Summer at the Farmers' Market
Source: Sharilyn Hovind
Summer produce delivers a sensual experience beyond that of any other season, combining the sun’s energy with vibrant memories in every mouthful of juicy watermelon or sweet corn, and in the heady aromas of garden-fresh tomatoes and perfectly ripened peaches. Piled high at farmers’ markets, organic fruits and vegetables beckon with brilliant colors—let them tempt you. Local, organic produce is the freshest, best-tasting, and most nutritious you can find, short of growing it yourself.
This summer, visit your market often for fruits and vegetables at their peak, and try recipes that highlight their flavors. Keep dishes simple, with a minimum of ingredients, and use fresh herbs by the handful. You’ll spend less time in the kitchen, yet the resulting meals will be sensational.
Corn—Best if picked that morning and cooked within a day. Look at the stem: if pale green, it was just picked, otherwise the stem would be more woody. Find ears with bright green, tightly closed husks. If you’re permitted to check inside, pull husks back to check whether the kernels are plump and burst when popped with a fingernail. Some people find white corn to be sweeter than yellow corn. Refrigerate, in the husk, in a plastic bag, for no more than 2 days. Boiling corn: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Don’t add salt, as it will toughen the kernels. Shuck the corn, place it in the boiling water, and let cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Turn off heat and leave corn in the hot water for another 2 minutes. Remove and serve with butter and salt and pepper. Roasting corn: Pull down husks, remove silk, replace husks (secure with kitchen string if necessary) and hold under cold water to dampen. Grill on a rack, turning for even cooking, for 20 minutes; alternatively, place in hot coals for 15 minutes.
Watermelons and Other Melons—Look for melons that are firm but not too hard, with no soft spots. The stem end should give slightly when pressed and have a fresh melon scent. Store melons in a cool place; once cut, or if your kitchen is hot, store in the refrigerator, pressing plastic wrap to the cut side. Some people prefer cold melon—especially watermelon—so refrigerate or ice several hours before serving. Cut lengthwise, remove seeds and pulp, then cut into wedges or chunks, or scoop into melon balls. Melons are wonderful as part of breakfast, in a summer fruit salad, or wrapped in prosciutto as an appetizer. At the farmers’ market, ask for tastes of different varieties to find a new favorite.
Zucchini and Other Summer Squashes—Seek out small firm squashes (under six inches), with bright, glossy skins. Be careful to avoid nicks, which hasten decay. Store in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator in a perforated plastic bag, up to a week. For a simple pasta dish, slice the ends off either one or several kinds of squash, cut into 1/4-inch slices and sauté in fruity olive oil for several minutes or until soft. Season with salt and pepper and toss into cooked pasta (use fresh pasta to reduce cooking time and keep your kitchen cooler) with freshly grated parmesan cheese. If you like, add one or more of the following to the sauté pan: minced garlic, chopped onion, diced tomato, chopped oregano, and parsley.
Peaches—Find golden yellow and red fruits that have a bit of give and no green on the skin. Allow to ripen at room temperature (refrigeration will deaden their flavor). If you are buying to eat right away, ask the farmer’s advice on which are the ripest. Peaches are excellent sliced over breakfast cereal or made into crisps, sorbets, and preserves. To peel: Loosen the skin by gently running the blunt side of a blade over it, turn the knife around, and use the sharp side to lift the skin away. To pit: Cut in half lengthwise, twist the halves, and separate; remove the pit. Fresh peach slices are fabulous over vanilla ice cream. For an even more-luscious topping: Skin, pit, and slice peaches, and toss in a bowl with fresh blueberries, dots of butter, and brown sugar to taste. Broil the mixture (or place in a tinfoil packet on the rack of an outdoor grill) until the sugar and butter melt. Spoon over the ice cream.
Tomatoes—Look for yielding (not too hard, not too soft), vibrantly colored tomatoes that have a strong, earthy tomato aroma. The farmers’ market is a great place to find heirloom slicing and cherry varieties in unusual colors and shapes. Store at room temperature, as refrigeration will ruin both the flavor and texture of tomatoes. If starting to become overripe, they can be chopped up for a sauce or soup. For bruschetta: Chop tomatoes. In a nonreactive bowl, combine them with chopped basil or oregano, minced garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Lightly toast slices of rustic Italian bread in the oven or on an outdoor grill. Brush one side of the toasts with a fruity olive oil, then, using a slotted spoon, top with the tomato mixture.
Blackberries and Blackberry Hybrids—Blackberries, boysenberries, loganberries, and olallieberries all provide fiber, vitamin C, and sweet-tart bursts of summer flavor. Find plump berries with no bruising or mold. To store: Pick out overripe berries and spread on paper towels on a plate or cake pan (do not rinse until ready to use). If not using that day, cover with a paper towel and refrigerate. Rinse gently with cool water and drain on more paper towels. Eat berries as a snack, as a topping for ice cream, or cheesecake, or in a crisp. They are also an excellent candidate for freezer jam, which is much less labor intensive to produce than regular preserves. (Look for recipes on boxes of pectin.) Refrigerate some to eat right away and freeze the rest for a welcome summer taste in the middle of winter.
Farmers' Market Locator from Local Harvest
Farmers' Market Shopping Guide by Season
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