Keep summer cookin’

Although autumn does not arrive for about three weeks, there are signs that my favorite season is upon us. The Eagles have played several preseason games, Halloween decorations and greeting cards — and even Christmas ornaments — have been in stores since late July.

Nothing like rushing the season.

September is usually a glorious month. The sky is sometimes cloudless and deep blue. The temperature can be in the 80s during the day, yet fall to 65 degrees or so at night. A balmy evening with a gentle breeze is September perfection.

Although Labor Day has passed, many of us are still grilling outdoors. But when I thought about planning dinner for an early September evening, I nixed the usual hot dogs, burgers, chicken and steak. Instead, a boneless butterflied leg of lamb would be a welcome change from the usual barbecue fare.

Soupe au pistou will be served in place of all the salads we have been wolfing down for the past few months. It is the French version of minestrone and it is downright delicious. As with minestrone, there are many recipes for this soup. Marcella Hazan writes that minestrone is sometimes served at room temperature in parts of northern Italy. When the soup is ready to be served, a small dollop of pistou is placed in each bowl for added richness. Pistou is the French pesto and hails from sunny Provence. Some people make pistou with tomatoes. I prefer to add tomatoes to the soup and make my pistou straight. Note that pistou does not contain pine nuts.

Although the French are fond of lamb, it is the meat of choice in the diverse countries that make up the Mediterranean. The Greeks often serve lamb with a medley of vegetables and rice. Or they make a side dish with rice and spinach.

One of my favorite ways to prepare lamb in warm weather is a grilled, boned leg. Some markets sell them already boned and butterflied. Any fine butcher worth his name will happily bone and butterfly a leg of lamb for you. This cut of lamb has a funny, lumpy shape, but once it is grilled and sliced, it is just fine. Leftovers are perfect for sandwiches and salads.

This dinner must include a loaf of good, fresh, crusty bread to serve with the soup. Since the soup is filled with vegetables and is quite hearty, a vegetable side dish is not necessary. The rice and spinach side dish is a perfect match for the lamb.

I would serve a hearty Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz or Pinot Noir with the lamb. Since this is a rich meal, a platter of fresh fruit with a selection of cheese ends it nicely. If you hanker for something sweet, a scoop of fresh fruit sorbet is just right.

Here are recipes for a September cookout.

Soupe au Pistou

For the soupe:

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and diced
1 large leek, split, thoroughly washed under cold water and sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 ribs of celery, peeled and diced
4 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
1 (28-ounce package) chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups water
2 (15-ounce cans) Great Northern white beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes with their juice
Handful of string beans, sliced
1 zucchini, diced
1 yellow squash, sliced
1/4 cup ditalini or tiny pasta shells
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


In a 4-quart soup pot, preferably enamel on cast iron, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, leeks, carrots, celery and garlic and saut� for about five minutes or so or until the onions are translucent. Add the stock and water, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil.

Lower the heat to medium and add the beans, tomatoes, zucchini and yellow squash. Partially cover the pot with a lid and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the pasta, kosher salt and pepper, and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes.

For the pistou:

2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese


Place all the ingredients in the bowl of the food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process until the mixture is smooth.

Serves four to six.

Note from Phyllis: This is another free-form soup. You can add a diced potato or turnip to the pot. Add the pistou only when the soup is nice and hot and ready to serve. You can beat it into the soup or place a dollop into each serving.

Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb


1 (4-pound) boned, butterflied leg of lamb
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
4 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Leaves from several sprigs of fresh rosemary


Place the marinade ingredients in a large glass or stainless steel bowl. Place the leg of lamb in the marinade, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight, turning it from time to time.

Bring the lamb to room temperature before grilling. Light the grill and place the lamb with the marinade on it. Cook for 10 minutes on each side.

Check for doneness. The lamb should be nice and pink, medium-rare.

Allow the lamb to rest about 10 minutes before slicing.

Serves four to six.

Note from Phyllis: If you have a Weber kettle grill, cover the lamb while grilling. This will impart a delicious smoky flavor.

Spinach and Rice


3 cups water
1-1/2 cups long-grain rice
3 (8-ounce) bags baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Place the water in a 3-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil, add the rice, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes or until rice fluffs easily with a fork. Set aside.

You can microwave the spinach, in their bags, for a few minutes, or steam it. Place the rice and spinach in a large serving bowl. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, kosher salt and pepper and toss well.

Serves four to six.

Note from Phyllis: This is a very popular side dish in Greece.