like “cronut” and “flagel” isn’t our forte, so we’re simply calling this the “bulgogi burger”. If you’re as nerdy as we are, you might like to call this a “crossover episode” – where stars from two different shows team up to make a delicious dinner! (This is why we don’t write TV shows.)
Layers of lemon syrup-soaked lady fingers, silky smooth mascarpone cream, and perfectly-ripe summer strawberries. It may not be a traditional tiramisu, but it just might become your new favorite. Edible flowers optional but oh so pretty.
We always like to do something a little special for July 4th, and true to form, this year we thought we’d celebrate America by rolling into a ball and sobbing uncontrollably. Nah, that’s not really true, the world may be broken in a number of new and interesting ways, but the sun is shining, the garden is lush, the dog’s whipworms are healing up nicely, and we can happily get behind some patriotically-colored foodstuffs.
Previously, on “Nerds with Knives Do July Fourth”, you might have caught such episodes as:
In 2015! Blueberry, Oat and Almond Crumb Bars
In 2013! We appear not to have celebrated the birth of the nation in amusing blog form in 2013. The first of our readers to invent a time machine may feel free to go back to that era and kick the past versions of us squarely in the pants for squandering the opportunity, if you think that’s really the best use of your time machine, Nigel.