There’s an eye-popping display at the farmers’ market right now. If you feel like cooking, meander the overflowing vegetable stalls, grab anything and take it home for dinner. It’s bound to be at peak ripeness, juicy and sweet, no matter what it is. Peppers, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, fresh herbs, stone fruit, berries, melons: We are gleefully overwhelmed with choice.
So here’s a menu that seizes the moment, without requiring much in the way of effort: a zesty salad of marinated sweet peppers, a main-course pasta that requires only a pot of boiling water and a skillet, and an icy, refreshing dessert. All are utterly simple and customizable, to be embellished according to whim or happenstance find.
Right now, sweet peppers of every color are ready, and far better than the bland year-round supermarket varieties. Look for Corno di Toro, a meaty Italian variety, in red or gold, or any local sweet peppers. Freshly picked, they have real flavor, and when thinly sliced and dressed with an assertive vinaigrette, they’re an ideal first course or antipasto component. Here, they’re built into a salad with capers, olives and anchovy that’s delicious as is, but could be upgraded to include halved cherry tomatoes, quality canned tuna or hard-cooked eggs.
For the main, most Italian cooks wouldn’t gravitate toward the particularly American combination of shrimp and corn when setting out to cook pasta. But the fact is, it’s lovely, light, summery and very tasty. It’s really only the corn that’s a nontraditional element.
For the shrimp, choose the best available. Wild shrimp from North Carolina or Georgia is a good bet, fresh or frozen, but beware of too-cheap-to-be-true frozen shrimp, which don’t taste as good and most likely are not as sustainably or ethically harvested as wild shrimp. Then, cook them gently, to keep them tender.
Aside from that, all you need is perfectly al dente pasta, extra-virgin olive oil, a bit of garlic, and a good pinch of red-pepper flakes. (You could also use Calabrian peppers in oil.) It’s the balance of spicy, salty and sweet that you’re after. You could make this pasta even more deluxe with lobster or scallops instead, if you’re feeling flush.
Finally, to cool the palate and refresh the spirit, especially on a sweltering day, the Italian cocktail sgroppino comes to mind. It’s a slushy, lemony concoction, recipes for which usually call for a scoop of lemon sorbet and a shot of vodka. In experimenting, I found that, when stirred together, sweetened slightly and frozen, Prosecco and lemon juice yielded similar results. The ingredients never harden completely, so it eats a bit like a soft sorbet. Topped with raspberries, it looks festive, but you can add any berry you like. Then top it with a splash of Prosecco for what becomes a half-frozen drinking dessert — because, at summer’s end, we can all use a celebratory meal.