I love this time of year, when summer produce is at its glorious best, even though I know it won’t last much longer. Its end brings ripe peppers of all sorts, in various shades of orange and scarlet, sweet from a season in the sun and far more delicious than the hothouse types could ever hope to be. Likewise, the deeply flavorful tomatoes we wait for all year are now ready to enjoy. Stone fruit is still going strong, with juicy peaches on display at every market stall. But it’s the late-season plums I’m most excited about.
This menu incorporates all of these gifts from the garden, for a leisurely Italian-leaning lunch or dinner.
A common sight in many restaurants in Italy is an antipasto table, laid out with an assortment of platters piled high with marinated vegetables, salumi, olives, anchovies or cheeses from which diners are invited to make their own first course. It’s a custom well worth adopting, a way to prepare a pretty appetizer that requires no last-minute cooking.
In a home setting, this antipasto can be served on individual plates or as part of a buffet table. Roasting your own in-season sweet peppers is best: Once roasted, the peppers keep for up to a week, refrigerated, so you don’t necessarily need to make them the day of the meal. (Or you can always use good-quality jarred roasted peppers from an Italian deli.) Spring for top-quality anchovies if you can. Then, alternate the shiny strips of roasted pepper and anchovy fillets, and add a few slices of fresh mozzarella.
For a main course, I always find guests appreciate a fish dinner, especially those who are timid about cooking one for themselves. This particular method ensures a succulent result. First, you make a quick basil-scented tomato broth — rather like a very fresh tomato sauce, but brothy — with onion, chopped ripe tomatoes and a splash of white wine.
Then, you gently simmer seasoned fish fillets in the broth, turning off the heat and covering the pan to allow the fish to finish steaming. Use any firm-fleshed white fish, such as halibut, bass or rockfish. Served in a low soup bowl, with a bit of zucchini, a few basil leaves and an all-important drizzle of fruity extra-virgin olive oil, this easy preparation really satisfies.
It also makes about twice as much broth as you’ll need — intentionally. Use the remaining tomato broth for a chilled soup the next day; or use it as the base for a clam pasta. It won’t go to waste.
For dessert, how about a showstopping Italian-style tart of summer stone fruit? It looks dramatic and bright, but it is not difficult. You’ll nestle sliced juicy ripe plums — or substitute pluots, nectarines or apricots — into a sweet pastry shell, sprinkle the fruit with a little sugar and bake it in a hot oven. Red or purple plums put on the most impressive show.
Here again, the recipe makes extra, enough pastry for two crusts: Save the second in the freezer (pressed into a tart pan), so you can make another tart any time you like.
A wise cook always thinks ahead.