Do you have access to two sweet, ripe peaches, grown by a farmer within your area code? Rinse, dry, and quarter them, and then array them like a first grader’s idea of the sun on a plate.
Is basil still growing in a pot on your backyard deck? No? Has the sun fried it? Can you buy a packet of fresh at your local grocer? Know how to chiffonade a pile of the leaves? Do that.
Is your grocer a good source for not-quite-ordinary provisions? Yes? Good. Then you can buy a sloshy, 8-ounce tub of burrata. Pluck the amorphous, quivering ball of fresh mozzarella shrouding a center of cheese shreds and cream from the milky water, blot it dry with paper towels, and place it in the center of the plate.
Got some fine sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and good olive oil handy? Excellent. Apply judicious amounts of all of those things over the cheese and the peach quarters. Sprinkle ribbons of basil over just the peaches.
Present your prize at the dinner table. Dive in with forks; don’t bother with separate plates. This is sensuous food, meant to be shared.
This recipe is adapted from the Peaches, Barrata and Basil entry in my new favorite cookbook, The Picnic (Recipes and Inspiration from Basket to Blanket), by Marnie Hanel, Andrea Slonecker, and Jen Stevenson, © 2015. Published by Artisan, a division of Workman Publishing Co., Inc., of New York, NY. The illustrations by Emily Isabella are absolutely charming.
If you pick up a copy of this book, check out the recipe for Coronation Chicken in Lettuce Cups on page 124. The original dish was served at the coronation banquet of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Variations of this chicken salad have proliferated since then, with the common denominators being curry powder, fruit, and a mayonnaise dressing. The Picnic‘s rendition includes fresh mango, cashew nuts, cilantro, and celery, and it’s delicious, although I would skip the toasted coconut topper next time.
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The thermometer on my deck at home in Arkansas lately registers the same temperature at midnight as it does mid-morning. I’ve seen a lot of 90°F. readings as I let the dogs out for their last pee of the night. It’s unbearably hot, and I don’t feel like cooking.
Sunday morning, I stood in front of the order window of a food truck at a local farmers’ market, clutching bags of ripe peaches, four ears of corn, a small watermelon, a large cantaloupe, and a box of fresh figs. The young man who took my order for a breakfast sandwich was wilting. “It’s hot as f*** in here,” he said, exasperated. I couldn’t fault him for the blue language. In close quarters, with no portable air conditioner and a griddle going full blast, the interior of the truck had reached 115 degrees, he guessed. A woman standing by the griddle nodded mutely in agreement. The young man apologized for the lukewarm bottle of water he fished out for me from a bucket of melting ice. “You’re the first order we’ve had today,” he said.
A few minutes later, he delivered the sandwich and a napkin to my perch on a concrete parking block in a small circle of shade. “We’re thinking of shutting down early,” he said, smiling ruefully. “We’ll be lucky if we make enough to cover the cost of the ice we had to buy today.” Then he turned and strolled back to the truck, climbing back into an oven on wheels. I watched him go and pondered the dedication of people working to achieve a restaurant dream. When I looked at my sandwich, I felt the frisson of pleasure that comes from knowing good food has just been served. Two slices of bread enclosed hot, cooked egg and melted cheese. Peppery arugula and generous slices of chewy bacon poked out the sides. A slice of red, ripe tomato threatened to slide out the bottom. The bread was a toasty, golden brown. Making it must’ve raised the temperature in that truck another 10 degrees, but it was delicious. I finished my breakfast, satisfied, and returned to the truck’s order window to compliment the griddle cook. She smiled, wet hair plastered to her forehead. I put some dollars in her hand for a tip and noticed that three people were milling around the chalkboard menu. Maybe they’d make enough to cover the cost of the ice after all.