Generally, when I have time on my hands, the dinners I produce at home are fairly elaborate and usually star some beautiful piece of meat, either exotic or luxurious. I'm an oxtails or prime rib kind of girl- not a lot of boneless, skinless chicken breasts here.
Allow me to digress from the glory of the vegetarian summer dinner for a second, and rant about the cost-effectiveness of carefully selected meat: A crappy rib steak from food basics costs a little more than $10 per pound, and the meat is always meh- poorly marbled, thin, not aged well. 3 blocks away, the small butcher has beautiful prime rib for about $20 per KILO, which works out to about the same. The meat is so tender, it melts when you look at it. Granted, it's hard to come by a piece of the prime rib weighing in at less than a kilo, but it's enough meat for 4, with a salad, starch and vegetable side. And you have to take a side trip, but it's so worth forgoing the convenience of one-stop shopping at basics for a dramatic improvement in quality. Same goes for ground meats, pork, and especially veal, lamb and variety meats. You just get better stuff for the same price or even cheaper, if you look to your specialty shops. And this gets magnified the further you look outside the downtown core (in Kingston, at least)- there are butchers, bakers and cheese shops offering quality that far surpasses the meager offerings at Basics, and at prices that make 'special occasion' products, like prime rib, double-cut veal chops and lamb racks, accessible for every day. You just have to get there. Support your local butchers.
I'm done now.
Anyway, for a filling, quick (almost, but not quite, half-assed) summer dinner, this is my favorite:
A sandwich (for dinner? The shame!) made on fresh focaccia from Pasta G, one piece per person (this is a hearty sandwich), spread with La Bomba, a spicy, oily eggplant condiment (again from Pasta G), nice slices of fresh, local eggplant, green and yellow zucchini that have been salted and fried until golden brown in olive oil (drain them well on paper towel- eggplant sucks up TONS of oil), whole leaves of fresh basil, sliced heirloom tomatoes (hands down, the best tasting tomato anywhere is the Brandywine, but you could go for a Black Krim, a yellow Big Rainbow, or whatever you see in the market or in your backyard), great big chunks of Mozarella di Bufala, fresh mozarella made of buffalo milk. It's crazy expensive, but if you're accustomed to having the protein in your meal cost more than everything else on the plate, you should relax and enjoy the sweet, salty creaminess that is not easy to imitate. Finish the sandwich with crisp romaine hearts. A knife and fork is in order; this is a heck of a sandwich.
This time of year, corn on the cob is the best thing to eat alongside this gigantic, messy sandwich. I feel that corn is fine to eat raw, but it's nice to cook it a bit to release some of the starch and to get it hot enough so that the butter melts. Get a pot of water boiling- make it large enough to fit the corn, (or cut the cobs in half), and add some salt and sugar to the water. Add the corn, and cook just to heat the kernels through and soften them up a bit. Drain and toss with salted butter.
For dessert? In almost no time, you can slice juicy peaches, fry them in butter, when they're almost cooked through, toss in some brown sugar and a splash of Amaretto, and eat them as is, or better yet, spooned over ice cream, and garnished with some fleur de sel or Maldon salt.
No meat, no problem!