piles of cucumbers, peaches, peppers

So September is here, school has started and summer is over…not! Certainly the farmer’s markets and local growers agree. Stalls are still packed with berries, peaches, nectarines, watermelon, cucumbers, cantaloupe…all those summer goodies that are the epitome of soft, warm days and stretched out time. Are you with me?

But seven weeks!! That’s how long the virtual dust has been building here in Spice Sherpa. What can I say…summer happens.

Most food blogs are charging into autumn. Since Spice Sherpa is time-warped back in August somewhere, we’re going to stubbornly hang onto summer as long as possible. So in honor of those 7 missing weeks here are 7 summer delights and 7 unexpected spicy complements.

Let’s eat!

1. Zucchini and Saffron

Are you drowning in zucchini? Here’s a recipe that single-handedly rocks the zucchini world. My mom shared this recipe after taking a cooking class in Tuscany. Saffron’s floral hints remove all bitterness from the zucchini. The two of these together is something quite unexpected and extraordinary.

You need 4 ingredients: fresh zucchini (one large or several young), olive oil, salt and saffron.  I make this every year but am always changing my ratios. So experiment.

  1. Slice the zucchini in rounds as thin as you can.
  2. Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil into a large saute pan. Turn the heat on extremely low.
  3. Put in the zucchini and stir to coat. Sprinkle in some salt. Sprinkle generously with saffron threads. Then add a bit more for good measure (at least I do).
  4. Cook on low for several hours, stirring occasionally until the zucchini breaks down into a thick, sauce-like substance. When done serve it on pasta of your choice (I like a fettuccine for this).

And yes, zucchini is technically considered a fruit!

2. Peaches and Smoked Paprika

Seriously, what doesn’t go with smoked paprika? I just ate the end result but the master chef said he simply halved fresh peaches placed them on a grill and sprinkled smoked paprika on them. Sweet and savory all at once in the most satisfying way.

3. Kumquats and Cardamom

A kumquat is like a traditional citrus but inside out. The inside is make-your-face-pucker sour and the skin tastes like sun-kissed sugar. You pop the entire thing into your mouth and enjoy the sensation of the two together. (Or pass to an unsuspecting sister and crack up at her reaction!) Kumquats are tasty and fun. But I’ve never thought of cooking with them until I stumbled on this recipe from Family Spice Blog for Cardamom Kumquat Bars. It looks exquisite and sounds delicious.

4. Nectarines and Garam Masala

Matching the warm wintry spice of garam masala with the fresh, summer sweetness of nectarines are like an edible yin and yang. I prefer this combination sauteed briefly in butter then poured on vanilla ice-cream. Bet it would also be good in a smoothie!

5. Tomatillos and Cumin

Tomatillos are irrisistably pretty; a pale, grassy green nestled inside a papery wrapper. They offer a sharp, fresh tang that’s perfectly tempered with cumin’s nutty, slightly peppery punch.

Try this: slice tomatillos and add olive oil, sliced tomatoes (seeds removed), black pepper and roasted, fresh ground cumin.

6. Watermelon and Basil

Confession. I’d never heard of this one and then it seemed I ran into this dynamic duo everywhere. Both provide cooling refreshment. The sweet/pungeant combination is a perfect antidote for an overly hot day.

In another post I shared how basil also goes well with strawberries (it must have a thing for succulent, sweet red fruits).

7. Cucumber and Nigella

In the book The Red Tent, the author described cucumbers as a taste of the moon under a hot, parched sun. Can’t get more perfect than that. The scene was describing ancient Egypt. So no surprise that nigella, another African spice, pairs so well with cucumber. Nigella tastes like a blend between black pepper and cumin. If the cucumber is the moon, nigella is the warm, desert breeze.

Try This: Make a classic cucumber, tomato salad. Season it with fresh ground nigella and toss it together with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a pinch of sea salt.

And like our friend the zucchini, cucumber is technically a fruit as well.

 I missed you! Please share a summer experience and any memorable flavors that went with it.

Come back next week for the official buttoning up of summer and autumn kickoff. (It will be a full-circle kind of thing). You will LOVE the spiced-out goods that will give you some awesome ideas for the approaching season of flavor-making and gift-giving.


Photo Attribution: From Natalie Maynor’s on Flick.r  (I have some decent pics of our local market but her image does the outdoor market true justice. Don’t you agree?)