The 4:06 train, or the Jitney and complimentary peanuts, or an unforgivably expensive rental car is what comes to mind when I think of my NY summers in the late 90’s; followed by the scent of recently cut grass, salty fresh air, and a tire swinging from an old tree.
Like most New Yorkers, I had a share in a summer home in the Hampton. It was a share in an old, once majestic home on Ocean Avenue in Bridgehampton, named after a potato farmer known as Old Men Brennan.
The Brennan home didn’t have the amenities one would expect from a summer home in the Hamptons; it had no pool, no air conditioning, no fancy speakers or a big screen TV, and some would say part of it was definitely hygienically below standards, requiring heavy bleach use at the beginning of the season. The sleeping quarters were unequally distributed, all the beds were lumpy and 2 rooms in the back were kind-heartedly described as the Ann Frank’s rooms.
However the Brennan home had an old kitchen, perfect for baking pies, an impeccable grass lawn meant for fierce croquet games famously assisted by tall icy vodka tonics, a green room for rainy days, where a group of good friends made up by talented artist, writers and designers could share a laugh, a glass or two of wine, and a good meal during the mercilessly hot NY weekends.
The meals at the house were taken as seriously as the discussions about art, life, relationships and work, and they were, for the most part, shared labor and shared economy. They were conceived around the kitchen table where cooking skills and family recipes not only helped craft unforgivable meals, but also still standing friendships. They were consumed mostly on the lawn, by the tree with the swing.
Eventually, the Brennan house came to an end. Some of the people got married; some broke up, or some simply moved on or away, yet my love for a perfect summer meal, eaten alfresco and shared with good friends and family remains certain.
Nowadays, when I serve a meal outside, I often like to start with a Pimm’s cup, an anglophile habit I picked up after living in London. It looks pretty, it’s refreshing and it’s a cheerful way to get one or two of your fruits and veggies daily doses. Here’s a great link for trustworthy recipes:
As a main course, I frequently make an oven baked whole fish. Branzino or red snapper both work well. I leave the head on and all the bones in for flavor, no need to be squirmish, and I make sure to descale the outside and wash the insides well. I cook it on an oven tray lined with slices of lemons and aromatics. The lemon and aromatics prevent the fish from sticking to the bottom and donate a brilliant flavor.
For side dishes, I insist on a Mediterranean style potato salad, dressed with a good fruity and pungent olive oil, parsley, basil and salty black cured olives. I also like to serve roasted peppers and a fresh arugula salad tossed with lemon juice vinaigrette. I roast the peppers on an open flame then I close them in brown paper bag for 15 minutes, this way the skin peels off easy. It’s great a trick my dad taught me a long time ago.
While a pie, any kind of pie would certainly be a nice ending, at the moment I’m obsessed with Ataulfo mangos. They are sweet, full of flavor and just perfect for my mango, orange and passion fruit cake.
Although some wish the days at Brennan house never ended I raise my Pimm’s cup to this summer and all the summers to come, and I hope where ever you are, you will share a good meal together with someone you care for, on a green shady lawn.