Heavenly Halloumi and how to have it. What the heck, you ask, is halloumi? It is a goat-sheep’s milk cheese that has been brined. You can find it at stores that specialize in Middle Eastern products and better cheese markets (think Murray’s or Whole Foods). And it is divine. The best way to eat it is to drain and pat it dry, slice it, brown it on a non stick pan or grill, top it with a pepper jelly or a fig jelly or even honey, slice it into cubes, and skewer. You can even have slices for breakfast topped with syrup and maybe some nuts. Store uncooked leftovers in water until ready to use again. Cyprus is home to this cheese, so for the not so faint of heart, maybe a glass of arak or Pernod to go with it, but I just drink wine. Color optional.

Tiny Tomato Tidbit, with a seafood twist. The farmers’ markets are filled with beautiful grape tomatoes of all colors. This bite calls for their use. In addition, you will need Panko, a pinch of garlic powder to taste, a pinch of dried oregano or thyme to taste, olive oil, smoked oysters or clams or mussels (you make the call), and salt and pepper to taste. To begin, add some olive oil to a pan. Combine the panko, garlic powder, oregano or thyme and add to oil to toast. Be mindful, it cooks fast, you want it browned not burned. Set crumble aside to cool until ready to serve. This can be done in advance. Slice your tomatoes tomatoes in half, toss with a bit of olive oil and some salt and pepper to taste. This can also be done in advance. When ready to serve, you can prepare in two ways. My favorite is to make a tomato sandwich. Toss the tomato in the crumble, add the smoked shellfish of your choice as a filling and skewer. Option B is to top the prepared tomatoes with the shellfish and crumble and skewer as well. Same taste, different look. You don’t like or can’t eat shellfish? Ok, do the same thing with a piece of smoked salmon and if you do that maybe a pinch of onion powder in the panko crumble in place of the garlic. The main thing is to keep it stress free and use what you love. And a nice big glass of icy Rose doesn’t hurt.

Ricotta Salata. It’s good for more than shaving over watermelon salad. The idea for this little 3 ingredient treat comes from the imagination of my dear friend, Ann Fegan. She thinly slices Ricotta Salata, which in many cases comes in the desired triangular shape, tops with pesto, and adds chopped walnuts. Creamy, salty, with a bit of crunch. Ticks all the boxes. You can make your own pesto which is a very simple thing to do especially with basil very much in season, or purchase a small jar of ready made. You can use whatever nuts you have on hand, or chop a mixture. Here I am using pignoli, but use whatever you like. If you don’t like pesto or you don’t have it, no problem. You can top with any type of spread (many of which are available in small jars) such as sun dried tomato, tapenade, artichoke, you get the idea. If you don’t like nuts, top with fennel seed or cumin seed, toasted if you want-something that will give a bit of crunch. Add a glass of wine.

These lovely little crostini are a perfect pre dinner bite. This recipe will make 12 pieces. What you need: 1/4 cup of peas-fresh if available or frozen(about 1/2 box if frozen), 1/4 cup ricotta cheese, juice and zest of 1/2 lemon, a splash of olive oil, 1 Tablespoon chopped mint, salt and pepper to taste and 12 round slices of baguette, toasted. Prepare a bowl of water and add some ice cubes to get the water really cold. Set aside. Bring a pot of water to boil, add a pinch of salt and the peas. Cook until just tender, you should be able to flatten between your fingers with just a bit of resistance. When peas are done, drain and add to the cold water to stop the cooking. When cool, place on a board and mash slightly, you want some texture to the mixture. Taste for salt. Set aside. Mix the ricotta, lemon zest and juice, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the chopped mint, and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper as needed. Spread 1 teaspoon of the mixture on each of the crostini and top with a teaspoon of the peas. Scatter remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons of mint leaves over top. Eat. Variations on a theme? Add some finely chopped prosciutto to the ricotta mixture. Or add red pepper flakes to the ricotta mixture. Or top with caramelized onion. Or for color, add thinly sliced radish. It all works.

 

Multipurpose Marinated Mushrooms. These are more than a nibble or a bit. They can actually can be used as is, as a sauce, a spread, or eaten with a spoon out of the jar. This recipe requires an overnight rest before eating, but the result is worth the wait. You will need a box of white mushrooms, generally speaking they are about 10 ounces (you can get fancy if you want, I am just giving you the basics), 1/3 cup best olive oil you have, 1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, a clove of garlic minced or shaved over a microplane if you prefer, a pinch of red pepper flakes or more for a bit of heat, 1 Teaspoon of fresh thyme, salt, and parsley for finishing. First off, if your mushrooms are large as those shown in the photograph are, halve or quarter them, if not, leave them whole. Bring a pot of water to boil and add about 2 Teaspoons of salt. Drop mushrooms into the water and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Remove from water and set aside to drain and cool. Meanwhile, make the marinade. In a measuring cup, combine the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, pepper flakes, thyme, and salt. Taste and add more of what you feel it needs to suit your taste. When mushrooms are cooled, press the excess moisture out using a paper towel. Don’t mush them, you want them to retain their shape as much as possible. Add them to a bowl along with the marinade and combine all. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bring to room temperature for serving and top with parsley to finish. They can be served skewered with a toothpick, chopped to be used as crostini, tossed with cooked pasta and a bit of the pasta water and maybe the yolk of an egg if you are adventuresome, they can be pulsed and made into a spread for crackers, they can be used as a topping for pizza Bianca with maybe a bit of sausage crumbles and some caramelized onions, or used just as part of an antipasto plate. A glass of Beaujolais? Yes please!

Another 3-4 ingredient nibble for really hot and muggy days, like today. Serve with an icy glass of Pernod or a white wine as long as it is cold. Your ingredient list? some good Greek yogurt (or labney if you have it), some chopped herbs: parsley, chives, thyme, whatever you like, salt and pepper and other dried spices to your taste and or liking, a splash of extra virgin olive oil, and some toasted walnuts for crunch. Serve with gluten free crackers (like Mary’s) or pita. And the recipe is? In a bowl, combine yogurt and chopped herbs along with salt and pepper and other spices if using and spread mixture onto a plate. Top with olive oil and toasted nuts. Done. If it is just too hot to toast the nuts, don’t bother. It will still be yummy. Just make sure your libations are chilled. Baby, it’s hot outside.

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Simple Starter Scallop Ceviche. Ceviche is fish cooked in a citrus acid or vinegar and can be prepared with different varieties of fish and a multitude of ingredients and techniques, but this is basic, simple, and fresh, and all the ingredients are easy to come by. You will need sea scallops (plan on one per person), the zest and juice of one lime, 1/2 Serrano pepper or JalapeƱo pepper or whatever pepper you want for heat (or keep it heat free if that is your preference and use 1/4 slice red bell pepper cut into small dice), a slice of red onion-diced, mint, and salt and pepper to taste. First, slice your scallops across to make three small discs holding your hand on top of the scallop to make even cuts. Then cut each disc into cubes; try to get nine per disc as shown. Add the lime zest to the cubes. Save the juice for finishing. Add the chopped onion. Slice the pepper into small rounds and then chop finely. Add the amount you want for desired heat to the mix. If serving later, cover the mixture with plastic wrap and refrigerate. If you are serving right away, add 1/2 the reserved lime juice and the salt and pepper and taste. If you want more tang, add more lime juice. The scallops will start to cure immediately, the longer they sit, the more “cooked” they become. Tear pieces of the mint and scatter over the ceviche. Stir well. Serve on a tortilla chip, on a small spoon, or even on a potato chip. It all works. One more thing, if you don’t like or can’t eat scallops, you can make this with any non oily fish using the same technique. Or if shrimp is your thing, just blanch the shrimp (cook in boiling water until shrimp turns pink and rinse in ice water to stop the cooking), chop into bite sized pieces and add the rest of the ingredients. Cocktails, anyone?