Don't resort to cans; eat well this summer!

James Reel inspired this column. I recently ran into the Weekly arts editor at Trader Joe's. We exchanged the usual social chatter and then went on our separate shopping ways until I spotted him reach for a can (gasp!) of marinara sauce and place it in his cart.

People ... I know it's summer, and the heat is not conducive to cooking, but making a sauce from scratch takes approximately three minutes more than opening a can (not counting cooking time).

So here are a few easy-to-prepare summer recipes, including marinara sauce. You'll have to use your cooking genius when it comes to amounts.

Marinara Sauce

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Fistful of fresh basil
  • Onion
  • One large can Trader Joe's organic diced tomatoes
Run the tomatoes through a blender just long enough to lightly puree, but not so long that they turn to mush. Set aside. Finely chop one medium onion. Using a cleaver, flatten garlic to easily remove skin, then finely chop as much as you like: one clove for the wimps, four or five cloves for the rest of us. Coat the bottom of a skillet with olive oil. (It shouldn't take more than one or two tablespoons.) When heated (but long before the oil smokes), toss in the onion and cook over medium heat. When the onion is limp and just starting to brown, toss in the garlic and cook for no more than one minute. Add the tomatoes, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Cover and lower the heat, stirring occasionally. After 10 minutes or so, add the lovingly torn basil (with your fingers, not a knife). Cook another 15 minutes, and voila, you've got a sauce.

Options: After the sauce is cooked, add raw shrimp, preferably with the shell intact. Yes, it's messy to eat but so much better. Substitute cod; or add cod, and a few minutes later, add shrimp. Cook until done. Eliminate the onion or the garlic. Add dried oregano (a smidgen). Improvise.

In the interest of full disclosure: This recipe is a modification of one I learned in my grandmother's kitchen. The original, with slightly different ingredients, is a family secret guarded by the ghosts of several generations of Sicilian matriarchs. You do not want to get them angry.

Summer Cod

  • One pound frozen cod
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Three to five finely chopped garlic cloves
  • Dried oregano
  • Flat-leaf parsley
  • Capers in vinegar (small variety)
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Red wine vinegar
Thaw cod, rinse, dry. Poach in a small amount of water. When done, remove from water; cool on a towel and pat dry. Flake into small pieces and place in a shallow glass casserole pan. Add juice of one lemon, oregano, finely chopped parsley, garlic, a splash or two of vinegar and a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Mix. Adjust seasonings. Add one or two tablespoons of capers, including their liquid. Adjust seasonings again, adding oil or vinegar as needed. Cover and let sit at least 30 minutes. Accompaniments: Serve over romaine, with avocado, a tomato salad, roasted peppers, etc.

Simple Green Beans

Wash one pound of green beans. Snip off ends. Using a steamer, steam until crisp-tender. Finely chop three to five garlic cloves. Add to slightly heated, olive-oiled skillet.

Stir until garlic releases its scent. Add green beans, salt (optional) and freshly ground pepper. Stir; cook about one to two minutes. Serve hot, cold or at room temperature. Optional: Add red-wine vinegar, oregano.

Mojito Summer Fruit

I developed a taste for mojitos last year when my daughter introduced them to me as we enjoyed a fine lunch overlooking the Oakland Hills in California's Bay Area. I suppose you can add rum to this recipe, but I haven't (yet).

Wash a selection of summer berries to total about two cups. Dry. Slice strawberries. Place mixed fruit in a shallow bowl. Very finely chop about two sprigs of mint. Toss with fruit. Whisk about a teaspoon of sugar into a tablespoon or so of freshly squeezed lime juice. Pour over fruit. Set aside for at least 30 minutes. Stir and serve. You can add sliced nectarines or peaches to this dessert.

There you have it: a complete summer meal that's good enough for guests but won't strand you in a hot kitchen for hours.

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