Nothing beats a summer recipe that matches the no-fuss, easygoing mood of the season. But a simple preparation doesn’t have to mean a sacrifice in standards. When starting with high-quality ingredients of the moment, it doesn’t take much to create entertaining-worthy dishes.
California-born chef Jonathan Waxman’s cuisine has long been uncomplicated and market-driven—an approach inspired by growing up in the Bay Area with restaurant-loving parents and grandparents who owned ranches and vegetable gardens in Sonoma. He has worked in high-level kitchens on both U.S. coasts, but his New York City restaurant, Barbuto, has become his flagship. “The farmer’s market is the heartbeat of Barbuto,” Waxman says. “It was what impassioned us to make good food.” He cooks the same way at home too. “I don’t want to be schizophrenic and have a restaurant where I don’t believe in the food.”
The West Village space, just a couple of blocks from the original that was open for more than 15 years, is still temporarily closed in the wake of the pandemic. The chef is eagerly looking forward to the hopefully forthcoming reopening. In the interim, the restaurant lives on through The Barbuto Cookbook, which Waxman published in September 2020. “I wanted a book that was user-friendly, that people at home would enjoy and that would show them that while the food at Barbuto could be really great, it doesn’t mean that you can’t produce it just as good, if not better, at home,” he says. “But the most important thing is that it’s about ingredients.”
Of the many recipes in the 300-plus pages, he says his swordfish with tomato-cucumber salsa is “the quintessential Jonathan Waxman, Barbuto-style dish,” and the one he suggests for an easy, breezy, Fourth of July feast.
Like all Barbuto dishes, it was developed by letting the ingredients steer the team’s direction, rather than the other way around. “My fish guy would call me up and say, ‘I’ve got great swordfish today,’ so we’d buy a loin of swordfish, and then we would go to the farmers’ market and buy ingredients.” They’d then lay them all out on a table and discuss which provisions of the day would pair best together.
The recipe itself is “dead-simple,” Waxman says. All there is to it is seasoning and grilling the swordfish, mixing the salsa, putting everything together on a plate and garnishing. He finds the salsa’s combination of garlic, shallots and chile—enhanced by the mint garnish—provides a spot-on foil for the fish, which remains the star, like a piano concerto in an orchestra. “When the piano’s playing, you want the piano to be dominant, but when everything’s playing together, the piano is heard but the orchestra is heard as well, but the orchestra’s not overpowering the piano.”
Also in Barbuto fashion, the recipe can and should be riffed on based on the availability, seasonality and quality of ingredients. Lemon cucumbers can be swapped for standard ones, or even watermelon; the swordfish can be swapped with alternatives like striped bass or cod, or can be cut into smaller, 2-ounce fillets for an appetizer rather than main course. Have a guest who doesn’t care for seafood? Chicken or eggplant works with the salsa too. “I always tell people that recipes are never written in stone. Like music, they’re meant to be improvised upon,” says Waxman, who was a professional trombone player in a jazz band before he was a chef. “It’s really a universal starting point for anything.”
Adding to the ease of this dish, the cucumber, tomato and olive oil components of the salsa can be prepped up to 24 hours ahead. Keep it in the fridge, then add the garlic, chile and shallots before serving. Or, take advanced prep a step further: Waxman says the entire entrée can be made a few hours ahead, kept in the fridge and served either cold or at room temperature. “It actually works fantastically well cold. Imagine: It’s a hot Fourth of July day, you prepare the dish in the morning, you throw it in the fridge on a big platter, and then you bring it out with a couple of chilled bottles of Domaine Tempier rosé,” he says. “That sounds like the perfect Fourth of July.”
Waxman considers that wine an ideal match—a “robust, adult rosé” with substantial acidity. “It’s strong enough to stand up to the chiles and the grilled swordfish and the salsa. To me, it’s like a perfect marriage.” And it hails from France’s Bandol, a region he has been a fan of since his days at Chez Panisse in the late ’70s. “Bandol rosé is the king of rosés, let’s face it.”
To explore other similarly fresh-yet-robust options from southern France, see Wine Spectator’s seven additional pairing picks below.
Swordfish with Tomato-Cucumber Salsa
- 2 (12-ounce) swordfish steaks
- 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- Sea salt and cracked black pepper
- 3 lemon cucumbers, washed (or standard cucumbers)
- 3 medium-sized heirloom tomatoes
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 shallots, minced
- 1 Fresno chile, seeded and minced
- 12 fresh mint leaves
- 12 sprigs of watercress
1. Prepare a grill to medium heat.
2. Season the swordfish with 4 tablespoons of the oil, salt and cracked pepper.
3. Make the salsa: Dice the cucumbers and tomatoes and place in a bowl; add the garlic, shallots and chile. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and toss to combine. Season with salt and cracked pepper.
4. Grill the swordfish, about 6 minutes per side. Set upon a large platter, add the salsa, and garnish with the mint and watercress. Serves 4.
7 French Rosés for Summer Dining
Note: The following lists are selections of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More options can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.
Score: 89 | $20
WS review: Juicy and well-defined, with black and red cherry fruit laced with garrigue and tea notes, ending with a tug of warm stone. A textbook Tavel. Drink now. 16,000 cases made. From France.—James Molesworth
CHÂTEAU DU BERNE
Côtes de Provence Rosé Inspiration 2020
Score: 89 | $22
WS review: White strawberry, anise and cherry notes are supported by a lively, supple acidity in this rosé, with spice, stone and tangerine zest elements filling the finish. Harmonious and elegant. Drink now. 25,000 cases made. From France.—Gillian Sciaretta
CHÂTEAU DES BERTRANDS
Côtes de Provence Rosé Réserve 2020
Score: 89 | $23
WS review: White cherry, cantaloupe and peach notes bind together in this creamy rosé with underpinnings of wet stone, anise and rosewater give complexity through the finish. Drink now. 20,000 cases made. From France.—G.S.
CHÂTEAU DE L’ESCARELLE
Coteaux Varois en Provence Rosé 2020
Score: 89 | $24
WS review: An elegant version, with floral-tinged tangerine, melon and white cherry flavors marked with a stony minerality, showing hints of spice that linger on the long, mouthwatering finish. Drink now. 12,000 cases made. From France.—G.S.
CHÂTEAU DU SEUIL
Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence Rosé La Chapelle du Seuil 2020
Score: 89 | $20
WS review: This rosé has a smooth, glossy texture that envelopes the grapefruit, cantaloupe and rose petal flavors. Engaging, with wet stone and tea elements giving depth through the finish. Drink now. 7,000 cases made. From France.—G.S.
Île de Beauté Rosé 2020
Score: 89 | $10
WS review: Pure and bright, with a talc spine carrying light white cherry and white peach flavors, ending with a chiseled finish. Drink now. 11,000 cases made. From France.—J.M.
BIELER PÉRE & FILS
Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence Rosé Sabine 2020
Score: 88 | $10
WS review: Orange blossom and grapefruit notes are cast with tangerine, wet stone and spice elements in this charming rosé. Delicate but focused, with a lingering finish. Drink now. 90,000 cases imported. From France.—G.S.