If I have an overabundance of anything lately, it’s mint in my garden and glassware in my kitchen cabinets. The mint is so lush, fresh and cool — also tall due to recent rains — that I gather armfuls of it to add to flower bouquets.
Glasses are more problematic. All shapes, they stare back from the shelves, challenging me to make lemonade or iced tea or a spritz. Tall narrow glasses. Curved wine glasses. Chubby beer mugs. Martini glasses with their wide bowls. Those martini glasses are the culprits! In a fit of trendiness, I purchased a set, visions of tuxedoed James Bond clones, sipping vodka- or gin-laced concoctions in my living room.
Now, after a few uses, the outsize triangular bowls crowd the shelves, alertly clanging against juice glasses, shattering champagne flutes. Banishing them to the attic, to haul out for the occasional airing, would deprive me of the joy of their beauty. Still waiting for an opportunity to pour the perfect, shaken-not-stirred, down-and-dirty vodka drink, I have put them to use serving food.
The wide bowls accept summertime desserts — homemade granita, gelato, ice cream sundaes. But savory is more startlingly elegant. There’s excitement in substituting a martini bowl for a salad bowl. Or to serve a summer fruit, like watermelon. To save time, I buy it already cut. (Sometimes I just can’t do battle with a whole melon.) I toss watermelon cubes with chopped mint leaves and a tablespoon of lemon juice. Pile high into martini glasses. Sprinkle with a hefty dose of crumbled feta cheese and a few large grains of sea salt over the top. (The salt and cheese combination cuts the melon’s sweetness.) Finish with a sprig of mint. If you need this to be dessert, leave out the cheese and salt; keep the mint. Add another fruit.
This second one needs some cooking, but it’s worthwhile. Weeks ago, I posted a meatball recipe. Use that as a base, but instead make the meatballs the size of an olive to pop in one bite. Refrigerate, then cook near serving time. Then pile, still warm, into a pyramid in martini glasses. Drizzle with marinara (or not). Add a toothpick garnish to keep fingers clean. (A sprig of mint wouldn’t hurt. Mint and basil are cousins, after all.) “Oohs” and “aahs” will follow the unveiling.
Last, my favorite, takes the cook to a farmers’ market, roadside stand or backyard garden for tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and onions to literally whirl into cold soup. No stove needed. And no tedious chopping. Instead, break up or coarsely chop the veggies and whirl them in a blender, like making a morning smoothie.
Have good quality extra-virgin olive oil on hand because the bland stuff won’t do here. Choose big, fat tomatoes so ripe they are ready to burst. Then add other veggies. Include a bell pepper, any color but green. A red onion adds more color and requisite bite. Throw everything into the blender with a handful of ice cubes. Serve, over crushed ice if you like, in chilled martini glasses. Spark the mixture with a sprig of mint (again!) and/or a twist of lemon – or both.
Another time, venture a splash of hot sauce, some red pepper flakes or a grating of citrus zest (don’t stop at lemon). A great light supper when appetites flag. Eat with a spoon. Feel free to slurp.
To seed a tomato, cut it in half crosswise. Hold it over the sink, squeezing each half, while snapping the wrists so the seeds pop out. No worries about stragglers; the blender will take care of that.
2 pounds very ripe tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped 1 bell pepper, any color, seeded, de-ribbed and coarsely chopped
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped
1 small red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic
4-6 ice cubes
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
Crushed ice (optional)
Hot sauce, red pepper flakes, lemon or lime zest (optional)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
Mint sprigs, for garnish
-Pulse the tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, onion and garlic in a blender on “puree” or high speed. Add ice and continue processing. Scrape down the sides; continue to blend until nearly smooth. Leave a little texture.
-With the motor running, add the vinegar, salt through the hole in the top of the blender. Keep the motor running and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. It will look pink and slightly frothy.
-Pour into a glass bowl or pitcher. Cover and chill 6 hours or overnight.
-To serve, taste for salt and vinegar. Stir. Place a tablespoon crushed ice into each martini glass and pour the gazpacho on top. Stir gently. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
Marblehead resident Linda Bassett has worked as a cook, trained up-and-coming chefs, studied food history and led food tours. Her book, “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai,” is about local cooks and cooking.