It's been hot in Boston this week.
Full sun, and the kind of heavy heat that makes you think twice about venturing outside in the afternoon. The kind that suggests that you shouldn't cook if you can't help it, and if you must do so, at least do so away from the kitchen.
The city seems to agree. Dinner is on the grill: if you go for a walk during early evening, right before it starts to get dark, you'll pick up the scent of charcoal and meat in the air.
To be honest, I'm not particularly excited about grilling. Let other people muck about with coals and wood chips and marinades and rubs - I'll put together salad or dessert.
I like dining al fresco, however, and I have enough friends with patios to eat dinner outside regularly in the summer. The trick is finding meals that don't require much time in a hot kitchen to prepare.
Fishcakes, for example, are quick to fry up - just a few minutes in a pan, and they're ready for the plate. Top with a basil-heavy fresh corn and cherry tomato relish, and dinner is served. No grill necessary at all.
Fishcakes with Corn, Tomato and Basil Relish
Inspired by a recipe of JJ and Emily's creation. These fishcakes will work with any firm, white-fleshed fish, though cod and haddock are particularly good. Even if you don't eat fish, it's worth making the salsa, which is also delicious over fried polenta with fresh mozzerella.
(Makes eight fishcakes. Allow one per person as an appetizer, and two per person for a main course.)
To make the salsa, shuck two ears of fresh corn and cut the kernels into a bowl. Finely chop half a red onion and add it to the bowl, then do the same with half a red bell pepper. Mince a clove of garlic and add it to the bowl. Take two sprigs of basil, pick off the leaves, shred them finely, and add them to the bowl. Squeeze over the juice of one lime, and add a generous pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper.
Take one cup of cherry tomatoes, cut in half, and put them in a pan over high heat with a little olive oil. Cook without stirring until the tomatoes char and stick a little, then add a little water and scrape up the browned bits. (You could also stick the pan under a broiler.)
Tip the tomato mixture into the bowl with the other vegetables. Give everything a stir. Allow to cool, then cover the bowl and put it in the fridge.
To make the fishcakes, take a pound of white fish fillets and cut them into small dice. (Not mince. You want the finished cakes to have recognizable chunks of fish.) Put the cut fish in a bowl with one finely minced clove of garlic, half a finely chopped red or white onion, and a small handful of finely shredded basil leaves. Crack in one egg. Add half a teaspoon of salt and a generous sprinkling of fresh black pepper. Put a hand into the mixture and stir to combine.
Once the egg has been mixed into the other ingredients, pour in half a cup of panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs) and stir gently to combine. The mixture should be sticky, but not too wet.
To shape the fishcakes, start by pouring another half-cup of panko into a small bowl. Set out a baking tray.
Divide the mixture into eight balls. Take one ball and squeeze it between your palms so that it holds together. Flatten it carefully so that it's under half an inch in thickness. Dip the fishcake in the bowl of panko until well-coated. Set on the baking tray. Repeat with the remaining fish mixture.
To fry the fishcakes, set a heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat. Pour in a generous quantity of canola or other frying-suitable vegetable oil. Drop in a small pinch of panko crumbs; when the oil starts to sizzle, you're ready to start frying.
Cook the fishcakes a few at a time (don't overcrowd the pan), for three to four minutes per side, or until they're firm and golden brown in color.
Place the fishcakes on plates, and top with the corn salsa. Sprinkle with a little more black pepper, and serve immediately.