In any selection of offerings on the holiday menu, a cook should always sneak in a couple of no-stress side dishes. Sautéed escarole with garlic and parmesan cheese is easy on the cook, yet absolutely worthy of a place at the table. One of the antioxidant-rich dark leafy greens, escarole plays a starring role in Italian vegetable soups and stews, but here it's the star of its own show. Cooking in olive oil softens the leaves and mellows the bitterness that's common to many dark greens. Add garlic and real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and a few red pepper flakes for fun, and you have a simple, yet stunning, side dish. Make this at the very last minute, before you're ready to serve.
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Here in New England, summer -- and everything in the garden -- comes crashing down, literally, in the first two weeks of September. Ripe peaches plop from the trees, and we hurry to scoop the last tomatoes off the vines before they fall and rot. No one wants to give up on summer, so if you're in denial, like I am, try these roasted shrimp tacos with ultra-fresh avocado peach salsa. Juicy tomatoes and peaches, and creamy avocado, dribble down your chin, in a way that makes you believe that summer can go on forever. I always have shrimp in my freezer, but if you have scallops or salmon or other mild fresh fish, go ahead and substitute. A few pickled jalapeños on top, or extra cilantro, would be great. Pack these tacos to go, for an end-of-summer beach party or picnic.
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One of the mainstays of summer dining, main course salads showcase what's in season, and if you're clever and have a well-stocked pantry, you can serve the same fresh ingredients over and over, while changing the flavor completely with fresh herbs and dressings. Case in point: this salmon and greens salad with buttermilk lemon-thyme dressing. It takes inspiration from my very favorite green salad, the one with nectarines and olives and our house vinaigrette dressing, crossed with another favorite, maple glazed salmon salad. Same primary ingredients -- salmon, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and greens -- remixed with a dose of tang from buttermilk and lemon. No one will catch on.
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Inside every passionate cook lurks the soul of a slightly mad scientist. The kitchen becomes a laboratory, every recipe an opportunity to experiment. I love to play around with salad dressings, mixing and matching ingredients from my pantry, but 90 percent of the time, I end up using the same salad dressing: my go-to balsamic vinaigrette. Last week, spurred on by some buttermilk left from a baking episode, I went as far as I could in the opposite direction with this chipotle ranch dressing that also makes a terrific dip. It's got a bit of a kick, which you can control by using more or less chipotle pepper. Try this zippy dressing in a chicken salad, on a roast beef panini, or atop a robust salad of greens and avocado. Or slice up some crispy cucumber, and dip, dip, dip.
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