My top 3 favourite summer recipes

My top 3 favourite summer recipes

These are my favourite summer recipes with three different cooking methods – on the BBQ (a must in the short, Canadian summer!), on the stovetop, and minimal cooking required. You might be surprised to see oysters on the grill and burgers on the stove, but these recipes are my go-to way to do things and I know you won’t be disappointed!

On the BBQ – BBQ oysters with compound butter

This is one of those recipes that I was so excited to try, unsure of how it would turn out and it left me totally bowled over and wishing for more. We buy and shuck our own oysters at home quite often, and I can assure you, it’s not as intimidating as you might think. If you have the right shucking knife, a firm hold and a little patience, you should come out of the experience relatively unscathed, aside from some sweat on your brow and some kitchen towels a little worse for wear.

What you’ll need:

  • Fresh oysters
  • Unsalted butter
  • Your choice of herbs and aromatics
  • A good quality, crusty baguette

Shopping: Most importantly, you want to go to a fishmonger or reputable store to purchase good quality oysters. Diana’s Seafood on Lawrence Avenue East in Scarborough is our go-to spot. I like to buy a variety of types and sizes, such as Fanny Bays, which tend to be on the larger, knobbier, more barnacled side and some Pickle Points or Raspberry Points, which tend to be slimmer, more delicate and easier to shuck.

Shucking: Here’s a great video and article that will tell you everything you need to know about shucking oysters. Remember to try not to lose too much of that gorgeous oyster juice. It’s going to mix in with the melted butter to create something magical.

Compound butter (make ahead): Compound butter is a fairly simple concept. It’s just a matter of combining butter with any herbs, spices and aromatics you like. For this recipe, we’ve simply used unsalted butter (so that you can add and manage the salt flavour yourself), kosher salt (always and forever), pepper, chopped garlic, chopped parsley. You can play around with the amounts by taste, but this recipe is a good place to start. Once it’s well mixed, all you need to do is roll the mixture into a log shape onto a piece of saran wrap, wrap it up starting at one end like you would a roll of wrapping paper and synch the ends for a tight seal. Pop it in the freezer to cool. This can be made days, even weeks in advance.

Grilling: Heat your grill to medium heat. Once your oysters are shucked, cleaned and ready to go, all that’s left to do is to retrieve your compound butter from the freezer and begin to slice rounds about an inch or so thick and pop a slice onto each oyster. Carefully place your oysters directly onto the heated grill and cook until the butter melts into the oysters, about 2-3 minutes.

Serving: Once butter is melted, carefully pluck the now-hot-to-the-touch oysters from the grill onto a platter covered in kosher salt. You can easily nestle the oysters into the salt and they’ll stay propped up nicely.

Pro tip: Buy a good quality baguette and pop it on the warming rack on your BBQ to warm through while the oysters cook. Slice and serve as an extra vehicle for getting any excess melted butter/oyster juice into your mouth.

On the stove-top – The best burger ever

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About five years ago we came across this burger recipe, called The secret to the beefiest, juiciest burger ever from then Globe and Mail Food Critic, Chris Nuttall-Smith, and I have yet to eat a better burger. It really is worth the extra bit of effort at the beginning for the flavour bomb it delivers.

What you’ll need: (adapted from the recipe)

  • 1 pound well-marbled beef chuck
  • 1 pound marbled end brisket
  • Kosher salt
  • Good, aged cheddar
  • Sandwich pickles (2 per burger)
  • Mayo (or preferred condiment(s)
  • 4 white Wonder Bread buns

The meat: As the recipe explains, you want to buy one pound of chuck steak and one pound of brisket, and either ask your butcher to grind it for you or grind it yourself using a kitchen grinder, such as a Kitchen Aid mixer attachment – that’s what we use. The beauty of buying a steak instead of the usual ground beef? Think of it this way. One steak comes from one part of one cow, whereas that mystery ground beef comes from all sorts of parts of different cows – getting the picture? In my opinion, a steak should be cooked medium rare (much juicier and more flavourful) and you can only do that if it comes from a steak.

Flavouring: This is key. If I can impart any, one nugget of burger-making wisdom that has changed the game for me, it’s this: you are making burgers, not meatballs. That means, no bread crumbs, no eggs, no milk, no crazy spices and sauces. I am a bit militant about this point, because if you’re adding all of those things, you may as well roll it into balls and serve it over spaghetti. You are making a burger, and all that requires is lots of coarse salt, such as kosher salt, sprinkled over your patties, and, that’s it! The salt will create a nice crust on the burger and of course, enhance the beefy flavour. Trust me, and if you don’t because you don’t know me that well (fair enough), trust Chris Nuttall-Smith, the guy knows what he’s talking about.

Cooking: I’ve made these burgers on the grill a few times, and they’re great because it’s a great burger, but the best way to make them is in a cast-iron pan. That way, all the gorgeous fat stays in the pan and adds to the flavour of the burger (as we all know, fat equals flavour), as opposed to being lost through the grill. There’s just nothing like a cast-iron pan to create a beautiful crust on your burger either. These are the same reasons why my favourite way to cook a steak is also in a cast-iron pan.

Serving: The recipe will guide you in the creation of a mouth-watering double cheeseburger with simple, processed cheese (“American cheese” for my American friends), on a white, wonder-bread bun and it is totally delicious. While this is awesome, I deviate from the recipe at this point, and add good aged cheddar, and sometimes change up the bun to a sesame one, but either way, you definitely don’t want to end up with something that’s more bun than beef. I top it with sandwich-style pickles and mayo cause that’s my jam, but that part is really up to you :) 

Minimal cooking required – Heirloom tomato spaghettini

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This is one of my favourite recipes that I make at least a few times each summer, and it’s what I traditionally prepare for my mom’s birthday dinner in July. It’s largely inspired by Ina Garten’s Summer Garden Pasta. It’s the perfect no-fuss recipe when you need something light, simple and satisfying or when you’ve simply had too many glasses of rose on the beach and no longer have the dexterity to manage actual cooking.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 pound spaghettini – I prefer this to angel hair, as it makes for a smoother pasta since the noodles don’t stick together as much.
  • 3 pints heirloom cherry tomatoes halved – I find four pints to be too many tomatoes, making the dish too acidic. I also use heirloom tomatoes since they just create such a beautifully colourful dish.
  • 18 large basil leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated/shaved parmesan
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic – I love garlic as much as the next gal, but I find two tablespoons is a bit too overwhelming, even for me.
  • A few good glugs of extra virgin olive oil

Prep: The prep for this is ridiculously simple. It involves buying fresh, heirloom cherry tomatoes and slicing them in half, chopping fresh basil and mincing some garlic. Then tossing the sliced tomatoes with the olive oil, basil, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Easy, right?!

Cooking: Cook the spaghettini to al dente, reserving some of the pasta water in case you need to thicken the sauce, and toss it with the tomato mixture. Toss in the parmesan cheese, drizzle with additional olive oil and taste again for seasoning. It's ready to serve! I have tried roasting the tomatoes, which is adds a lovely depth of flavour, but it's much fresher and brighter with fresh, uncooked tomatoes. 

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