Here are my Basic Crate items for Summer. Beginning with these ingredients you can create dozens of meals once adding seasonal produce. Think of the Basic Crate as a foundation for making perfectly simple food.
Cheese, Fresh Mozzarella
Olive Oil, Extra Virgin
Ribs, Baby Back Pork
A baguette’s crisp crust makes it the perfect accompaniment to a soup or fresh summer salad. It’s also great for French toast. I prefer to buy smaller baguettes, also called demi-baguettes, that are around 12 inches in length. Seek out a baguette from a local bakery for the best quality.
I choose unsalted butter so I can season my food as I go. While it may sound trite one of the best ways to enjoy butter is spread on some great bread. Store butter long-term in the refrigerator or leave a small out at room temperature if using for spreading.
Fresh Mozzarella Cheese
I buy lightly salted fresh mozzarella cheese from Italian markets here in New York (Faicco’s in Greenwich Village and DiPalo’s in Little Italy are my favorites). If you don’t have a local Italian market buy the best quality fresh mozzarella ball you can find. Optimally, use fresh mozzarella the day it was made and bought, left at room temperature. Room temperature mozzarella has a softer texture which melts faster, tears well for serving in a salad and overall tastes better. With nothing more than a drizzle of olive oil, fresh mozzarella is my go-to snack.
Heavy cream adds richness to food so you don’t need much. While most people associate it with thick sauces for pasta, heavy cream also pairs beautifully with fruit and sweet dishes. Buy fresh cream and use it well before its sell-by date. Make sure cream is cold when whipping it.
Eggs are one of the least expensive sources of protein. I like to buy two dozen at a time from the farmers market. Even with an empty refrigerator having some eggs on hand can help you to whip up a substantial meal for any time of the day (try two eggs, sunny side up, finished with a sprinkle of salt, some pepper and a few marjoram leaves).
Gnocchi is sold fresh, frozen or vacuum packed in a shelf-stable container. Any of these varieties will work in the recipes. I prefer the frozen kind, keeping a few bags stored for a summer dinner that comes together quickly.
Salt and acid are the two most powerful ingredients you can use to flavor food, and lemon juice is my acid of choice. The zest also has a powerful, citrus flavor which is a delicious addition to marinades and sweet dishes. Lemon adds brightness to food and pairs well with herbs. While lemons stored in the refrigerator last longer, they are easier to juice once they’ve sat at room temperature. In the recipes I call for the “zest of 1 lemon” and “juice of 1 lemon” rather than measuring. All lemons vary in size so taste as you go and add more if you’d like.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Liquid gold. Second only to organic meat, olive oil is where you should be spending the most money with your grocery shopping. Buy the best quality you can afford. Not all olive oils are created equal! I have a year subscription from Especially Puglia that sends me a 3 liter tin ever quarter. Quality oil makes all the difference in simple recipes. I like to drizzle it over fresh cheeses, grilled meats and fish and also use it to finish soups. A small drizzle of olive oil to finish a dish adds a fresh and herbabicous flavor. I often keep a slightly less expensive bottle on hand for sauteing or frying, but I use olive oil for all my cooking.
I buy black peppercorns in bulk and grind them very coarsely as I cook, never far in advance, in a Peugeot grinder. When pepper is too finely ground it tastes somewhat dirty to me. There’s also no need to buy fancy colors – black is fine.
Baby Back Pork Ribs
Baby back ribs are versatile as you can cook them quickly on the grill or bake them low and slow, with both methods producing delicious results. Ribs are a great option for a crowd, as a whole rack can feed 2 to 3 people, and require minimum preparation.
I love salt. Culinary school and working in a restaurant will turn you in to a saltaholic. Don’t think of it as sodium – understand that salt enhances the natural flavors in food. Salt your food as you cook it as opposed to adding it all at the end. In the spring and early summer I like to blanch my vegetables and salt is essential in bringing out the flavor. While there are many types of salt I’ve tested the recipes with Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, which comes in a red box. I keep a small bowl of it on my counter while I cook. Skip the salt grinders you can buy at the grocery store. Cook with salt you can grab with your finger tips.
Whether you prefer chicken, turkey, pork or even beef, sausages are an easy way to get dinner on the table year round. Links are great for grilling but cook well in a hot oven or on the stove top during a rainy night. You can also remove the sausage from its casings to flatten for breakfast patties or crumble for a sauce. Any raw sausages will work in the recipes.
While I try to limit my sugar intake occasionally I’ll enjoy something sweet. I use white, granulated sugar in the recipes. When cooking and baking with seasonal fruit you don’t need much sugar to bring out their natural sweetness.
In the kitchen I use two types of balsamic, Balsamic Vinegar I.G.P. (supermarket-grade balsamic vinegar, also known as salad balsamic) and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar D.O.P.. The I.G.P. is thinner in consistency and is for cooking. The D.O.P. is aged balsamic and is both thicker and sweeter than I.G.P.. This aged variety costs considerably more but is worth the price. I do not cook with the D.O.P. balsamic and instead use it as a finishing vinegar, drizzling it over salads or desserts.
Here’s my Seasonal Crate, which includes my favorite summer herbs, fruits and vegetables. These seasonal items are available at both grocery stores and farmers markets.
Summer Squashes and Zucchini
Basil leaves can quickly turn brown if they get too cold so it is important to store them properly. Stand basil stems upright in a glass jar with a little water in the bottom. Wrap some paper towel around the leaves then cover with a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator, making sure it isn’t too cold. It sounds like a lot of work but your basil will last longer.
For color I often use a combination of green and wax (yellow) string bean varieties when making a dish. A quick blanch in heavily salted water is all the cooking these beans need. I skip shocking them in cold water and instead add the hot beans to an herby vinaigrette so they soak up the dressing as they cool.
Fresh corn does not require much cooking. Sometimes I even make a raw corn salad. When I do cook corn I grill it long enough just to get some char, so a very hot grill is essential. There’s no need to ever boil or microwave corn before throwing it on the grill, as overcooked corn loses it’s sweetness and has an unpleasant texture. Store fresh corn in the refrigerator and husk it just before you cook it.
I can’t imagine a summer tomato salad or jar of pesto without garlic. Buy whole heads of garlic with tightly attached cloves that are free of any green sprouts. In the summer you can find fresh garlic heads with their tall green stalks at farmers markets.
Marjoram is my favorite herb. It’s excellent with vegetables, pairs nicely with butter and cheese and is great with grilled meats. I also love to sprinkle the leaves over fried eggs. Thyme is an excellent substitute for marjoram in any of the recipes.
Nectarines are the unsung hero of the stone fruits. Their skins aren’t fuzzy, like peaches, and I prefer their taste. If your nectarines are hard as rocks let them sit at room temperature on the kitchen counter until they begin to ripen. It’s an absolute nightmare to try to pit and cut slices from unripened nectarines.
Raw red onions add a kick of flavor in salads and turn very sweet when cooked. Delicious in marinades and vinaigrettes, red onions compliment the flavors of meats and warm weather vegetables. In the summer you can often find fresh onions sold with their tops at farmers markets.
Jalapeños are considered a medium chili, but I like to roast or grill them for an even milder flavor. Pesto is one of my favorite ways to enjoy a roasted jalapeño. It tastes delicious with the basil and adds a nice heat to soups and gnocchi.
Raspberries are delicate and don’t require much cooking. I prefer to enjoy them fresh or make a compote with a little sugar. Store raspberries in the refrigerator but let them come to room temperature before eating.
Summer Squash and Zucchini
Summer squash and zucchini (a variety of summer squash) are squashes harvested during the summer months and have an edible skin. You can cook them a number of different ways. Large chunks are great for the grill and thin slices are excellent for a raw salad with lemon and olive oil.
These recipes call for vine or beefsteak tomatoes. While delicious and colorful, heirloom tomatoes, which contain more water than regular beefsteak tomatoes, may produce slightly different results and require longer cooking times. Always store tomatoes at room temperature, never in the refrigerator. Use a serrated bread knife to easily cut fresh tomatoes.