Even though we can import fruits and vegetables year-round, eating with the seasons is a great habit we're lucky enough to be able to get into. With our wealth of farmers markets in high gear, try finding a place on your counter for these examples of summer’s bounty before the pumpkins show up to grin smugly at your procrastination.
Chances are, you’ve had far more bad tomatoes than you’ve had good ones. That’s why late July and August is such a special time of year. Now is the time to eat this workhorse of a fruit with little adornment, and there may be no better way to do this than the Caprese salad.
First, select a ripe tomato that smells fragrant at the stem and gives a little to the touch, and whatever you do, don’t put it in the refrigerator. Now for the hard part: Don’t eat it. Instead, put it on your windowsill and stare at it for a couple of days until it starts to blister around the stem.
Tear up some basil leaves, cut up a ball of fresh mozzarella into the same size chunks as your tomato, and then gently toss all three of those colors of the Italian flag together. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, dot with some syrupy, aged balsamic vinegar, and then anoint your salad with a few flakes of sea salt. Summer doesn’t get better than this.
It’s intimidating. Watermelons are big and unwieldy. Even the miniature varieties demand serious real estate in your kitchen. Who wants to lose an entire shelf of the refrigerator for a week because someone in the house thought it would be a good idea to buy a watermelon? Well, good news: Watermelon freezes. Whatever you don’t use, just cut it up into chunks, toss with a sprinkling of sugar if desired, and freeze in portioned bags. The flesh will soften a bit when it thaws, but the leftovers are great for smoothies.
Meanwhile, with the fresh fruit, there are many possibilities. Maybe you’ve had watermelon and feta salad? Have you ever made one at home? You should. It’s easy, and it’s better than you remember. Watermelon can be too much of a good thing: cloyingly sweet and ridiculously juicy. Feta cheese is the exact opposite: dry, salty and firm. If the concept of opposites attracting has ever been confirmed, this is the example you can hang your hat on. This pairing requires no salt, no pepper, and no salad dressing. You could throw in some torn mint leaves or some slivers of red onion, but it’s not necessary.
No one has ever had to hard-sell corn on the cob. But you may ask yourself: Why don’t I eat it more often in summer?
Sure, no one enjoys flossing all that much, and sure, an even sheen of butter stretching ear-to-ear looks silly, but sweet corn at the height of the season is one of life’s great joys. Cut it off the cob if you must. If you do, shake on some of Mexico’s secret weapon: Tajin, a seasoning blend of salt, chilis and lime.
No matter how you eat it, don’t buy ears of corn that are already shucked. Do it yourself, looking for tassels at the end of the husks that are brown and sticky, not black or dry. Now, ready for a mind blower? Boil your corn with a stick of butter and a cup of milk stirred into the simmering water. In eight minutes you’ll be reduced to a human typewriter that has little interest in talking to your family.
A good, ripe peach is perfection. The trick is getting it perfectly ripe. The best way to do this is to select peaches at different stages of ripeness so one is ready when you need it. Accelerate ripening by putting the fruit in a paper bag; put on the brakes by throwing your peach in the fridge.
Perhaps one of the best ways to enjoy a peach is the simplest: peaches and cream. Whip up some heavy cream with some vanilla extract and powdered sugar and spoon it over your sliced peaches. Send the dish into the foodie realm by topping it all off with some of that torn basil from the aforementioned Caprese salad. Yes, it works.
If you’re buying the common garden cucumber, you’re going to want to peel it. Contrary to popular belief, cucumbers don’t like the refrigerator. But who wants a warm cucumber? The solution: Store on the counter and refrigerate only for a couple of hours right before you eat them.
A cucumber salad makes a great summer side dish. Go with a Japanese sunomono by peeling a pound of the smaller, Persian variety with a vegetable peeler so the remaining peel ends up variegated in thin stripes. Slice the cucumbers as thin as you can and then toss them with a dressing made with equal parts soy sauce and rice wine vinegar and well-dissolved sugar to taste. Top with toasted sesame seeds and serve alongside your favorite teriyaki-glazed barbecued meat.
Now that’s a summer of no regrets.