ITS MID-AUGUST (already!) and the tomatoes are fat, the basil is fluffy—just add Brie or some other soft cheese and chop it up in the cool of the morning and walk away . . . we’ll get to end when we get to the end.
When it’s too hot to cook, there’s always summer pasta. Easy, elegant and nothing more to do than boil water and toss.
I made this for Robert Selke and Bruce Thompson, who once owned 2 Quail, which was often called the most romantic restaurant in Washington DC—though it was more a tribute to seat-of-the-pants creativity than expensive furniture and design.
Set in a series of rooms on the combined second floors of two townhouses on Massachusetts Avenue NE, Bruce and Robert collected a crazy mix of mismatched wing chairs, china, flatware and wallpaper, let Piaf croon and mirrors reflect candlelight. Somehow that tiny townhouse also produced lovely food.
Some years before, Robert had opened a successful restaurant in Philadelphia, and Bruce, a former ballet dancer, came to work as a server. They became a thing.
When they noticed that most of their regulars decamped for Dewy Beach, Delaware, on summer weekends, they opened a restaurant there as well. As some of the Philadelphia staff traveled back and forth—filling gaps when gaps needed filling—Robert bought a rambling farmhouse a few miles from the ocean and put everyone up.
2 Quail was their third restaurant. They told me that they took the train to Washington just for kicks one day and noticed a “for rent” sign in front of the townhouse on Massachusetts Avenue NE, just a few blocks from Union Station.
By the end of the day they’d signed a lease, and in short order furnished the place with a collection of glamorously funky thrift-shop and used-furniture finds. It never changed.
The farmhouse became their weekend retreat. Not surprisingly, it looked like the restaurant, wonderfully mismatched and utterly charming. While the fields were leased to farmers, they kept an acre or so around the house for gardens—a secondary passion of Robert’s—and splendid they were. The hydrangeas were particularly dazzling and seemed to be in bloom throughout the summer. Bruce said all they did was dig in Holly-tone fertilizer at Easter and again at Thanksgiving.
I made summer pasta for them one starry starry night, moving the porch table to the middle of the garden, picking hydrangeas for the centerpiece. It was magical.
Never be afraid to cook for cooks: They appreciate a night off.
After a decade or so they sold the restaurant and moved to Fort Lauderdale, where Robert took up tropical gardening, and Bruce, who changed his name to Monty, swam from condo to condo leading little old ladies in aerobics.
After a few years we lost touch, but I still think of them when the tomatoes are ripe and it’s too damn hot to do anything more effortful than boil water—here, with a nod to The Silver Palate Cookbook:
Summer Pasta – serves 4 amply
4 large ripe tomatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 pound Brie*, rind removed, torn into irregular pieces
1 cup fresh basil leaves, rinsed, patted dry and cut into strips
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon best-quality olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus additional to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound thin/fine linguine
- As soon as you get up, have had your coffee and read the paper or whatnot, combine everything but the linguine in a large bowl and toss well. Cover with plastic wrap, leave on the counter and walk away. (If you can’t do this in the morning, two hours will do. The longer it sits, though, the more divine the aroma and flavor.)
- When ready to eat, cook the pasta. Read the package directions, if you must.
- Drain the pasta and toss well with the “sauce.” Serve immediately with freshly ground black pepper and grated Parmesan cheese.
Just add salad, a crusty loaf of bread, wine and Piaf. Serve.
*I have substituted havarti, fontina and blue cheese for the Brie; really, any soft cheese will do.
LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” also cooks—like a dream!