Summertime Simple: A Few Easy Steps Yield Warm-Weather Feast
Grilled chicken is a summer mainstay and an easy grain/vegetable side dish, such as broccoli wheat berry risotto, provides a seasonal meal.
Sometimes early June is still cool enough for eating outside, especially if there’s a fan or two to keep the air moving. On weeknights or busy weekends, we can enjoy local, seasonal food from our farmers’ market, or an outing to a farm stand as long as the recipes are easy. Grilled chicken is a summer mainstay and an easy grain/vegetable side dish cuts down on lots of steps.
Farmers at farmers’ markets, and other local growers, prefer to sell chicken as a whole bird, so that’s the way many of us buy it. But generations have passed since whole birds were the only type available in the supermarket. These days, parts — particularly the boneless, skinless, breast — dominate the supermarket poultry counter. Many of us aren’t sure how to go at a whole bird.
So, a few tips. If you cut the bird at home, cut the wing tips off the wings (the tiny last joint at the end) and put them in water along with the neck and the back, to make stock for cooking risotto, making soup or sauce or adding flavor to nearly anything you make. You’ll cut the breast in conventional halves, of course, but cut them again cross-wise to make 4 short pieces, which gives more equitable sizing to the pieces and provides more servings of the often-preferred white meat.
In April and May we all visited plant sales and nurseries and picked up little pots holding tiny sprigs of herbs and planted them in our gardens. Long hours of sun and heat have turned many of these sprigs into shrubs and leave us wondering how to use all it all.
Those herbs aren’t the boss of you! Use them as you want and need. Remember, however, that they are nutrition powerhouses and the leaves make great additions to salad and other cold mixtures. They are great in marinades before grilling, and can be used lavishly when they are fresh. In the Middle East, herbs are referred to as “greens” and are cooked in amounts that we might cook kale or spinach.
You can dry excess herbs but I prefer to freeze them in pastes — pesto is always good, though my personal rendition has devolved to nothing more than garlic, olive oil and scads of basil leaves. Chimichurri, with parsley, cilantro and jalapeño or other spicy chili, is another favorite.
Chefs have begun making “risottos” with every grain imaginable. The side dish below is made with whole-wheat berries, which, no matter how much you stir them, don’t really turn their own starch into a saucey dish like risotto. The lack of sauce doesn’t make the dish less delicious, however, and with seasonal broccoli it’s an easy side that combines fabulous flavor with good-for-you nutrients. It takes some time to cook, but requires little from the cook.