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FOOD

A toaster oven, a skillet, and a saucepan are all you need to make a fine dinner right now

Late summer produce and fish will still shine, even if it’s too hot to turn on the stove.

Sheryl Julian's Summer Chicken SaladSheryl Julian for The Boston Globe

It began two heatwaves ago. I had a really nice piece of bluefish ready to cook. The AC in the kitchen conked out and the repairman couldn’t come for quite a long time, which turned out to be after the extreme heat was gone. I couldn’t think about turning the oven on. We might have used the grill, but a relatively new gas grill was broken. It had tipped over in a winter storm and three sets of knobs that we ordered online wouldn’t fit so it had to be turned on with pliers; more smashed features, too. We hadn’t used the charcoal grill in so long it needed a thorough scrubbing. Too hot to scrub the old grill.

I’m six weeks into toaster oven dinners. I’ve hardly turned on the Big Oven, as it’s now called. The toaster oven, a large counter-top model that will hold a whole roast chicken, doesn’t have Ninja features like air-frying, but it’s perfect for ordinary oven jobs. Along with it, what’s doing yeoman’s work in my kitchen right now is a large skillet and a saucepan fitted with a steamer insert.

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Tomatoes ProvencalSheryl Julian for The Boston Globe

It’s working beautifully and we’re eating well. Locally grown vegetables need very little cooking. You want to stay away from long-roasted root vegetables this time of year, from long-simmered stews, from all the heavier fare that we spend many months of the year making to feel warm and cozy. Fish caught in the North Atlantic can taste delicious after 10 minutes under the oven’s broiler (don’t turn the fish) or a brief simmer in a fresh tomato sauce.

Circassian chickenSheryl Julian for The Boston Globe

On the first hot night, I nestled chicken breasts in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish (quite a nice, deep rectangle from a Martha Stewart line that I bought at my favorite discount store) and slid them into the toaster oven. Half an hour later, they were golden with plenty of pan juices to spoon over them. They went with skillet zucchini, sauteed until most of the slices were brown and melting. That and slices of breast were spooned over angel hair pasta with a tomato salad.

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PanzanellaSheryl Julian for The Boston Globe

Here’s a rough outline of dishes that go into the countertop oven: tomatoes Provencal with golden crumbs; a meaty fish like sword or bluefish; shrimp in the shell sprinkled with olive oil and maras pepper flakes (served with lots of lemon and napkins); zucchini and yellow squash halves; a baking dish with fresh tomatoes layered with feta; zucchini, squash, and tomato gratin (the French dish tian); baked tofu; pork loin; roasted peaches with other summer fruits.

Angel Hair Bowls are made with whatever's in the fridge. Here the very thin pasta is layered with grilled chicken, white beans, grilled bell peppers, roasted zucchini, tomatoes, and arugula.Sheryl Julian for The Boston Globe

The skillet line-up: pork chops with mushrooms; fresh tomato sauce for spooning over pasta or poaching a delicate white fish; rice pilaf with yesterday’s vegetables or pieces of chicken folded in at the last minute; hearty late summer greens; sausages and peppers; Turkish menemen, the pan of soft scrambled eggs with tomatoes; Circassian chicken, another Turkish favorite, poached breasts with walnut sauce; the famous Spanish potato tortilla; shakshuka; chicken biryani; halloumi slabs; chickpea tagine; ginger broccoli.

The steamer: corn on the cob (steaming is the best method for corn); green beans; white fish fillets; salmon; eggs (in their shells); broccoli florets with spicy seasonings.

Shakshuka made with eggs poached in tomato sauce. Dina Rudick/Globe Staff/file

Things that are usually in the fridge: cabbage slaw with a rice-vinegar dressing; quick pickled cucumber slices in cider vinegar; chunks of fresh tomatoes sprinkled only with salt, waiting for dressing; a jar of vinaigrette; a jar of Vietnamese nuoc cham dipping sauce; shredded carrot pickle; cooked angel hair, ready for sauce; cooked rice vermicelli, ready for toppings; Spanish romesco sauce.

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Dishes I make that need little or no cooking: salmon Nicoise; pan bagnat, baguettes stuffed with a Nicoise salad; thick pita stuffed with Greek salad; chicken salad; chickpeas with green beans; watermelon gazpacho; homemade hummus; farro and corn salad; cold zucchini-basil soup; panzanella; summer rice or bulgur bowls; Vietnamese rice noodle bowls; salmon poke bowls; tuna and white beans; cold soba noodle salad; smoked fish salad.

The late summer kitchen is a cornucopia of produce, fruit, fish, and herbs, with endless possibilities. From a cooking point of view, it may be the most exciting time of year.

Don’t let it slip away, even if you’ve only got a skillet in a cabin or a skewer over a campfire.

Quick Romesco SauceSheryl Julian for The Boston Globe



Sheryl Julian can be reached at sheryl.julian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.