5 meals for hot summer nights

eggplant parmesan
© K Martinko – Eggplant mozzarella

These are for those nights when cooking feels impossible, but has to be done...

For the past week, the weather in my Ontario town has been excessively warm and sticky. The thermometer read 32 degrees Celsius (90F) yesterday, with a humidex of 38C (100F). In the second-floor (and non-air conditioned) apartment where I'm living temporarily with my family, the air doesn't move. It hangs like a hot, steamy cloud over all of us, making the prospect of cooking dinner seem utterly daunting.

It's at times like these that I turn to my hot-weather menu. These are tried-and-true recipes that I make over and over again when it's simply too hot to cook, but my family still needs feeding. They require fairly little work (at least compared to my winter recipes), make use of seasonal produce, and are satisfying without feeling overly heavy.

1. Spanish Tortilla

Similar to a frittata but heartier, this consists of thinly sliced new potatoes and onions braised in a cup of olive oil, then mixed with a pile of beaten eggs. I like to add chopped herbs and garlic scapes. It's cooked on the stovetop, which spares having to turn on the oven.

2. Pesto Pasta

Nothing screams summer quite like fresh basil pesto. I get large bunches of it from my weekly CSA share and blend it with nuts (pine nuts are traditional but expensive, so I often use walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, etc.), garlic, olive oil, salt, and Parmesan. Toss with hot pasta and pass the extra Parmesan. Kids love it. (If you want some real pesto inspiration, watch the 'Fat' episode of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix.)

3. Minestrone Soup

While making minestrone soup at my parents' house last week, a French exchange student peered over my shoulder and said she thought soup was a winter food. Not true! Soup is a fabulous summer food, too, especially a lighter, veggie-packed kind like minestrone. It's a great way to make a significant dent in those heaps of CSA vegetables, and I like to use an Instant Pot, which keeps the kitchen from heating up.

I follow a basic template that starts with onion and whatever harder veggies I have (carrots, celery, zucchini, peppers, kohlrabi). Then I may add meat (sausage, bacon, leftover chicken, although not necessary), followed by homemade stock, tomatoes, and fresh herbs. Next comes beans or chickpeas, chopped cabbage or other greens (Swiss chard, kale), and cooked pasta.

4. Shish Kebabs

The barbecue has a magical effect on food of all kinds, transforming it into something extra-delicious. I cut vegetables into large chunks, toss with olive oil and seasonings, then thread onto metal skewers for grilling. I like to include tempeh and tofu, as well, which are a perfect addition to a veggie-filled skewer, since they don't take nearly as long as meat to cook. They can also handle a strongly-flavored marinade. Serve with hot rice.

5. Eggplant Mozzarella

OK, the official name is 'eggplant parmesan' but my recipe (via Alice Waters) contains no parmesan, so I've taken the liberty of changing the name. This recipe does require an oven, but it does such a perfect job of using short-lived seasonal ingredients that I can't help making it numerous times over the summer.

I buy eggplants, slice them, slather with olive oil and salt, and either roast or grill until cooked through. (Skip the traditional deep-frying; that's a hassle and a mess.) Then I make Marcella Hazan's super-easy buttery tomato sauce, grate a heap of mozzarella cheese, and wash a pile of basil leaves. Using a 9x13 baking pan, I layer sauce, cooked eggplant, basil, and cheese, in that order, until I've used up all the ingredients. Bake for 15 minutes or until bubbling and slightly browned on the top. It's a summer dinner party hit, and is just as delicious the morning after with fried eggs (if there's any left).

What are your go-to summer dinners?

5 meals for hot summer nights
These are for those nights when cooking feels impossible, but has to be done...

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