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Summer Eating by Charlotte Pregnolato

December 3, 2009

The ideal of long languid summer days to do with as we like is often not the reality in South Africa where the season coincides with year-end holidays and is chock full social events with friends and family. Parties, picnics, braiis and holiday feasts are all part of the fun but since every event seems to be centered around food, too often we find ourselves bogged down with elaborate meal preparations when we really want to focus our attention towards the people we care about and enjoy the beautiful weather.

In order to free ourselves to make the most of these special times, consider simplifying your approach to food by taking advantage of nature’s seasonal juicy summer fruits and vegetables and limiting your food preparation time to mornings before the temperature and the day’s activities start heating up.

The following recipes are deliciously simple, can be served at room temperature and are best made ahead. Since nothing needs refrigeration, everything can be packed up for a picnic. All three dishes make a complete vegetarian meal or serve them as part of a larger potluck menu.

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GRILLED ZUCCHINI SALAD

Serves four as an appetizer salad and more if used as part of an antipasto

My earliest zucchini memories were of the oversized variety, boiled until mushy or deep-fried and laden with oil. So I unfairly avoided the squash until I discovered this delectable method. Grilling also works well for aubergines and even asparagus (but omit the mint and exchange the vinegar for lemon juice for the latter).

Try this in a sandwich along with good quality water mozzarella, serve it as a salad or use as part of an antipasto platter.

1/2 kg small zucchini (sliced ¼ thick)

1 bunch fresh mint leaves (washed and dried and torn)

4 tablespoons olive oil plus oil for basting

1 tablespoon of good quality white or red wine vinegar

1 clove garlic (coarsely chopped0

salt and pepper to taste

Baste either an outdoor grill or a grill pan on the stove with oil and cover with one layer of zucchini slices. When golden on one side turn carefully to cook the other side. This takes seconds once the pan is properly hot. You will need to do this in batches. Place the cooked zucchini on a plate. When cooled, transfer to a deep dish. Sprinkle with salt and torn mint and gently toss. Mix the oil, vinegar, garlic and seasonings well and pour over the zucchini, again tossing carefully. Cover the dish and marinate for at least two hours at room temperature. This can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight.

To serve: Pile on salad plates for individual servings and pass some bread to mop up the sauce or serve as part of an antipasto platter along with olives, peppers, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, cheeses and breads.

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SUN SAUCE

For four people

Beach weather is the perfect time to make this sauce, which basks in the sun until flavors are melded and mellow bringing out the sweet summer richness of the tomatoes. Mixed with hot pasta or served as a cooled pasta salad, it is delicious, light and piquant. You can use your creative fifth chakra energy to come up with your own versions by adding fresh herbs, perhaps a variety of tomatoes (the tiny ones don’t need peeling or seeding) or cubes of mozzarella and a sprinkling of pine nuts for a heartier dish. The one constant this recipe needs are the freshest, ripest tomatoes you can find.

6-8 tomatoes (skinned, seeds removed and chopped) You can do this step the night before-boil tomatoes for 60 seconds, remove from the pot and drain, lift off the peels, cut in half, and scoop out seeds.

½ bunch of basil leaves, washed, dried and torn into pieces (keep some aside for garnish)

1 generous handful of kalamata or other good quality olives, pits removed, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon of capers roughly chopped

4 tablespoons olive oil (can add more just before serving)

1 splash of red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

Put all the ingredients into a bowl, (glass is best), mix gently, cover with plastic wrap and set in the sun for a few hours until soft and warm. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed.

Boil 1 LB. pasta of your choice according to directions, drain well, add to bowl of sauce. Serve with a chunk of good parmesan and a grater. Sprinkle with remaining basil.

This recipe is also yummy as a pasta salad served at room temperature or even cold.

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STONE FRUIT CRUNCH

Serves four-six

Stone fruits are the very essence of summer and this easy dessert makes the most of their natural flavors with the addition of crunch.

This concoction was invented for a dinner party where the guests collectively had every allergy imaginable- dairy, wheat, and sugar plus tropical fruit and certain nuts were verboten.

1 kg of stoned fruit-mixed or a single variety-apricots, peaches, cherries, plums-washed, stones removed and sliced thickly (cherries can be sliced in two). Do not precook the fruit.

2 C. muesli (store-bought or your own favorite recipe)

+/- ¼ c. of coconut oil

Agave (cactus sweetener to taste) or maple syrup

Lightly wipe the bottom of a baking dish with coconut oil. Pour the chopped fruit into the oiled dish. If the fruit is not sweet enough for your taste, add a little agave and mix lightly.

Mix muesli quickly with coconut oil in a Magimix or with a pastry blender until crumbly and then sprinkle lightly over the fruit. Drizzle with agave and bake for 20 minutes at 180C. (Bake in the cool of early morning or the night before.) The top is golden and fruit has softened but is not mushy when it is done.

Scoop portions of the crunch into bowls to serve.

Optional: For a richer dessert, drizzle Bulgarian yoghurt or soy yoghurt sweetened with a little agave and cinnamon or ground cardamom over the crunch. Finish with a sprinkle of a few fresh berries.

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Charlotte Pregnolato completed her teacher training at the Lotus Studio in Knysna. She writes for various national publications and teaches communication, ethics and writing online for the University of Phoenix. cpregno@cyberperk.co.za

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