Essential Summer Ingredients
By Alisa Malavenda
The fruits and vegetables that we long for in summer season are now in abundance at farmer’s markets across America. The tempting mounds of colorful produce perched high on the farmer’s 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 farmer’s 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 to what they are meant to be. 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.
Summer season has so much to offer, so as we say goodbye to our favorite springtime favorites of wild strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus and morel mushrooms, here is a list of summer seasons best offerings, their nutritional value and ideas for taking them from farm to your table.
Picking a vine ripe tomato at its peak, there isn’t much more you need to do with it to have an exceptional taste experience. A great debate among many is where to store those beauties when you get them home. Many farmers even have signs at their stands stating, “Please DO NOT refrigerate our tomatoes”. Scientifically speaking, when you refrigerate your tomatoes, the cold will alter their genes and affect the 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 a nice topping on grilled bread with fresh ricotta cheese. For a refreshing take on a sweet summer treat, this tomato granita makes a refreshing snack or palate cleanser on a hot summer day.
Tomato Granita with Basil Syrup
Yield: 6 portions
3 Lb./1.4 kg ripe tomatoes (about 7 medium)
2 Tb. Honey
2 Tb. Sugar
1 tsp. Black pepper
1 tsp. Balsamic vinegar
¼ tsp. Salt
¼ Cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
1/3 Cup Light corn syrup
To Prepare Tomato Shells
- Halve 3 tomatoes crosswise; scoop out pulp and set aside
- Set tomato shells in a baking pan; cover and freeze
To Prepare Fresh Tomato Granita
- Remove seeds from the reserved tomato pulp; place in a bowl
- Blanch, peel, seed, and coarsely chop remaining tomatoes; add to prepared tomatoes (makes about 3 cups)
- Place tomatoes in a food processor container fitted with a wing blade
- Add honey, sugar, pepper, vinegar, and salt; process mixture until smooth
- Transfer to a freezer container; cover and freeze until firm, 6 to 8 hours; stir occasionally with a fork to break up ice crystals
To Make Basil Syrup
- Blanch and drain basil leaves
- In a blender or small food processor container, combine with corn syrup; process until smooth
- Set mixture aside to infuse for about 30 minutes; strain and refrigerate until ready to serve
- Scoop granita into frozen tomato shells
- Place each filled tomato on a chilled dessert plate
- Top with a drizzle of basil syrup, and if desired sprinkle with black pepper and garnish with a basil sprig
Also known as maize, corn is an important cereal grain crop that originated in the Americas. Corn, at its peak in August and first part of September, 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 their sweet kernels produce a creamy milk that can be used in many applications, from soup, corn pesto, griddle pancakes, a sweet corn milk cocktail, or even 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” – well a good indicator unless you are vertically challenged with height or as tall as the jolly green giant. Stunted 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 humitas a cousin to a tamale.
Corn Ice Cream with Salted Caramel and Toasted Peanuts
This ice cream is also delicious with the blueberry compote and can be paired with blueberry or strawberry shortcakes
4 ears of corn, kernels removed, cobs reserved
2 C/475 ml Heavy cream
2 C/475 Whole milk
¾ C/170 g Sugar
1 tsp kosher Salt
9 large Egg yolks
1 tsp Vanilla extract
To Prepare the Ice Cream
- Remove kernels off cob and then cut cobs in half
- In a large saucepan, add kernels and cob halves, add cream, milk, ½ C/110 g sugar and salt
- Heat the mixture almost to the boiling point (but do not boil)
- Let cool with the cobs in the mixture to steep for 2-3 hours, discard cobs
- Working in batches, puree corn mixture in blender until smooth
- When all the mixture is pureed, return to a saucepan and bring back to a simmer over medium heat, remove from stove
- In a bowl, whisk egg yolks and remaining ¼ C/60 g sugar together
- Temper egg yolks by whisking 1 C/240 ml of the corn puree into egg yolks and sugar, then add it back to the saucepan of corn puree
- Place the saucepan back on the stove and cook over medium low heat, whisking constantly until custard thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon
- Strain the custard through a sieve, pressing down on the solids to extract all of the liquid; discard solids.
- Place the corn custard in an ice bath and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- Pour mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions; freeze until firm, at least 3 hours or overnight
- Serve with caramel cream and chopped toasted peanuts
Yield: About 1 Cup/240 ml
¼ C/60 g Sugar
2 T/60 ml Water
1 C/240 ml Heavy cream
½ tsp Flaked sea salt
To Prepare the Salted Caramel
- Add sugar and water to a medium-size saucepan and cook over medium heat until the syrup turns golden
- Immediately remove it from the heat and slowly add the cream; be careful because the mixture will spatter
- Return to a medium heat and continue stir while cooking until the mixture is smooth.
- Strain into a heat proof bowl and add salt, stir and then chill
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
- For removing silk off cob- use a small brush or clean tooth brush
- 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, never use salt in the water- instead add sugar and lemon juice to bring out the natural sweetness of the corn and keep it tender
- 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 ¼” off the thick end of corn – cook on medium-high for 4 minutes and the husk and silk will slip right off the ear
- 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!
A lot of people can tell a good melon by “thumping it”, but I find a good indicator especially for musk melons-cantaloupe and honeydews is smelling them. They should have a sweet and slightly musky odor. Also look for a melon, including watermelons, that feel heavy and are dull in color, with a patch of yellow from laying on the ground.
This summer favorite is at its peak when just picked from the tree and the juices runs down to your elbow at the first bite. These stone fruits are low in calories but packed with essential vitamins, that be used in both sweet and savory dishes. They bring 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!
White Peach and Grape Sangria
Yield: 5 cups/1.2 ml
1 - 750 ml bottle Dry white wine
¾ cup/180 ml Peach flavored vodka
6 Tb. Frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1/4 cup/60 g White sugar
1 lb./450 g Peaches, regular, donut or white varieties, pitted and sliced
¾ cup Red seedless grapes, halved
¾ cup Green seedless grapes, halved
To Prepare the Sangria
- In a large pitcher, combine dry white wine, peach vodka, lemonade concentrate and sugar
- Stir until sugar is dissolved
- Add sliced peaches, and the red and green grapes
- Refrigerate sangria until well chilled, at least 2 hours, or overnight to blend flavors
- Serve over ice and use a slotted spoon to include sliced peaches and grapes with each serving
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!