Nice and Easy Sautéed Zucchini, Summer Squash, and Cherry Tomatoes with Chilies and Herbs

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The essence of late summer in a bowl, with a touch of heat. [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

I had the sound of Ike and Tina Turner's cover of Proud Mary ringing in my ears as I started work on this recipe, and it dawned on me that it was because I was unconsciously singing it out loud. So this is what my wife is talking about when she says I annoy her in the car.

"You know, every now and then," I sang to myself as I sliced a zucchini in half lengthwise. "I think you might like to hear something from us nice... and easy."

Chop chop chop, went my knife, gliding smoothly through the zucchini halves and separating them into thin half-moons.

"You see, we never, ever do nothing...," I crooned as I reached for the summer squash next. "Nice..." chop chop chop "...and easy."

I finished that last word with a voice dripping with so much sultry sensuality that I think the cherry tomatoes on the counter actually turned a bit redder and plumper as I reached for them.

Sometimes I feel that way about my own recipes. I spend a lot of time writing about complex techniques, but in truth, most of the stuff I like to cook for myself at home is pretty simple. This is one of those nice and easy summer dishes that relies only on great produce and simple technique, but comes with a little bit of a rough twist at the end.

To my mind, zucchini, summer squash, and cherry tomatoes go together like pre-1976 Ike, Tina, and, er, that other guy in the band.

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There are many ways you can cook zucchini and summer squash, but all of them have to deal with the issue of excess moisture in the long run. The easiest way I know of is to cook it hard and fast (ok, "nice and rough," if you prefer) in a skillet with a bit of olive oil. The goal is to get the squashes to brown before their internal structure has a chance to break down too much and expel liquid.

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A single layer in a cast iron skillet is a good way to do it. A wok would work as well.

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Once they've browned, here comes the rough twist: a serrano chili finely minced up with a shallot tossed into the skillet with a handful of cherry tomatoes.

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It's just enough heat to give your mouth a bit of a kick in the pants. Once the aromatics and tomatoes are added, it takes only about 30 seconds for them to soften up and coat the zucchini and squash with their flavor.

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A squeeze of lemon juice brightens things up...

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...and a sprinkle of herbs (I used parsley and chives here) finishes it off.

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Didn't I say that it'd be nice and easy?