Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Summer Produce

Summer is for...fresh produce. During the winter, we have to settle for foreign imported, bagged-frozen or canned vegetables and fruits. As spring arrives, a selection of green choices start to arrive. But then when summer hits, the floodgates are opened and a wonderful, shifting variety of fresh, local produce becomes available and keeps coming until about October. All those fresh herbs, greens, beans, squash, root vegetables, berries, corn and, my favorite, the tomatoes, provide plenty of inspiration for simple, summer dishes that showcase these wonderfully flavorful and colorful foods. Here are ways I like to enjoy some of my favorite summer staples:

Tomatoes. Tomatoes are my favorite summer produce because they have amazing complex flavor and because their year-round equivalent just doesn't hold a candle to the fresh summer variety. Buy a tomato in February and will have a ghostly white inside and a mealy texture. Summer tomatoes are vibrantly colored inside and out, juicy with a slightly firm texture. They are wonderful raw in salads, like the classic combination of tomato, mozzarella and basil or the slightly more complicated heirloom tomato panzanella. Lightly cooked, fresh tomatoes are perfect for pasta with fresh tomato sauce, broiled tomato and green garlic pasta or fresh tomato and oregano soup. Then there's roasting, which deepens tomato's amazing flavor. I do all kinds of things with roasted tomatoes, including risotto, gazpacho, panzanella, bruschetta, even cocktails.

Sweet Corn. Sweet corn, which is the kind you get in the produce section, is perfect when just boiled and eaten off the cob. Still, there are other fun ways to enjoy it when it's sweetness peaks while in-season during summer. Looking for a good cooking project with a bit of challenge? Check out sweet corn agnolotti. What something simpler? Try corn risotto or soup. Corn is also good roasted and stuffed into enchiladas. Check out last year's sweet corn week for additional recipes.

Berries. Blackberries taste really good with corn, like this blackberry-vanilla ice cream pie with corn cookie crust, corn pancake with blackberry sauce or sweet corn ice cream with blackberries. Blackberries are also good in salad with cucumbers or in a cocktail (blackberry mint fizz). Similarly, blueberries are good in salad or dessert, like panna cotta. They're even good with salmon.

Beans. Dried and canned beans are great anytime of year, but in the summer, it's nice to have fresh beans. Green beans of course, are easy to come by and taste great in recipes like sautéed green beans with baby leeks, garlic-ginger green beans and Mediterranean chicken salad. For something a little different, try fava beans, served in this recipe with shallot, mint and pecorino cheese.

Beets. Beets are another item available not just in summer, but my farmers market has an excellent assortment of them this time of year, especially beets. they are wonderful roasted or boiled for salads, pasta with beet pesto, beet gnocchi, golden curry chicken salad, roasted beet and cottage cheese salad,   and roasted beet and carrot salad.

Herbs. Lastly, fresh herbs are abundant this time of year and taste great as an accent on just about any dish or the star player in a dish like spaghetti with parsley pesto. For lots of great fresh-herb recipes, check out this first post about my summer herb garden.

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