Beach vacation on a plate: delicious dishes await




Can’t you just picture it? A fiery sun sinking below the horizon, casting shades of orange, yellow and red on the shimmering ocean. 

Can’t you hear it? The woosh of waves crashing on the sand, followed by peals of children’s laughter in the distance. 

Can’t you smell and feel it? The coconut-y aroma of tanning lotion. Warm breezes perfumed with sea salt. Hot sand in between your toes. 

Best of all, we bet you can almost taste it, now that the countdown is on for a beach vacation.

If you’re headed to the Jersey shore this summer, you’re probably hungering for its small and tender littleneck clams, followed by something sweet involving blueberries. Both are among the state’s most famous summer offerings, and widely available from local fishmongers or at roadside stands and farmers markets. Close your eyes and picture it: Dozens of tiny hard-shell clams stacked atop a platter of linguine tossed in a garlicky white wine sauce. Or maybe you’re dreaming of a seaside breakfast, in which case tender scones studded with fresh, plump blueberries are in order.

Mealtime is equally delicious for vacationers renting a beach house in New England, especially if you’re not squeamish about cooking lobster. Experts are calling for an especially early lobster season this year, so even if your family is headed north right after school lets out in mid-June you can expect to find plenty of the sweet-meat crustaceans ripe for steaming, broiling or chowder-making. 

Or perhaps your vacation plans include a long drive south, to the white-sand sunny beaches of North Carolina or southern Florida. Lucky you, because there’s nothing quite so delicious as fresh fish or shrimp from the Atlantic and served with a cold beer or delightfully named fruity cocktail. Both seafoods are easy to prepare, too, which is no small thing when you’re dealing with a rental kitchen that might not be as well-equipped as the one you couldn’t wait to get the heck out of.

Vacation cooking can be terrific. That’s because it doesn’t have to be labor-intensive or overly complicated. It’s actually at its best when the food is fast (you want to get back to the beach) and simply prepared (you don’t want to be lugging your pantry along). You’re on vacay, after all, and the livin’ is supposed to be easy. To that end, it’s best to use locally grown, seasonal produce and seafood. It will be the most readily available, with the added benefit of letting you eat like you live there. Which, when you’re at the beach, is everyone’s dream.

Think fish dusted with spices then seared to a crispy/flaky crunch in a hot pan. Shrimp that tasks those eating it to do the work of peeling, after it has been boiled in a pot of beer seasoned with Old Bay. Chowder made with lobster meat and sweet summer corn that stirs together in less time than it takes to eat it.

“The Jersey Shore Cookbook: Fresh Summer Flavors From the Boardwalk and Beyond” by Deborah Smith and “Lulu’s Kitchen: A Taste of the Gulf Coast Good Life” by Lucy Buffett are among cookbooks that dish up a bright taste of summer. None of the dishes takes more than 15 minutes to prepare (plus baking time, for the desserts), and all use everyday ingredients that will be easy to find even in the tiniest beachfront grocery.

And if you’re not anywhere near the drone of the ocean? You still can cook as though you’re seaside, thanks to fishmongers such as Penn Avenue Fish Co. and Wholey’s, where you can find a wide variety of fish, lobster and shrimp year-round. 

What’s that saying? Oh, yeah. Vacation is a state of mind, not a location.

Gretchen McKay: gmckay@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.

Jersey Clams and Linguine

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Clams have long been a mainstay of New Jersey’s coastal communities. Here, littleneck clams in a flavorful white wine sauce dress up linguine. Red pepper flakes give it a little bite. Serve with crusty bread for dipping.

8 to 12 ounces linguine

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for tasting

2 tablespoons butter

2 garlic cloves, chopped

Pinch crushed red pepper

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

Splash white wine

½ cup clam juice or stock

About 24 Jersey littleneck clams (more if they are small)

2 slices lemon

1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley

Cook pasta ¾ of the way, according to package directions. Rinse with cool water to stop cooking and toss with a little olive oil. Set aside. (The pasta will finish cooking in sauce.)

In large saute pan, add 2 tablespoons oil and butter over medium heat. Add garlic, pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, thyme and oregano. Cook, stirring occasionally so the garlic doesn’t burn, for 1 minute.

Add wine, stock and clams; cook, covered, until clams open. Add lemon slices and linguine and cook for about 2 minutes, tossing to mix. Top with parsley and serve, discarding any unopened clams.

Serves 2.

— “The Jersey Shore Cookbook: Fresh Summer Flavors From the Boardwalk and Beyond” by Deborah Smith (Quirk, April 2016, $22.95)

Creole Blackened Grouper Salad

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Redolent of paprika, cayenne and black pepper, this dish tastes of the islands. It’s served on a bed of peppery arugula salad, but it would be just as tasty on top of rice or a bagged salad. Pan-searing the fish makes it crusty on the outside and tender on the inside. If you can’t find grouper, any firm, large-flake white fish will be a fine substitute. 

For fish

4 grouper fillets

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons creole seasoning

For dressing

2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup canola oil

¼ cup each freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice

1½ tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon coarse black pepper

½ teaspoon salt

For salad

2 bags mixed spring greens or fresh arugula, washed and dried

½ red onion, very thinly sliced

4 to 6 radishes, very thinly sliced

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 yellow bell pepper, sliced in strips

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Toss grouper with 2 tablespoons olive oil and creole seasoning. Set aside.

In large cast-iron or heavy skillet, heat remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat until it sizzles. Gently place grouper fillets in skillet. Cook on one side for 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully turn fish fillets and continue cooking for another 3 to 4 minutes or until fish is cooked through. If you can easily insert a toothpick into the fish, it is done. Remove to an ovenproof platter or baking dish. Place in oven to keep warm while cooking remaining fillets.

While fish is cooking, make salad dressing: Place all ingredients in a glass jar or plastic container and shake well until dressing is combined. Refrigerate.

Combine salad greens with dressing. Toss thoroughly. Divide greens among four dinner plates.

On top of salads, sprinkle red onions, radishes, cherry tomatoes and bell pepper strips.

Top each salad with a grouper fillet and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

— “Lulu’s Kitchen: A Taste of the Gulf Coast Good Life” by Lucy Buffett (Grand Central Life & Style; April 2016; $19.99)

Shrimp ’n’ Beer

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Nothing says ”vacation” better than shrimp in a bucket. This recipe takes less than five minutes, and can be eaten warm or cold the next day. Serve with plenty of cold beer and napkins. 

2 pounds shrimp, unpeeled

For cocktail sauce 

1 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons prepared horseradish

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For shrimp

12-ounce bottle beer

1 cup water

1 medium onion, sliced

1 lemon or lime, sliced

4 garlic cloves, slivered

1 bunch parsley, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon whole black or mixed peppercorns

Rinse shrimp and set aside to drain.

For cocktail sauce, in a small bowl, mix all ingredients thoroughly. Refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour.

In large pot, mix beer and all shrimp ingredients. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, and allow to bubble for 2 minutes, reducing heat if necessary to keep from boiling over. Make sure beer mixture is at a raucous boil, and then add shrimp. Cook, stirring often, just until mixture returns to a boil and shrimp turn pink, about 2 to 3 minutes. Drain.

Serve in a large bowl, with a small bowl of cocktail sauce and an extra bowl for discarded shrimp shells.

Serves 4.

— “The Outer Banks Cookbook: Recipes & Traditions From North Carolina’s Barrier Islands” by Elizabeth Wiegand (Globe Pequot Press, $19.95)

Key Lime Pie

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It’s my all-time favorite summer dessert. Both the scratch crust and filling are super easy, but it’s perfectly acceptable to substitute a store-bought crust for quicker results — you’re on vacation, after all. Ditto with using Reddi-Wip instead of making your own whipped cream.

For crust

1¼ cups graham cracker crumbs (from nine crackers)

2 tablespoons sugar

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For filling

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

4 large egg yolks

6 tablespoons fresh or bottled key lime juice

For topping

¾ cup very cold heavy cream

Make crust: Put rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch pie plate. Stir together graham cracker crumbs, sugar and butter in a bowl with a fork until well combined. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and up sides of pie plate. Bake crust for 10 minutes, then transfer to a rack. Leave oven on.

While crust is baking, make filling: Whisk together condensed milk and yolks in a bowl until well combined. Add key lime juice and whisk until well combined and slightly thickened. Pour filling into crust, then return to oven and bake for 15 minutes. Cool pie completely on rack, then refrigerate, covered, for at least 8 hours. 

Just before serving, beat cream in a medium bowl with an electric or hand mixer until it just holds stiff peaks. Spread pie with cream or top each serving with a dollop.

Serves 8.

— “The Gourmet Cookbook” by Ruth Reichl (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Blueberry Scones

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New Jersey is the country’s fifth-ranked blueberry-producing state, so you’re bound to see them at roadside stands and farmers markets on the Jersey shore. These tender, moist scones are chock-full of the berries, offering sweetness in every bite along with heart-loving antioxidants. Delicious slathered with butter.  

3½ cups bread flour

⅓ cup granulated sugar

5 tablespoons butter, softened

3 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch salt

½ cup buttermilk

½ cup heavy cream

1 large egg

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 cups fresh blueberries, picked over and rinsed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine flour, sugar, butter, baking powder and salt. Mix briefly on low speed to distribute evenly.

In bowl, whisk together buttermilk, cream, egg and vanilla extract. Turn mixer on low speed and slowly pour wet mixture into dry ingredients. Increase speed to medium and mix for 1 to 2 minutes, until dough softens. Return to low speed and mix in blueberries until combined. Try not to overmix or dough will turn blue.

With an ice cream scoop or large spoon, drop dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets; you should have 12 scones. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes (less time if berries are fresh). When done, scones should be light brown and firm to the touch. Serve warm or cool.

Makes 12.

— “The Jersey Shore Cookbook: Fresh Summer Flavors From the Boardwalk and Beyond” by Deborah Smith (Quirk, April 2016, $22.95)

White Rum & Lime Sea Breezes

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Take one sip of this colorful cocktail, and you’ll feel like you’re relaxing by the sea, even if you’re on your back porch. 

3 cups cranberry juice

⅔ cup grapefruit juice

Juice 1 lime

1 cup white rum

6 lime slices for garnish

Pour cranberry, grapefruit and lime juices and rum into a large pitche,r and stir well. Serve over ice in highball glasses, garnished with lime slices.

Serves 6.

— “The Beach House Cookbook” by Barbara Scott-Goodman (Chronicle, $24.95)

Lobster and Corn Chowder

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Sweet summer corn and lobster are the stars in this creamy, oh-so-easy New England chowder.

1 or 2 lobsters (2½ pounds total), boiled, drained and cooled (I used two large lobster tails)

2 ears fresh corn, husked

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large or 2 small leeks, trimmed, rinsed, dried and chopped

1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

2 tablespoons unbleached flour

3 cups chicken broth

1 cup whole milk

½ cup heavy whipping cream

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives for garnish

Remove lobster meat from shells, pick over, cut into chunks and set aside.

Scrape kernels from corn cobs with a small knife. Reserve with their juices.

Melt butter in large soup pot over medium-high heat.

Saute leek for 3 minutes. Add bell pepper to pot and saute for another 3 minutes.

Add flour; stir well and add chicken broth. Lower heat to medium, add milk and cream, and stir until soup simmers and thickens slightly. Add lobster and corn. Add black pepper to taste and simmer for another 3 minutes, stirring often. Serve at once, garnished with herbs.

Serves 6.

— “The Beach House Cookbook” by Barbara Scott-Goodman (Chronicle, $24.95)





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