Summer weekend meals at home—whether in town or country, whether à deux or with friends—are as simple as it gets with us. The fresher the produce, the less you need to do to it. So much of cooking was invented to make something edible out of something unpalatable as found in nature, especially at those times of year when nature offers the least. This necessity has no bearing in summer, when there is plenty to eat raw, and even more that requires only the lightest culinary touch. Besides, who wants to fuss in the heat?
Very little is gastronomically out of bounds, especially if it can go on the grill. The scope of grillable food has been deliciously expanded by inventive chefs in recent years. We love grilled vegetables as appetizers; fish, meat and chicken are a dream; and grilled peaches for dessert are simply heaven. (We haven’t yet devised a barbecue version of baked Alaska, but Edward is working on it.) Picnics are another great way to faire simple: some cheese and a saucisson plus some wine and bread can seem a feast in a field or under a tree, especially after you’ve walked around and let the surroundings do a number on your senses.
Lastly—though they come first for French women—are soups, the indispensable staple for all seasons. They have a special part to play in summer. They’re the easiest way to release the fleeting intensities of seasonal produce, a light and digestible but extremely satisfying and versatile meal. (If you work at it, you can almost manage never to make the same soup twice.) Most important, they help keep us hydrated in the months when we quite naturally sweat. A hot soup, like hot tea, can cool you off, but a cold soup sometimes seems more palatable; though the range of possibilities may be smaller, when a cold soup is good, it’s great.
Many people are surprised by how easily soup can be made, without the bother of an endlessly simmering pot, provided that you have set aside half a day during those long winter months to make some fresh stock, which can be frozen, then thawed as needed. After serving chicken to guests, I often throw the carcass into a stockpot with mirepoix (diced root vegetables and bacon) while Edward serves the dessert; they’re finishing one meal, I’m starting the next. (If that soothing activity is too much for you, take heart: simple and delicious soup can be made using water, with no stock at all, or, with a little effort, you can find good-quality store-bought stock.) Many vegetables you regularly cook—roasting, grilling, boiling them, whatever suits the particular type—can then be puréed in a mill with a bit of stock or water. This mixture is an excellent base upon which to start inventing with your favorite spices and herbs, perhaps finishing with a dollop of yogurt, a piece of soft cheese, or a powdering of the grated hard stuff. The starch in the puréed vegetables gives the soup body, making unnecessary the cream or eggs of a bisque or a velouté, as well as the attendant fuss.