By Barbara Beltrami
As late August slides into Labor Day, the summer livin’ has become so easy that, like all evanescent things, these languorous afternoons and evenings become soft and fragile.
These are days that, for me, recall cold suppers served on a wraparound porch at my grandma’s summer house, days when lazy afternoons were punctuated by the creak of her rocker on the gray floorboards as she gently fanned herself with the afternoon paper. Sometimes that rhythm would be punctuated by the ping of peas in the colander in her lap or the thhhrip of corn being shucked, sounds that meant that soon I would have to put aside whatever novel was holding me spellbound and leave the lulling cocoon of the dark green glider with its faded striped cushions and set the table.
I knew the routine by heart, heard the admonitions before they were spoken. “Use the green glass dishes, dear, not the Blue Willow.” Out would come one of the many tablecloths that seemed to be in endless rotation between the sagging clothesline and the warped buffet drawer in the dining room. In those days, a cold supper meant salads, cool creamy soups, cold sliced meat or roasted chicken, everything redolent with fresh herbs she picked from the little garden near her back door.
Predictably, “Seems a shame not to slice a few tomatoes,” as if each evening it were a new idea when, in fact, they were as much a staple of summer suppers as the fresh corn picked up daily by my grandpa on his way home from work. When I grew up, I would sometimes exclaim to my family, “Hey, let’s have a cold supper!” and knowing the aforementioned stream of reminiscences that would set off, they would just roll their eyes.
Cold Garlic Soup
YIELD: Makes 8 servings
10-12 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup vegetable or olive oil
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 pint sour cream
1/4 cup fresh chives, snipped
In a large saucepan lightly saute garlic and onion in oil over medium heat. Add potatoes and broth, bring to a boil, then simmer until potatoes are very tender. Let cool, then puree mixture in a blender or food processor, pour into a container, and cover tightly and refrigerate. Just before serving stir in milk and cream, add seasonings, stir, and ladle into soup dishes. Garnish each serving with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle with chives. Serve with rustic bread.
Fresh Sliced Tomatoes with Herbs
YIELD: Makes 8 servings
4 fresh ripe garden tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Slice tomatoes about ¼-inch thick; arrange on platter; sprinkle with herbs, salt and pepper; cover and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Do not refrigerate. When ready to serve drizzle with oil. Serve with crusty Italian or French bread and dip it in the juices.
Rice and Vegetable Salad
YIELD: Makes 8 to 10 servings
8 cups hot cooked rice (not instant)
12/3 cups vinaigrette dressing
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, cored and diced
1 yellow or green bell pepper, stemmed, cored and diced
1 medium red onion, peeled and minced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
Kernels from 2 to 3 ears fresh corn, raw or cooked
1 pound fresh or frozen peas, cooked till tender
6 fresh radishes, scrubbed and thinly sliced
¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large bowl combine the rice and vinaigrette; mix thoroughly; set aside to cool to room temperature. Add vegetables, herbs and seasoning; mix thoroughly again. Transfer to platter or serving bowl and serve at room temperature or chilled with cold sliced meat or poultry.