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This time of year, the pace of life slows down, leaving us to enjoy long evenings in the fading twilight, relaxing in the balmy temperatures and cool breezes. This, to me, is the very best part of summer. While I enjoy the hearty vegetables of autumn and warming stews of winter, there's nothing I like more than a simple meal prepared al fresco and relished with friends on a summer's night.
This menu is simplicity defined -- the perfect opportunity to showcase the flavors of freshly picked arugula or Kennett Square's famous mushrooms.
But don't feel the need to bury your produce under dozens of ingredients. Highlight them with simple accents like shaved Parmesan or roasted pepper.
Homemade focaccia is sure to impress, even though it comes together quickly and rises in less than an hour. Feel free to experiment with herb and flavor combinations such as rosemary and garlic or lemon and marjoram.
For dessert, there's a new take on an old favorite: tiramisu cupcakes. They're light, sweet and the perfect ending to the day.
Arugula Salad with Shaved Parmesan
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
11/2 tsps. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 bag (5 oz.) baby arugula
salt and pepper to taste
1 oz. Parmesan cheese, shaved into thin strips
Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil and garlic in a large bowl.
Add the arugula; toss gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Divide the salad among your plates and top with Parmesan shavings.
Grilled Portobello Mushrooms With Goat-Cheese Spread
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
6 portobello mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed
8 oz. goat cheese
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, with juice
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
6 squares focaccia (recipe follows)
In a large bowl, combine the vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Add the portobellos.
Toss to coat.
Cover and marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.
While the mushrooms are marinating, prepare the spread: Combine the goat cheese and red peppers in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse until smooth. Transfer to a small container and refrigerate until ready to use.
Cook the mushrooms over a hot grill until they have given up their juices and are tender, about 2 minutes per side.
Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with the goat-cheese spread on focaccia (see recipe below).
31/2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsps. yeast
11/2 cups warm water
3 Tbsps. olive oil
1/2 cup chopped black olives
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour, salt, yeast, and water and mix until blended.
Continue to mix until dough clears the sides of the bowl and is smooth and elastic, about 3 minutes. If the dough is too wet, add a little bit more flour.
Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set in a warm spot and leave to rise 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425°.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a rectangle 11-by-17-inches.
Coat a baking sheet with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place dough onto the pan and press with your fingers to spread it into all corners; dough should have a dimpled appearance.
Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil on dough, and sprinkle with olives and garlic. Bake until golden-brown, 15 to 20 minutes.
Sprinkle with fresh herbs. Cool bread before serving.
Makes 9 squares.
Whipped cream doesn't hold up very well, so don't frost the cupcakes until you are ready to serve them. You can fill the cakes, wrap well and refrigerate up to 12 hours before you're ready to serve them, then top with whipped cream no more than 30 minutes beforehand.
1/2 cup marsala wine (dry or sweet)
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
8 oz. mascarpone, at room temperature
1/2 cup milk
1 Tbsp. instant coffee
11/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
8 Tbsps. butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsps. sugar
1 Tbsp. dark rum
1 oz. dark chocolate or 1 tsp. cinnamon (for garnish)
Combine the marsala wine, egg yolks, and sugar in a large bowl set over a pot of barely simmering water.
Whisk constantly and vigorously 2 to 3 minutes, or until the mixture turns light and thick and holds its shape.
Remove from heat and continue to whisk another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the mixture is cool to the touch.
In a separate bowl, gently mix the mascarpone to soften.
Add half of the marsala mixture and fold gently to combine.
Add the remaining marsala mixture, and continue to fold until mixture is uniform in color and no streaks remain. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Line muffin tin with cupcake liners.
Heat the milk until warm and stir in coffee until dissolved. Set aside to cool.
Combine the salt, baking powder and flour in a medium bowl.
Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle and mix on medium-high speed 2 to 3 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until combined.
Add half of the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
Add the milk mixture and mix until just combined.
Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix until smooth and fluffy.
Makes 1 dozen cupcakes.
Keri Fisher is a food writer and the co-author of One Cake, One Hundred Desserts. E-mail her at: email@example.com.