Using fresh ingredients isn’t just trendy – it’s essential. Read insightful tips for selecting and cooking tomatoes, corn, melons and peaches.
By Alisa Malavenda, MATC and TheCulinaryPro.com
Farmers Market Bounty
The fruits and vegetables we long for in summer are now in abundance at farmers markets across America. The tempting mounds of colorful produce perched high on the tables can cause a chef’s mind to wander in epicurean delirium about the endless possibilities back in the kitchen.
Keep in mind when shopping at farmers markets that in addition to supporting local agriculture it’s also an opportunity to talk to the growers, try new products from the summer’s bounty at the peak of the season, and gather exciting ways to expand your cooking repertoire.
Fruits and vegetables harvested at just the right time have more nutritional value because they have had time to develop and mature. Take the anemic tomato found in the grocery store; picked too early so it can cross thousands of miles, it loses important nutritional value right along with the flavor.
The summer season has so much to offer. We can say goodbye to our favorite springtime favorites of wild strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus and morel mushrooms and hello to summer seasons best offerings with its nutritional value and ideas for taking them from farm to table.
There isn’t much more you need to do than picking a vine ripe tomato at its peak to have an exceptional taste experience. A great debate is where to store those beauties when you get them to the kitchen. Many farmers even have signs at their stands stating, “Please DO NOT refrigerate our tomatoes.” Scientifically speaking, when a chef refrigerates tomatoes the cold alters the tomatoes genes and it affects flavor and texture. So, whether you enjoy an heirloom, beef steak, or other hybrid, keep them out of the fridge and on the counter for maximum flavor and nutrition.
Everyone loves a great Caprese salad in the summer. But, you can also roast cherry tomatoes on the vine for an intense flavor. They are a nice addition to a cheese board, tossed in pasta, or as a topping on grilled bread with fresh ricotta cheese. For a refreshing take on a sweet summer treat, a tomato granita makes a refreshing snack or palate cleanser on a hot summer day.
Also known as maize, corn is an important cereal grain crop that originated in the Americas. Corn is at its peak in August and the first part of September and is one of the most versatile summer ingredients. The simple pleasure of dipping an ear of grilled sweet corn in a coffee can of melted butter will bring you right back to your childhood. When just picked, corn’s sweet kernels produce a creamy milk that can be used in many applications, including soup, corn pesto, griddle pancakes, a sweet corn milk cocktail, and ice cream.
A farmer’s catch-phrase to remember, and a good indicator of an excellent crop, is “knee high by the 4th of July.” This is a good indicator unless you are vertically challenged with height or as tall as the jolly green giant. Stunted corn stalk height is an indication that the soil was probably too wet or not fertilized enough and is slow growing.
Cornmeal, made from dried and ground corn, is also wonderful for making tortilla, polenta, grits, and an Ecuadorian favorite and a cousin to a tamale - humitas.
Corn Tips and Tricks
- Eat corn as soon as possible and keep in coldest part of refrigerator so the sugars don’t turn to starch too quickly
- Use a small brush or clean tooth brush to remove silk off the cob
- For removing kernels off the cob, use a Bundt pan and stick the small end of corn in hole of Bundt pan to stabilize, run knife along cob and kernels will drop in bowl part of the pan for no mess
- When cooking corn use sugar and lemon juice to bring out the natural sweetness of the corn and keep it tender. Never use salt.
- Soak corn with husk in cold water until ready to cook on the grill because it will steam inside the husk and stay tender
- To microwave corn, soak ears with husk in cold water for 15 minutes, cut a quarter inch off the thick end of corn – cook on medium-high for four minutes and the husk and silk will slip right off the ear
Many people can tell a good melon by thumping it. I find smelling melons is good indicator of ripeness, especially for musk melons such as cantaloupe and honeydew. They should have a sweet and slightly musky odor. Also look for melons, including watermelons, that feel heavy and are dull in color, with a patch of yellow from laying on the ground. This classic summer fruit is so refreshing and fun to eat. It has a high-water content and it’s full of vitamins C and A. It is great on its own but think about grilling it and serving it with feta cheese, making it into a gazpacho, creating a salsa, smoothie, or even a margarita!
This summer favorite is at its peak when just picked from the tree and the juice runs freely at first bite. This stone fruit is low in calories but packed with essential vitamins. Peaches can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, bringing added dimensions of flavor and natural sweetness to everything from appetizers to desserts. Try them paired with pork, or grilled and drizzled with honey and served with cheese. Peaches are great in pies, cobblers, tarts, smoothies and ice cream. Peach and jalapeno salsa or a cold soup are additional ways to utilize this delicious, but short-seasoned fruit. And when they get too ripe – make sangria.
Roasted Summer Fruits
If Sangria isn’t for you – roast these beauties along with some of your other favorite fruits for a perfect summer meal or dessert. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different applications of fresh seasonal produce, but make sure you always try it in its purest form. Remember that eating in season is not trendy, it is essential.
Click here for recipes: Tomato Granita with Basil Syrup, Corn Ice Cream with Salted Caramel and Toasted Peanuts, Salted Caramel, and White Peach and Grape Sangria.
Photo 1: Insalata Caprese by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Photo 4: Grilled Corn by Dragne Marius on Unsplash