July and August are two of the most bountiful months for fresh fruits and vegetables. Now is the time stop at one of the many produce stands and pick up some of this bounty. Here’s what’s in season:
• 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.
Touching and smelling the produce is a large part of the fun. Start by sorting the vegetables. Keep tomatoes in a bowl on the counter because they do not do well when refrigerated. Use the really ripe ones immediately. All the other veggies can go wrapped in plastic bags into the refrigerator (less esthetic but they keep longer); however, no one seems to agree on eggplant. Some say to refrigerate others not. 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 the lovely but they are also easy to grab for a snack. Plus seeing them is a reminder of what to cook for dinner.
Cantaloupe, peaches, apricots, plums, and kiwi can also be left out if not ripe. Berries generally go right into the refrigerator as do watermelon. Watermelon is best served cold. If the watermelon is not quite ripe, leave out.
Easy Ways to Turn Produce into Meals (Always wash fresh produce before using.)
Grilling is one of the easiest ways to cook vegetables in the summer. This works best for eggplant, summer squash, and tomatoes. You can add in onions too. (If you cook onions on the grill, instead of in foil, leave on the skin.)
First rub veggies with olive oil, season with salt, pepper, and /or your favorite herbs like fresh basil, thyme, fresh garlic, and a squirt of fresh orange or lemon and either wrap in foil or put straight on a grill. First rub the grill 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, husked and wrapped in foil and cooked on the grill, or husked and boiled for a short time. Corn can also be cut off the cob and added to salsas and salads.
Parchment paper is another quick delicious way to cook vegetables. You can take fish and add tomatoes, green beans, onions, lemon zest and seasoned salt, roll it up and put it in the oven. Zucchini pancakes, sautéed squash blossoms, and ratatouille are some quick ways to use this abundant vegetable.
Of course, fresh salad and salsa are tasty ways to use fruits and vegetables together. Watermelon salsa with corn, chili peppers, onion and mango make a great combination. Experiment with new dips like red pepper hummus, Babaganoush (made with eggplant), and homemade ranch dressing (made with yogurt) and serve with lightly steamed green beans, fresh cukes, and sliced tomatoes. 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 served with fresh lemon slices. Add berries to cereal or fresh yogurt and put them into fruit 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 crème fraise.