It’s that moment in the summer when it starts to feel like a part-time job just to muscle through the monster garden zucchini, the bushels of basil, and the fruits of your overproductive tomato plant. Whether you’re an urban farmer, a card-carrying member of CSA, or just a devoted farmers’ market shopper, you might now be facing the threat of veggie fatigue. At a certain point, everything that comes off the grill starts to taste the same. My antidote: the summer sauce.
There are infinite ways to dress a tomato or embellish a platter of grilled or raw zucchini. With a few of these surprising salsas, unexpected pestos, and chunky oils swimming with herbs in the fridge, every meal can feel like a party (well, sort of).
Nut- and Seed-Based Sauces
Nuts make a rich, substantial base for all kinds of sauces and dips, everywhere from North Africa to Catalonia. The classic Italian pine nut–and–basil pesto isn’t the only nut-based summer sauce worth stocking in your arsenal. Think of it as an equation: nut + green + fat = yum! The rest is up to interpretation.
Basil can be matched with almonds, pistachios, or walnuts in lieu of pricey pine nuts. When it comes to the greens, play with arugula (especially once it gets a little too spicy late in the season), tender carrot fronds, or Thai basil. I make all of these sauces in the food processor, roughly chopping the dry ingredients and adding the oil slowly at the end. I like them to maintain a little texture, so I stop before they are smooth.
Almonds (or almond butter), roasted red peppers (jarred piquillo peppers are classic), smoked paprika, parsley, garlic, lemon, and olive oil. Serve as a dip for charred baby onions with their greens.
Vegan Pistachio Pesto
Toasted pistachio, spicy arugula, nutritional yeast (as a substitute for Parmesan), garlic, lemon zest, and olive oil. Serve on toast with cherry tomato salad piled on top, or smear it on an ear of corn.
Walnuts, breadcrumbs, jarred roasted or grilled red peppers, tomatoes, blanched almonds, paprika, pomegranate molasses, olive oil, lemon, salt, and parsley. Serve as a dip for a summer crudité platter.
Toasted pumpkin seeds, tahini, dates, splash of water, and salt. This is a super-decadent, creamy sauce that brings out the sweetness in roasted broccolini.
There are infinite ways to make a salsa verde (which translates to “green sauce”). Preserving herbs in their prime by submerging them in olive oil extends their life span and makes them easy to use on a daily basis. That jar of herby oil comes in handy when you need a quick drizzle of something green to finish a grilled flank steak, a bowl of simmered beans, or grilled eggplant or zucchini. It’s the dealer’s choice on the mix and ratios of herbs. You can process them by chopping by hand, or quickly blitzing the herbs in a food processor, transferring to a container, and covering with high-quality extra virgin olive oil. Refrigerated, salsa verde will last a couple of weeks.
Fennel Citrus Sauce
Fennel fronds, lemon zest, minced fresh red chiles, and chives. Drizzle over grilled fish; grilled squash; or fennel, citrus, and black olive salad.
Flat-leaf parsley, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes. Great on everything from steak to a caprese salad, or as a smear on toasted bread with tinned fish on top.
Carrot Top Crunch
Carrot fronds, toasted fennel seeds, lemon zest, and Urfa chile flakes. Spoon over roasted carrots and grain salads.
North African Chermoula
Parsley, cilantro, garlic, preserved lemon, a pinch of smoked paprika, crushed red pepper flakes, crushed whole cumin, and coriander seeds. Toss with green beans, or serve over charred sweet peppers.
Chunky Salsa and Gremolata
I like to think of these chunky sauces as more than just a finish, but as the raison d’être of the meal. Their big flavors and substantial texture will have you eating them by the generous spoonful.
Salsa machas are Mexican oil-based salsas made with toasted mild dried chiles. Combine roasted peanuts, pepitas, or cashews with pan-toasted mild dried guajillo and/or pasilla chiles and one spicy chile de arbol. Blitz in the food processor with pan-charred red onions, garlic, and a splash of fish sauce (optional), and pulse with enough olive oil to create an unctuous, pourable textured salsa. Keep it chunky. Spoon over tacos, shrimp, sweet potatoes, or roasted maitake mushrooms.
Meyer Lemon Gremolata
Toss together Meyer lemon flesh, minced garlic, Italian parsley, minced fresh thyme, and olive oil. Ladle into gem lettuce boats and top with shaved ricotta salata. Fill the center of half an avocado and eat it all yourself with a spoon, or serve it over raw zucchini ribbons.
Grilled Pineapple Salsa
Grilled pineapple and green onions; toasted, crushed pumpkin seeds; minced habañero; cilantro; lime juice; and oil. Serve with sweet potato tacos, roast pork, or grilled chicken.
Grilled Peach and Tomato Salsa
Grill your stone fruit cut-side down to caramelize. Dice them and toss with diced fresh tomatoes, red onion, jalapeño, lime, basil, and olive oil. Serve over toast with burrata or creamy feta.
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