When the garden or the market offers up corn, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant and peppers, try these creative ways to bring that seasonal bounty to the table. You can do it in a jiffy, without all the formality of an official recipe. And don't forget to improvise, should you be so inspired.
Salad: Quinoa salad with grilled corn, tomatoes and cilantro
Cook 1 cup quinoa, cool and pat dry. Toss with kernels from 2 ears of grilled corn, 2 cups chopped tomatoes, 1 chopped serrano pepper and 3/4 cup chopped scallions. Make a vinaigrette with 3 tablespoons lime juice, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 minced clove of garlic and 1-3/4 teaspoons ground cumin to dress the salad. Just before serving, fold in 1-1/2 cups chopped cilantro.
Appetizer: grilled corn with tequila-lime butter
Beat together 1/2 cup softened butter, 3/4 teaspoon minced jalapeño, 1 teaspoon each lime zest, lime juice and tequila, 1 tablespoon minced cilantro and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Form it into a log and chill until solid. Soak 8 ears of corn in their husks, then grill over a medium fire until golden and tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Husk the corn and pass the butter at the table.
Main dish: green chili, corn and zucchini frittata
Saute 1 chopped zucchini, 1/4 cup chopped scallions and 1/3 to 1/2 cup chopped peeled green chili in 2 tablespoons butter. Add 1 cup corn kernels. Beat 6 eggs and stir in the vegetable mixture and roughly 1/3 cup grated Monterey Jack. Return the mixture to a medium-size ovenproof skillet and cook over low heat until it begins to set. Scatter another 1/3 cup cheese over the top and broil until frittata is puffed and brown.
Salad: lentil salad with tomatoes, zucchini and arugula
Salt a small, diced zucchini and drain for 30 minutes. Cook 1 cup lentils until tender, then drain and pat dry. Rinse the zucchini and pat dry and add to the lentils along with 3 tablespoons minced chives, 1 minced clove of garlic and 1/2 pound halved cherry tomatoes. Dress with 2 tablespoons olive oil and the juice of 1/2 lemon. Fold in 1/2 cup torn arugula leaves and 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts just before serving.
Appetizer: crostini with roasted tomatoes and goat cheese
Slice 4 pounds plum tomatoes in half lengthwise and place in a single layer in a baking dish with whole peeled cloves from a full head of garlic. Pour over olive oil to halfway up the pan and roast at 300 degrees until the tomatoes are golden on top, at least 2 hours. Smear fresh goat cheese on a toasted baguette slice and mash a roasted tomato on top.
Main dish: swordfish with tomatoes and fennel
Saute 4 swordfish steaks with 1 clove thinly sliced garlic and 1-1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds in 3 tablespoons olive oil, about 5 minutes on each side. Add 1/2 cup white wine and 1 pound whole cherry tomatoes, cover and cook until fish is done. Uncover, transfer the fish to a platter and raise the heat to high. Cook until the juices have reduced. Add 2 tablespoons slivered basil, spoon over the fish and serve.
Salad: quick pickled peppers
Cut a slit in each of 3/4 pound of shishito peppers. Simmer 2-1/2 cups rice vinegar with 3 lightly smashed cloves of garlic, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, 1 /2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, 1 small onion sliced thin and 2 small dried chilies. Blanch the shishito peppers briefly, pat dry and put in a container. Cover with the vinegar mixture and let stand 8 hours.
Appetizer: roasted peppers stuffed with ricotta cheese
Stir together 1 cup ricotta, 2 tablespoons chopped capers, 1 tablespoon olive oil, a pinch crushed red pepper, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and 1 tablespoon minced chives. Cut a few roasted, peeled red and yellow peppers into strips about 2 inches wide. Place a scant tablespoon of ricotta filling at one end of the pepper and roll it up, end to end, pressing gently to keep everything together. Drizzle lightly with more olive oil and serve.
Main dish: spaghetti with wilted peppers
Cut 1 onion and 4 slices of prosciutto into ¼-inch strips and cook in 3 tablespoons olive oil. Cut 6 bell peppers into strips and add them. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are quite limp, about 45 minutes. Add 3 thinly sliced cloves of garlic and 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and continue cooking while 1 pound of spaghetti is boiling. Add the cooked spaghetti to the skillet and mix well. Finish with grated pecorino.
Salad: silken eggplant salad
Remove the stems from 2 pounds of Asian eggplants and steam the eggplants until tender. Cool to room temperature. Whisk together 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon minced rosemary and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Cut the eggplant into bite-sized pieces and toss with enough dressing to coat lightly. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper and serve.
Appetizer: grilled eggplant with walnut-cilantro pesto
Combine 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon minced garlic and 1/2 cup olive oil; set aside. Puree 1 teaspoon minced garlic and 1 cup walnuts to a paste. Add 1 teaspoon paprika, then slowly beat in 3/4 cup olive oil. Stir in 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Slice 1-1/2 pounds eggplant, brush with the flavored oil and grill until tender. Arrange on a platter and dress with the walnut mixture.
Main dish: fusilli with spicy eggplant
Dice an eggplant, salt and drain for at least 1 hour. Rinse and pat dry. Cook 1 cup diced onion, 4 cloves sliced garlic and 1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes in 1/4 cup olive oil. Add eggplant and cook 10 minutes, then add 1-1/2 cups chopped tomatoes, 3 tablespoons capers and 1/2 cup white wine. To skillet, add Cook 1 1 pound cooked fusilliand add to the skillet, along with 1/2 cup pasta water and slivered basil; and cook briefly. Serve with sliced or grated ricotta salata.Main dish: Eggplant stuffed with lamb and pine nuts
Cut 3 eggplants in half lengthwise and remove and chop the flesh. Cook 1 chopped onion and 2 tablespoons minced garlic in ¼ cup olive oil. Add ¾ pound lamb stew meat, then the eggplant. Add 1 cup crushed tomatoes, ¼ cup pine nuts and ½ cup chopped parsley. Spread 1 sliced onion and 2-1/3 cups crushed tomatoes in an oiled baking dish. Arrange the eggplant shells in the dish and spoon in the filling. Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Dust with grated Pecorino and bake until browned.
Salad: woven zucchini with fresh goat cheese
Cut 4 zucchini in very thin lengthwise strips. Salt generously and set aside to soften. Rinse and pat dry. Whisk together 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 clove minced garlic and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Cut 12 cherry tomatoes in half. Brush the zucchini with the dressing, then weave 3 strips crosswise and 3 strips lengthwise to make a raft. Top each raft with a dollop of fresh goat cheese and a few tomato halves, and season with olive oil and slivered basil.
Appetizer: zucchini fritters
Shred 1 pound zucchini, salt and set aside to drain. Rinse and squeeze thoroughly dry with your hands. Combine with 1 teaspoon each ground cumin and coriander seeds, a chopped green onion and 3/4 teaspoon minced jalapeño. Stir in 2 tablespoons flour and a beaten egg. Spoon 2 to 3 tablespoon mounds into hot olive oil and fry until brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels and serve with Greek-style yogurt.
Main dish: zucchini tian
Cook a sliced onion in 3 tablespoons olive oil with a minced clove of garlic. Arrange in an oiled baking dish. Arrange 2 zucchini, cut into rounds, in overlapping rows on top of the onions. Scatter 20 quartered cherry tomatoes and 3 tablespoons chopped pitted black olives on top. Crumble over 4 ounces fresh goat cheese, drizzle with olive oil and bake at 350 degrees until the zucchini has softened and the mixture is dry, about 1-1/2 hours.