Seven local chefs serve up easy-to-prepare courses for seasonal eating

By Maria Johnson


Feeling the heat of summer? It’s a good time to head for the kitchen and KISS:

Keep It Small and Simple.

Because gatherings this time of year are likely to be modest and trips to the store less frequent, we asked local chefs to contribute summer recipes with eight or fewer ingredients. We were feeling generous, so we spotted them the salt and pepper.

Whether you’re slaking a single appetite or schlepping your family’s chow to a well-spaced picnic, these recipes are easy to assemble and can be scaled up or down. Several of our hometown pros went off-menu to create new dishes for O.Henry readers, so don’t be surprised if these courses taste as good as something you’d get in a restaurant — and remember the chefs’ generosity in these customer-starved times.



Pasta Perfect


Cindy Essa, noodler-in-chief at Pastabilities, collaborated with

Chef Jason Dingman (picture right), a 20-year veteran of the restaurant, to come up with this light and refreshing orzo salad. It’s a knockout with fresh basil and tomatoes, but dried basil and sun-dried tomatoes work just fine. This versatile salad may be served as a meal — add chicken, fish, shrimp or any protein and spoon over your favorite greens — or as a side dish or light lunch.

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

Servings: meal for two or side dish for four.

1 3/4 cups uncooked orzo pasta, prepped according to directions and cooled

3/4 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes (or 1 1/2 cups diced fresh tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes)

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup finely-diced red onion

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (or 2 teaspoons dried basil)

1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Gently combine all the above ingredients in a medium size bowl and chill for two hours.



Salad Days

The Well Cafe and Juice Bar

Jessika Olsen (below, left) of The Well Cafe and Juice Bar in downtown Greensboro incorporated some pantry staples with fresh leafy greens and green beans to create this filling salad. She added a sweet, tart, earthy dressing to create a symphony of summerflavors. She and cafe co-owner Veronika Olsen (below, right), her identical twin sister, give four-thumbs-up to this salad. They recommend serving it with a fresh baguette slathered in the cafe’s roasted red pepper Romesco sauce.




Fresh Spring Salad

Servings: 2

14 ounces marinated artichoke hearts. Drained and quartered.

Mixed spring lettuce (or arugula, Jessika’s favorite)

About a cup of green beans, trimmed and blanched

1 can cannellini beans, drained 



1/4 cup olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice 

2 teaspoons whole grain mustard

2 teaspoons maple syrup (or honey)

To make the dressing, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard and maple syrup. Layer the lettuce, green beans and artichokes on serving plates. Spoon over the cannellini beans. Drizzle dressing on top of salad and serve. 

Instead of blanching the green beans, you could sear them with reserved oil from artichoke hearts, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon.


Soup’s On!

Reto’s Kitchen

Caterer Reto Biaggi, who operates Reto’s Kitchen, jumped at the chance to make a simple summer soup. This tomato-based recipe is made in a standard size kitchen blender, which warms the soup so you don’t have to use your stove. A touch of tarragon gives away Reto’s upbringing in France, where the seasonal duo are often paired. A whirred slice of bread thickens and adds creaminess to the soup. Reto says that fresh tarragon is better, but dried will work, too. Likewise, fresh tomatoes at the height of the season are wonderful, but a can of peeled whole tomatoes will suffice.


Tarragon Tomato Soup

Servings: 2     

1/4 cup  extra-virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic

1/2  cup onion, roughly chopped

1 1/2 teaspoon tarragon, preferably fresh

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 slice white bread, crusts removed, torn into rough 1/2-inch pieces

1 can peeled whole tomatoes packed in juice (28-ounce) or 3 large fresh tomatoes

1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Combine olive oil, garlic, onion, tarragon, red pepper flakes, bread, tomatoes with their juice, and water in the jar of a high-powered blender.

Turn blender onto low speed and slowly increase speed to maximum.

Blend 4–6 minutes, until soup is warm and smooth.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Blend.


Bottom’s Up!


When we asked Nino Giaimo — the proprietor of GIA: Drink. Eat. Listen. — if he could gin up a cocktail for us, he turned to his beverage director Dan Lis (right), who designed a drink for Nino’s father, Sal, co-owner of the GIA Distillery in the town of Madison, north of Greensboro. The drink is based on the distillery’s aged FJW Solera Style American whiskey, which is available in local ABC stores. Dan reports that Sal takes his drinks straight up, so this one is served with no ice, gently stirred. The smoky whiskey balances the blanc vermouth. The gin adds a subtle spice, and the drink is rounded by house-made coffee-and-cocoa bitters. Readers can substitute coffee-and-cocoa bitters made by the Crude brand. Lemon peel lends a touch of brightness. 




Sal’s Choice

Servings: 1

1 1/2 ounce FJW Solera Style aged American whiskey 

3/4 ounce Dolin blanc vermouth

1/2 ounce Ransom Old Tom gin 

2 dashes house-made coffee-and-cocoa bitters 

Combine, stir and garnish with a lemon peel.


Burger Bliss

Big Burger Spot

Fine dining veteran Jesse Mitchell has been showing his chops ever since he signed on with Greensboro-based Big Burger Spot in 2013. Mitchell, who worked at Green Valley Grill for eight years, is behind the restaurant’s popular slow braised short rib sandwich and the pot roast cheddar melt. BBS owner Guy Bradley challenged Mitchell to create a burger with an entirely different flavor profile for O.Henry readers, and Mitchell delivered this gem.


Le Fromage Burger

Servings: 1

8 ounces fresh ground chuck

3 strips thick-cut applewood smoked bacon, fried

2 ounces Boursin brand garlic-and-herb cheese

2 ounces onion jam

1 ounce mixed greens

Salt and pepper

Brioche bun

Form ground chuck into 5-inch diameter patty. Salt and pepper both sides. Cook over high heat on grill or skillet until desired temperature is achieved. Medium is recommended.

For onion jam, julienne one whole red onion and place in sauce pan. Add 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bring to boil ten minutes, then reduce heat and simmer for an hour.

Butter brioche bun and toast in skillet. Remove toasted bun and spread Boursin cheese on bottom bun. Place grilled burger on top of cheese, then add bacon and mixed greens. Spread onion jam on top bun and complete the burger.


Smoothie Sailing

Manny’s Universal Cafe

The smoothie menu at Manny’s Universal Cafe, in the heart of downtown Greensboro’s South End, is extensive and creative, ripe with selections such as Mango Mashup, Pomegranate Punch and Goji Power. But owner Manny Polanco and his mother Margarita Delgado, the maker of menu magic, still wanted to create a new drink for the pages of O.Henry. A few pulses later, Kiwi WE Strong was born. “We like it because it has vitamins, protein and antioxidants — perfect to help us stay ready and strong to get through these times of adjustments. We have to stay healthy,” says Manny. If that doesn’t make you want to quaff a kiwi, nothing will.


Kiwi WE Strong

Servings: 1

2 hands-full fresh spinach

2 fresh kale leaves

1 gala or Granny Smith apple, peeled and cored

2 kiwis, peeled

1/2 frozen, peeled banana

2 tablespoons peanut butter, thinned with 1 tablespoon water 

1 teaspoon lemon

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1 cup of ice

In a standard kitchen blender add spinach and kale first, then other ingredients. Start blender at medium speed, finish at high speed. You’re done when your smoothie is . . . smooth.


Keep Pounding!

Pound by Legacy Cakes

If you’re looking for a cheap hit of aromatherapy, walk into the bakery called Pound by Legacy Cakes for a whiff of happiness. Visual yays won’t be far behind, as you take in more than a dozen glazed and frosted pound cakes that are baked daily in a riot of colors and flavors: caramel, strawberry, chocolate, pineapple, apple-walnut and the ever-popular banana split. Founded by Pleasant Garden native Margaret Elaine Gladney, the bakery — which opened last year in an inconspicuous space on Spring Garden Street near Holden Road — is a sweet memorial to Elaine’s late mother and master baker Margaret Shoffner Gladney. The family offers this recipe for their vanilla pound cake, a customer favorite that’s “simple, delicious and one of the best comfort foods,” according to Margaret, who runs the bakery with help from sons Brandon and Anthony Tankard.


Glazed Vanilla Bundt Cake

16 tablespoons (two sticks) unsalted butter

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

4 eggs

3 cups all purpose flour

2 cups milk

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Mix the butter and sugar together then add salt and the baking powder. Add the eggs next, mixing them in one at a time. Add flour and milk alternately. Once this mixture is thoroughly blended, add vanilla extract and beat until batter is smooth. Grease a 10-inch bundt baking pan and pour in batter. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately one hour. You can use a toothpick or small knife to check to see if the cake is done. Once baked, flip the cake onto cooling rack and let cool before glazing.

Glaze Ingredients:

2 tablespoons milk or water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar)

Add ingredients into a small bowl and hand stir until consistency is creamy or at desired thickness. Pour over cake.

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