PARIS -- When the heat is on -- as it has been for the last 30-plus 100-plus-degree days in Texas -- the last place that anyone wants to be is in the kitchen.
Sure, you can use the slow-cooker or the toaster oven, and yes, you can grill outside, but why not avoid all things warm, and make a cool, easy-to-assemble dinner?
Is it possible to put a dinner for two or more on the table without turning on a single heat-producing appliance?
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Throw a no-cook August dinner party with a French accent: Pop open a bottle of chilled rosé (the preferred summer drink in France), keep the oven turned to the "off" position, and keep it cool.
There's so much at the market that's fresh and in season anyway, there's no need to cook; just assemble.
By keeping things simple, we can all spend less time in the kitchen, which means less heat. Plus, who wants sizzling hot food when it's hot enough to fry an egg on the hood of your car?
I just want cool.
And easy, with as little hands-on kitchen work as possible. Like simply slicing up a melon, as I've done with the melon-prosciutto carpaccio.
Just about any fruit can be quickly whirled in the blender with a bit of lemon juice (and maybe a little sugar), made into a soup, or then frozen and transformed into an icy granita, a grown-up snow cone. You can do the same thing with veggies (see the recipe for cucumber-mint salad in a glass) and make any number of cold soups, or freeze them, just as you do with fruit, for a savory granita.
Because there's such an abundance of summer produce, I like to mix it up. I make a lot of savory salads with fruits, which always makes the table more interesting. Plus, a bit of sea salt always helps the sweet taste sweeter.
It's a different kind of cooking, this no-cook business. It forces you to put things together in a way that will work instantly, instead of relying on heat to change, intensify and marry flavors.
In other words, what you taste right then is what you've got. So when you think about adding, say, fresh basil, to something, there's no guesswork, no wondering how it'll turn out later. Just taste. Then you'll know.
It's actually quite simple.
It also helps us learn more about what each thing -- fruit, vegetable, fish, meat, herb, whatever -- is actually all about. When I made the salmon tartare for this story, I splurged on a really nice piece of salmon and used less smoked salmon than I'd originally planned, because I didn't want it to get in the way of the other salmon, the one that was still in its most raw, pure state.
The other ingredients I added to complement, not disguise in any way, the two salmons, and I put the dish together with a very light touch. I have had salmon tartare all over Paris, but this is the best that I've ever had -- because I didn't do much to the salmon itself.
This less-is-more idea is something that I am constantly trying to move closer to -- in my cooking, where I believe the less things are gussied up, the better; and in my life, too. As hot as it still is right now, I'm going to take this concept right into fall.
First project: cleaning out my sock drawer.
16 very thin slices San Danielle ham
Parmesan, to taste
Olive oil, to taste
1. Cut the cantaloupe in half and remove the seeds. Cut away the rind, and cut the two halves in two, so you have 4 manageable pieces to work with. With a mandoline, slice each quarter of the melon into thin crescents, and fan the pieces on four plates.
2. Top with the prosciutto (4 pieces for each person should be fine), a few curls of Parmesan and a very light drizzle of good olive oil.
CUCUMBER-MINT SALAD IN A GLASS
Makes 2 servings
This recipe is an adaptation of one that I found in a French cooking magazine, and I loved it immediately — it’s light, cool and tastes like a summer soup version of the Indian side dish raita.
1 large peeled and seeded cucumber, cut into chunks
1 minced shallot
Handful of fresh mint
16 ounces Greek yogurt
8 ounces almond milk
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Mint leaves, for garnish
1. Put the cucumber, shallot, mint, yogurt and almond milk in your blender and give it a whirl. Taste, add a pinch of salt and pepper, and chill it until dinnertime. Serve in short glasses and garnish with mint leaves.
Makes 2 dinner-size servings
This may be my new favorite summer supper — it takes less than five minutes to make, and is so light and satisfying. The key is buying the very best salmon you can get your hands on — it’ll be well worth it.
8 ounces fresh salmon, skin and bones removed
4 ounces smoked salmon
About 2 tablespoons chopped green onions
1 teaspoon pink peppercorns, crushed with the back of your knife
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A couple of chopped basil leaves
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1. Chop up the fresh salmon and smoked salmon into small pieces and toss in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and taste. Let sit for about 5 minutes, and then serve with a crusty baguette or toast.
MASCARPONE MOUSSE WITH RASPBERRIES
Makes 4 servings
This is like a French version of tiramisu, the Italian mascarpone-based dessert made with ladyfingers. The mousse is light and refreshing, and it can be paired with whatever fruit or berry is in season.
3 room-temperature eggs, separated (See note)
1/2 cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
8 ounces mascarpone
16 ounces raspberries
1. Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, lemon zest and mascarpone until it is smooth.
2. In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt, and when stiff peaks form, fold this into the mascarpone mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least a half hour. To serve, spoon out the mousse into bowls, and add a small handful of raspberries to each one — or put a little mousse in each bowl, add a few raspberries, more mousse and more berries, as I like to do.
Note: It’s always best to use room-temperature eggs for mousses, because they have more “puff” power.