It doesn't have to be summertime for me to feel like creating something easy, unfussied and satisfying in the kitchen.
But this time of year is virtually a default for whipping up familiar and uncomplicated dishes that look and taste just the opposite.
The joys of one-pot cooking were among my first discoveries when I got off the road as a traveling sportswriter, and they've become simple joys to rely on.
Like this one-pot Jambalaya I came across in the Jan. 2008 edition of Chile Pepper Magazine, which regularly features Cajun and Creole specialties that I otherwise have found frustrating to make.
At the risk of offending slow-cooking purist foodies on the Bayou, this Speedy Creole Jambalaya is something I make 5-6 times a year because it's just so darn easy. It's true to the essential ingredients of the dish (excepting roux replaced by tomatoes) without sacrificing flavor and still yielding the satisfying comfort of Louisiana cooking.
And all in less than an hour from first chop to last bite.
Speedy Creole Jambalaya (serves 4)
1 tb. bacon fat or olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1-2 tb. Creole seasoning (I love Zatarain's for many dishes)
1 cup long grain white rice
1 (15-oz.) can diced tomatoes
1/2 lb. andouille or other hot sausage, cut into 1/2-inch slices (I buy Aidell's, which includes recipes such as sausage hash that's great brunch fare)
1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled
Get Cookin': In medium saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the oil, then sautee bell pepper, onion and celery for 3-5 minutes. Add Creole seasoning and stir 1 minute. Add rice and stir 1 minute more. Stir in 2 cups water, tomatoes and their juice and sausage. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Add shrimp, stir and cook 5-7 minutes, until shrimp is cooked through and rice is tender.
This dish yields some serious heat, but perhaps I've kicked up my palate a few notches because I'm reaching for my bottle of McIlhenny's for a little more.
Sweet cornbread and a hearty red wine -- I like Borsao's Garnacha -- make this a splendid feast.