Now that more and more families are fully (or almost fully) vaccinated, July 4th may be the first holiday in a while that sees the majority of folks getting together for outdoor gatherings and parties. To celebrate, we've put together a menu that takes some summer weekend classics — cheeseburgers, pasta salad, corn on the cob, popsicles and "flag cakes" — and transforms them into something that feels fresh.
To get things started, toss some burgers on the grill — maybe take a page from Alton Brown's book and make them with a mixture of ground pork, ground lamb and ground turkey? Then consult this piece about which cheeses are best for burgers, based on meltability and taste (I'm partial to cheddar if I'm feeling a classic burger; brie if I want something a little fancier).
To really round out your burger game, take a few minutes to whip up your own special sauce. This version from my condiment column Saucy trades in the typical onion powder and sweet relish for fresh minced onion and spicy relish. Swirl in a little smoked paprika and you've got a smoky, lightly spicy and acidic sauce that will stand up to the inherent fattiness of your burger.
Giardiniera is an Italian relish made with olive oil-bathed, pickled vegetables. It's super popular in Chicago, where you'll most frequently find it on Italian beef sandwiches and, occasionally, as a pizza topping. Lauren Ocello, the owner of Twiddly Bits — a Chicago jam and pickle shop — recommends using it as the base of a pasta salad. Our version uses orecchiette, pancetta and a big handful of green herbs to keep things fresh.
Elliot Prag, the lead instructor of the health-supportive culinary arts program at the Institute of Culinary Education, told Salon that he loves putting corn on the grill because it will infuse it with a little smokiness.
"What you can do is peel back the husk, rub the corn with some olive oil and a squeeze of lime, and then close the husk back up and put it on the grill," Prag says. "While I actually like raw corn, having the husk on will ensure that it gets the corn completely cooked."
While the corn is delicious as-is at that point, I do like to pair it with a fresh chimichurri, which is a vibrant, herby sauce originated in Argentina. Recipes are often pretty loose, consisting of pulsed parsley, oregano, olive or sunflower oil, garlic and a splash of red wine vinegar. Some versions add garlic, citrus zest or minced shallots. Use whatever you have on hand for a little extra flavor.
Why should kids have all the frozen fun during the summer? These spiked seltzer popsicles combine one of summer's most popular beverages with fresh strawberries. This recipe makes enough for six standard-size popsicles, but can easily be doubled or tripled for a crowd.
I have a soft spot for those classic berry-topped "red, white and blue" cakes, but if the idea of making and decorating a multilayer cake while trying to plan the rest of a holiday weekend meal feels daunting, try my simplified version that is just as delicious. Bake a package of pre-made puff pastry until golden brown and then slather it with fluffy mascarpone icing. Decorate that with your mixed red and blue berries.