ALANNA LISPON/THE VARSITY

After my first year at U of T, I moved off campus and into an apartment in Little Italy with three good friends. When we first went to see the place in April, we couldn’t have been happier; in addition to our rooms, there were two bathrooms, a living room, two decks, laundry facilities onsite, and a storage closet. By July, however, it was clear that we probably should have asked if the apartment came with air conditioning. Despite a half-dozen stationary fans whirring, the place was sweltering hot all the time. Even though we were avid bakers, no one dared to turn on the ancient gas oven, which leaked waves of heat into the kitchen that eventually spread across the house. Though we didn’t realize it at the time, the heat was, in a strange way, a blessing. It taught us to appreciate summer produce in its best state: raw — or as close to raw as possible. An icy cocktail in hand never hurt either. And forget about the apron too —who needs an extra layer of clothing in this weather? No one. Just cook in your underwear. I’m right there with you.

 

Punch-packing corn salsa

Serves eight as a topping or six as a salad | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cooking time: 10 minutes

This corn salsa is everything you want from a summer dish —  it’s fresh, crisp, citrus-y, crunchy, and just a little bit spicy. It would be a great topping for fish or chicken, or — if you threw some black beans in — it would make an excellent salad. It only takes a few minutes to put together, but tastes divine. This recipe came from a friend of mine, Rolando, who admonished me every step of the way for not adding enough cilantro (for his sake, please be generous with it). Or, if you happen to be one of those people who hates the stuff, some flat-leaf parsley would also work.

Ingredients
          • 3 ears of fresh corn, shucked and stems trimmed off
          • 1 jalapeño pepper
          • 1 red pepper
          • 1 orange pepper
          • 2 tomatoes
          • 1/2 of a small red onion
          • Juice of 1/2 lemon
          • Juice of 1/2 orange
          • 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
          • Black pepper, to taste
          • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped, plus more for garnish
Directions
          • Break the shucked corn ears in half.
          • Take a large pot, and fill it with an inch of water in the bottom, then set down a steaming tray. Bring the water to a boil, place the corn halves inside vertically, replace the lid, and allow to steam for 5 to 10 minutes until tender.
          • In the meantime, dice the jalapeño as small as you can, and set aside in a large salad bowl. Then chop up the red and orange peppers, the tomatoes, and the onion; you want them to be as small as you can get them– ideally not much larger than a couple of corn kernels.
          • When the corn is ready, remove from the pot, and slice the kernels off the cob, adding them to the bowl.
          • Add the lemon, orange juice, salt, pepper, and chopped cilantro. Toss it all together, sample a bit, and feel free to add more of the final ingredients to suit your taste.

 

Watermelon and halloumi salad

Serves four| Prep time: 10 minutes | Cooking time: five minutes

If you happen to be among those with a healthy skepticism about putting watermelon in savoury dishes, I hear you. When watermelon is not eaten on its own,  it usually goes in lemonades, popsicles, sorbets — you get the idea. But it turns out that the icy sweetness of the fruit pairs beautifully with ingredients that are on the salty side, especially cheeses. It is not an exaggeration to say that this salad — despite being extremely simple to prepare — is going to blow your mind. I made a version of  it with a friend of mine last summer, and we used feta cheese, which was still very tasty. That being said, halloumi, a very firm cheese that holds up well to heat, is even saltier and takes this salad to the next level. In fact, although this recipe calls for a perfectly reasonable amount of cheese, if you were to — oh, say — double it, I salute you.

Ingredients
          •  1 small or 1/2 a large seedless watermelon
          • 1 tablespoon (for frying) + 2 tablespoons (for garnish) of extra-virgin olive oil
          • 250g halloumi cheese
          • 1/2 cup fresh mint, washed and chopped
Directions
          • Peel and slice the watermelon into bite-sized cubes. Set aside in a large salad bowl.
          • Cut the halloumi into cubes about two centimetres wide.
          • In a frying pan, heat on high 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Reduce to medium-high, add the halloumi cubes, and fry– tossing constantly until the cubes turn golden-brown.
          • Just before serving, drizzle the watermelon with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and toss with the mint. Distribute the halloumi cubes on top, and serve immediately.

 

Summer pasta with zucchini and fresh peas

Serves four–six people as a main dish| Prep time: 15 minutes | Cooking time: 12 minutes

As someone who likes to throw  “a pinch of this” and  “a dash of that”  and  “ooh, some of this too!” into my food, the very simplicity of Tuscan cuisine proves a challenge. With this dish, it’s hard to resist the urge to throw in some arugula, spinach, or broccoli; however, refraining from doing so allows the zucchini and peas to truly shine. Likewise, the quality of the olive oil you use to finish a dish truly affects its taste. So, if you want to fry with the cheap stuff, fine, but please buy a small bottle of the higher quality variety for drizzles and finishes.

Ingredients
          •  375g of long pasta (e.g. fettuccine, spaghetti, linguine, capellini)
          • 2 tablespoons (for frying) + 2 tablespoons of olive oil (for garnish)
          • 3 cloves of garlic
          • 2 large zucchini
          • 1/2 teaspoon vegetable bouillon powder (not the cubes)
          • 1/2 teaspoon of salt, plus black pepper to taste
          • Water (optional)
          • 1/2 cup fresh peas
          • Parmesan cheese for garnish
Directions
          • Fill a large pot three-quarters of the way full with water, and bring to a boil.
          • In the meantime, wash the zucchini, slice it into coins as thin as possible, and set aside. Mince the garlic very finely.
          • In a large frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil on high, then reduce to medium-high. Add the garlic and fry, stirring constantly, until it just begins to turn golden.
          • Add the zucchini, salt, pepper, and bouillon powder, and stir all together. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until the zucchini become completely tender (about six minutes). If at any point the garlic seems as though it might begin to burn, add a tablespoon of water to the pan, stir, and repeat if necessary. Add the peas to the zucchini, and cook for one minute before removing the pan from heat.
          • Cook the pasta according to the package directions, and when it has reached the desired texture, drain in a colander under cold water. Shake off any excess water, return the pasta to the pot, and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the vegetables to the pasta and toss. Taste, and add salt and pepper as necessary.
          • Serve with a generous helping of fresh Parmesan.

 

Berry, lime, and coconut popsicles

Makes eight–ten popsicles | Prep time: three minutes | Cooking time: 10 minutes | Freezing time: six hours

The entire city of Toronto must have been craving popsicles as badly as I was last week, because I had a bizarrely difficult time trying to locate popsicle moulds. My recommendation to you? Don’t bother. It’s much easier to buy small paper or plastic cups and popsicle sticks from the dollar store, and you can use the time you would have otherwise spent hunting for moulds on slurping icy treats instead. Besides, we are not talking about some run-of-the-mill, shake-the-orange-juice-carton-pour-and-freeze popsicles here. These are some classy frozen treats, and the layering of the red berries and the white coconut milk will leave people so stunned by their beauty, no one’s going to ask if you made them in plastic cups. And if they do, just take back their popsicle and eat it yourself.

Ingredients

For the berry mixture

          • 1/2 lb. fresh strawberries
          • 1/2 lb. fresh raspberries
          • 2 teaspoons of cornstarch
          • 2 tablespoons sugar
          • Zest of 1 lime
          • Juice of ½ lime

For the coconut milk mixture

          • 3 tablespoons sugar
          •  Juice of ½ lime1 teaspoon vanilla extract
          • 400 ml can of coconut milk (regular or low fat)

Directions

          • In a medium saucepan, combine the strawberries, raspberries, 2 tablespoons of sugar, lime zest, juice of half the lime, and the cornstarch. Turn the heat to medium, and cook for 10 minutes, until the raspberries are more or less disintegrated and the strawberries are soft.
          • In the meantime, in a medium bowl, combine the coconut milk, the remaining three tablespoons of sugar, the vanilla extract, and the juice of the other half of the lime.
          • Dollop the bottoms of all your popsicle moulds with the berry mixture. Then, fill them two-thirds of the way with the coconut milk mixture. Continue alternating berry and coconut mixtures until the moulds are full. Freeze for at least six hours before removing. When they’re done, you may need to run the moulds under hot water for a minute to release the popsicles.

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