The sun may be shining, the birds may chirp and the produce may be plentiful, but sometimes you need a comforting, relaxing meal to fill your tummy and soothe your soul. (And let’s be honest, salads just won’t.) Here are some dishes that celebrate the best summer produce and also make you feel like you’ve taken a long nap.
Tomatoes and zucchini seem to be everywhere now, so make great use of them in this warm dish from Martha Rose Schulman. Roasting zucchini instead of frying means less oil and less noise. Martha includes a recipe for the sauce, but feel free to use your favorite or even better, store-bought recipe.
Soft and sweet from Alison Roman, this zucchini bread is a piece of cloth to put together, and just taking a warm slice from the oven and mixing it with melted butter may be more effective than a treat. This recipe makes two loaves so you can share or freeze them for later.
Recipe: Classic zucchini bread
Sometimes known as Texas caviar, this happy concoction of beans, corn, bell peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, jalapenos, and onions drizzled with a tangy sweet red wine vinegar is one of those dishes that seems to be disappearing (poof!). For a bit of creamy richness, add diced avocado.
In this surprising dish from Melissa Clark, juicy pork balls play with sweet peaches, fresh basil, and tangy lemon for a savory and sweet meal that hits all the ingredients. Use whatever ground beef you like, and feel free to substitute ripe nectarines or plums for peaches. (Just make sure it’s fully ripe.)
This watermelon margarita from Alexa Weibel is everything you want in a summer cocktail: refreshing, slightly sweet, and spicy enough to keep it interesting. (For those who abstain from alcohol, try this cucumber and watermelon.)
Recipe: watermelon margarita
Dan Dan noodles are traditionally made with ground pork and pickled vegetables, but in this delicious rustic vegan Sichuan classic from Hetty McKinnon, the fried eggplant steps into the pork. The recipe calls for tahini, but fine almond or peanut butter will work in its place.
Recipe: Vegetarian dan dan noodles with eggplant
This cobbler from Edna Lewis, the Virginia chef whose books helped define Southern cooking canon, features a pie crust that tops off the flavors of stone-peeled fruit. Mrs. Lewis liked to make it with a mesh cover, with bits of raw dough tucked into the filling, which would be cooked into dumplings while the fruit juice condensed.
This wonderful dish is inspired by panzanella, a much-loved Tuscan bread salad, but Hetty MacKinnon brilliantly replaces the bread with store-bought fried gnocchi—and we love her for it. Rack-stable gnocchi works best, but frozen will work too; Just don’t disturb them while cooking so they don’t fall apart.
Recipe: Crispy gnocchi with tomatoes and red onions
In this 30-minute vegan recipe, Jocelyn Ramirez sears meaty oyster mushrooms in a skillet until crispy and flavorful like a Checharon, or fried pork belly. If you’re hungry, consider doubling the mushrooms, as they shrink slightly during cooking.
Recipe: Crispy Mushroom Taco
Bless me with fried chicken. In this rustic veal Milanese by Melissa Clark, chicken cutlets are crushed to an even thickness, then breaded, fried and served with a simple tomato and mozzarella salad with basil oil.
Recipe: Chicken Milanese with tomato, mozzarella and basil salad
Get peels. Two pounds of fresh corn kernels are put into this classic dish from Ali Slagl that’s made with a simple but rich dough of flour, cheddar, sour cream, eggs, and butter. Bake it until it bubbles and then eat it straight from the pan until your mood improves.
Genevieve Co.’s delicious spicy Kung Pao chicken, which I borrowed from Grace Hahn and Pearl Hahn, comes together in just 15 minutes. Kristen Chambrot, associate editor of New York Times Cooking, made it one day: “It was delicious, so easy, and made me feel like I was taken care of.”
Recipe: Easy Kung Pao Chicken
If you haven’t made the famous plum tart for Marian Burruss, what are you waiting for? This recipe was first published in the newspaper in 1983, but was reprinted several times because readers demanded it. They are highly adaptable: they work with practically any summer fruit (pears and apples too), you can bake them in almost any container and they are very difficult to spoil.
Recipe: The original plum tart
Tomatoes and basil, the summer’s best couple, sparkle in this classic risotto from Martha Rose Schulman. A clever reader added a bit of fresh mozzarella for a Caprese-style bakery. Making risotto takes a little time and attention, but maybe all that stirring is soothing? One can hope.
This ice cream cake from Ali Slagle is so much fun because it’s just assembling, and you can use any store-bought ice cream flavors you like. Start with a cookie crust, a layer of ice cream, a layer of ice cream sandwiches, and then another layer of ice cream. Sprinkle them with Magic Cover (and maybe colorful sprinkles?) before serving. Trust us: even the saddest guest will love it.
Recipe: Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Cake
Millie Peartree’s classic mayonnaise-based pasta salad was inspired by those served at Kennedy Fried Chicken. It’s perfectly balanced: salty with mayonnaise, a little sweet with carrots, and a little sugar. One reader wrote: “A dish comforts in the summer like mac n’ cheese in the winter.”
Recipe: macaroni salad
“Who knew you could make ribs in a slow cooker, and they could be so fresh and luscious with no comedic effort?” asked one of the readers. Sarah DiGregorio, that is! This is the perfect recipe for ribs lovers who don’t have a grill and don’t want to heat up their kitchen. (This lovely stuff needs a quick roast, but only for a few minutes.) A pressure cooker version can be found here.
Recipe: Hot slow-cooking honey ribs
Bibim guksu, or “mixed noodles” in Korean, is the perfect summer meal. It’s cold and hot and very easy to make yourself. Bibim guksu doesn’t usually include kimchi, but in this recipe from Darun Kwak, it provides welcome spicy and sour notes.
Yes, this is a recipe for a tomato sandwich. This one, from Melissa Clark, is based on pan-con tomate, “involving rubbing the guts of ripe tomatoes all over the garlic toast,” then topped with more tomato, onion, mayonnaise, and, if you like, bacon.
Recipe: Tomato sandwiches
Melissa Clark saves us again with this silly, easy-to-make peanut butter ice cream that doesn’t require a machine. Secret ingredient? Unsweetened Oat Milk Bleach. The end result is rich, creamy and beautiful.
Recipe: Vegan Ice Cream with Peanut Butter and Maple
These crunchy patties from Vallery Lomas are made with fresh corn, cheddar cheese, green onions, and chilies, and straight into the batter, then fried in the skillet until golden and crunchy. Eat it alone or alongside grilled chicken.
This sticky candy from Jerrelle Guy isn’t quite a bagel and isn’t quite a cake, but it falls somewhere in between happiness. It can be made from pretty much any fresh or frozen summer fruit, but serve it with a spoon because it’s very soft and the result of cutting it with a knife.
Recipe: strawberry spoon cake
Go to the farmers market. Two whole pounds of eggplant and zucchini go into this delicious weeknight meal from Kai Chun. The secret to the unappetizing eggplant is to fry it slowly in a non-stick frying pan until tender and caramelized without adding a lot of oil.
Recipe: Eggplant and zucchini pasta with feta and dill