July and August are two of the most bountiful months for fresh fruits and vegetables. Now is the time to stop at one of the many produce stands and pick up some of this bounty. Here is what is in season now:
- Green beans
- Summer Squash
Keep a supply of reusable bags in the car so you will be ready when you see a stand. Try sampling varieties that are not on your usual menu. Be daring! Once you get home the fun begins.
Sorting Veggies - Touching and smelling the produce is large part of the fun. Start by sorting the vegetables. Keep tomatoes in a bowl on the counter because once you refrigerate them, they stop ripening. Only put the really ripe ones in the fridge. All other veggies can go in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic bags (less aesthetic but they keep longer); however, no one seems to agree on eggplant. Some say to refrigerate, others say not to. I would leave the eggplant out and use it within a day or two. If after two days and the eggplant has not been used, then refrigerate. I like leaving as many vegetables out as possible because not only are they lovely but also because they are easy to grab for a snack. Plus seeing them is a reminder of what to cook for dinner.
Sorting Fruits - Cantaloupe, peaches, apricots, plums and kiwi can be left out if not ripe. Berries generally go in the refrigerator as do watermelon. Watermelon is best served cold. However, if the watermelon is not ripe, leave it out.
Easy Ways to Turn Produce into Meals - Grilling is one of the easiest ways to cook vegetables in the summer. (Always wash before cooking or eating.) You can either cook them directly on the grill or wrap in foil. I like foil best because I can add tomatoes and onions, fresh herbs like basil, thyme, fresh garlic, and a squirt of orange or lemon juice and make a complete side dish.
Eggplant, scallions, and summer squash can go directly on the grill. If you cook them directly on the grill, first rub the veggies with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Before heating the grill (after using a wire brush on the grates), rub the grates with olive or canola oil. Always remember to clean your grill before you cook. Rule of thumb: make sure to burn off all the grease, etc. after each use and then take a wire brush to the grates before you use the grill again.
There is much debate about the best way to cook corn. Corn can be cooked right in its husks on the grill or it can first be husked and then boiled for a minute or two in water and then finished directly on the grill. Or you can husk it and wrap it in foil. Cooked corn can also be cut off the cob and added to salads and salsas.
Parchment paper is another quick delicious way to cook vegetables. You can take fish and add tomatoes, green beans, onions, lemon zest, olive oil, and seasoned salt, roll it up in the paper and then put it in the oven. Zucchini pancakes, sauteed squash blossoms, and ratatouille are some quick ways to use zucchini which is so abundant at the moment.
Of course fresh salads and salsas are tasty ways to use fruits and vegetables together. Watermelon salsa with corn, chili peppers, onion and mango make a great combo. Peach salsa is good too. Experiment with dips like red pepper hummus and Babaganoush (made with eggplant) and serve with lightly steamed green beans, fresh cukes, and sliced tomatoes. Or use your favorite dressing as a dip. Fresh or lightly steamed veggies make a nutritious accompaniment to any summer meal. Sliced fresh cucumber, thinly sliced onions. and red pepper flakes mixed with seasoned rice vinegar make a good side with grilled fish and store bought sushi.
With the berries you can make fruit tarts and berry coulis (sauce) for ice cream and sorbets. Berry coulis is also good to drizzle on grilled fish and served with fresh lemon slices. Add berries to cereals or fresh yogurt and put them into smoothies. You can also freeze berries and pop them straight into your mouth for a refreshing snack. The options are unlimited. Caramelize peaches and apricots and add a dab of creme friache.
Yum, yum. Put on your running shoes and head out to the farmer's market.