Chef and cooking instructor Katie Leaird shares how she makes the most of the best summer produce, including tomatoes, corn, and summer squashes.
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Credit: Andrew Purcell

With summer right around the corner, it's time to transition from the sweet, delicate greens of spring to the cornucopia of seasonal produce like tomatoes, corn, and summer squashes. How can you make the most of the season in the kitchen and still get dinner on the table fast during the week? We asked chef Katie Leaird, a recipe developer and cooking instructor based in Martha's Vineyard (arguably the summertime capital of the United States) for advice. Here she shares how to make quick and delicious weeknight dinners this summer.

Hit the Grill

What first comes to Leaird's mind when she thinks about summer cooking is how she can best use the grill for bulk meal prep for the week. "One of my favorite moves is to slice up a ton of eggplant and summer squash and grill them until they are soft and gently charred," she says. Leaird will then toss them in olive oil and a little white vinegar with chopped fresh mint, then transfer it all to a sealable container. Leaird calls this technique a gift that keeps on giving, "I use the marinated veggies for sandwiches, antipasto plates, pasta, and salads," she explains.

And while the coals are still hot, grilling your dinner in the summer is the ultimate quick weeknight dinner solution: the cleanup is almost always less intensive, and the high temperatures mean foods cook fast. One idea to keep your kitchen cool while sating your craving for pizza is to try this summer-forward recipe for Grilled Pizza with Cheesy Corn, Fresh Tomatoes, and Basil. For a quick Mediterranean-inspired dinner on the grill, give this Grilled Halibut Steaks with Potatoes, Olives, and Onions a try.

Pass the Pasta

Leaird fell in love with pasta after living in Italy (for unlimited pasta content, her Instagram is not to be missed). In the summer, she likes to make no-cook sauces to go with her noodles, "I just toss hot noodles with halved cherry tomatoes, fresh corn cut off the cob, basil, pine nuts, a healthy glug of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and fresh mozzarella cheese. It's a real one-dish wonder and it comes together just as fast as you can chop up the ingredients," she says.

Taking a cue from Leaird, try Martha's No-Cook Tomato-Tuna Sauce with Spaghetti. It's the perfect dish to make during seaside summer vacations (or for when you want to pretend you're on a seaside summer vacation!).

Salute the Sheet Pan Supper

"I know firing up the oven sounds like a bad idea in the heat of summer," concedes Leaird, "but in my opinion, standing over a hot stovetop is worse." Instead of avoiding the kitchen altogether, Leaird relies on sheet pan suppers and eats al fresco. "I love a good sheet tray meal in the summer where I can prep everything, toss it in the oven, and head outside to enjoy an icy cold cocktail while dinner cooks inside unsupervised," she says.

Well, you heard the chef: throw some of these Sheet-Pan Chicken Fajitas in the oven, shake up a margarita, and get outside to enjoy the fresh air!

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