Down East 2013 ©
“How hot could it possibly be in Maine?” friends from other parts of the country ask. Well, let me tell you. It’s been hot lately. I mean, really hot.
There were a few days — when the temperature soared to over ninety and the humidity level was ridiculous — that I actually lost my appetite. This doesn’t happen much. I have to be really upset or really hot to lose interest in eating. I munched on cubes of juicy, sweet watermelon and raspberries during those dog days.
Yesterday the cool, clear, dry air that Maine is so famous for returned, and with it, my appetite.
I wanted to create something festive and colorful, celebrating the flavors of summer, but I still didn’t want to turn on the oven or the stove. I found a loaf of very thin Scandinavian-style brown bread in the freezer (the kind used for open-faced sandwiches and appetizers), and a light bulb went off: open-faced summer sandwiches using the best of the garden.
Making open-faced sandwiches is a bit like making a collage. I harvested a huge basket of basil, (which, unlike me, seems to be thriving in this heat and humidity) and whirled up a batch of pesto with pine nuts, olive oil, pepper, sea salt, and grated Parmesan. I also picked a fennel bulb, a few of the very first tomatoes, and some arugula, and then I took out just about everything else I could find in my refrigerator. The ingredients lined up like an artist’s color palette.
While I assembled the sandwiches I thought about all the elements that make up good food: color, texture, flavor, and aroma. I smeared the fresh pesto on the thin black bread and topped it with thin slices of garden cucumber and a sprinkling of fresh dill. There were a few slices of Ducktrap River Smoked Salmon in the refrigerator so I buttered the bread, topped it with the salmon, thinly sliced hard-boiled eggs, finishing with chopped scallions. The tomatoes were thinly sliced on top of the buttered bread, sprinkled with sea salt, freshly ground pepper, scallions and basil, and tiny cubes of feta cheese.
I also placed thin slices of Genoa salami from a recent trip to an Italian deli on top of bread slathered with Dijon mustard and then topped the peppery meat with paper-thin slices of fennel.
Finally, there were a few slices of jamon (like prosciutto, but thicker) leftover from my daughter’s trip to Spain. The meaty ham paired well with wedges of fresh figs and a drizzle of good olive oil.
I assembled all the sandwiches on a long wooden paddle and looked at the combination of colors and textures. I had to admit that it was a very successful art project, not to mention the fact that we had a major, refreshing, no-heat-involved feast. A pitcher of minty iced tea washed it all down. A cool summer breeze blew in as if to say: Damn the heat. Summer is fleeting. Enjoy it while you can!