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Local corn, Italian flavor

Use seasonal staples in recipes that evoke another place.

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Sara Jenkins (not shown) has used fresh summer corn to create an Italian-style dish that marries rustic flavor and delicate texture.

Richard B. Levine/NEWSCOM

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"Staycation" has become a trendy term this summer for those would-be travelers who are staying close to home instead of taking on the high costs of vacationing this year.

But let's face it, twirling around the neighborhood pool doesn't quite feed the imagination the same way as a visit to a new city or different culture.

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The same applies to food. In other words, corn on the cob may be comfortably familiar and plentiful, but chances are this seasonal staple smothered in butter and salt won't offer transformative memories.

Sara Jenkins, restaurant chef and author of the forthcoming cookbook "Olives and Oranges: Recipes and Flavor Secrets from Italy, Spain, Cyprus, and Beyond," has a good solution: Combine local, seasonal ingredients with recipes that evoke another place.

Ms. Jenkins, whose father was a foreign correspondent, grew up in various countries along the shores of the Mediterranean. As a result, her recipes emphasize the simplicity of fresh ingredients and lots of high-quality olive oil. Emulating the spirit of a place – say the stylish warmth of Italy – can transform a humble vegetable like corn into an elegant sformato, or custard.

"Sweet corn is really not anything anyone eats in the Mediterranean at all," says Jenkins. But even if America's national pride is considered animal feed abroad, that shouldn't stop you from enjoying a delightful marriage of rustic taste and delicate texture (see recipe).

Now settled in New York City, Jenkins attests that a dish with the right combination of flavors has the power to transport her back to those childhood days in Tuscany. "A great piece of grilled fish can make me feel like I am sitting on the edge of the Mediterranean with the salt air whipping in my face," she says.

Now that's how to have an evening in Italy after a day at the local pool.

Kendra Nordin


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