July and August are prime time for produce; this is the time of year to start planning for the bumper crop of summer squash and zucchini, stone fruits, tomatoes, peppers and lettuces. With such a gold mine of produce available, chefs can get creative and branch out with a variety of applications, whether it’s sweet or savory. Amid high beef prices and consumer interest in healthier options, there is no better time to take advantage of summer’s bounty. We partner with local farmers throughout the New York area to provide extensive local produce options. Here are some suggestions on how to make the most out of the season’s plentiful produce.
Fruits such as peaches and plums, nectarines, and apricots are known as stone fruit; the name refers to the stone-like pit that covers their seeds. Stone fruits may be classified as clingstone, where the flesh sticks to the pit; or freestone, where the flesh is easily separated from the pit. Look for them in July and August.
Clingstone peaches are great on the grill as the natural sugars come out making them perfect for desserts, housemade jams and preserves. Freestone peaches are better for freezing or canning slices. There are more than 2,000 varieties of plums, and they fall into six categories: Japanese, American, Ornamental, Damson, Wild, and European. Japanese plums are the most familiar and widely sold fresh-eating plum. European varieties tend to be smaller and more oval; they are commonly dried and used to make jams and jellies. Nectarines look like a peach and taste like one, but the main difference is they have a gene that causes them to lack the fuzziness. The result is a firmer, spicier tasting flesh.
Peppers are another tender, warm-season vegetable. The sweet varieties of peppers, especially bells, typically have been the most popular in the U.S. They are eaten green (or ripe) and are used for salads, stuffing, and relishes. With more consumers looking for chefs and restaurants to bring the heat, hot pepper varieties have also enjoyed renewed popularity, thanks to on-trend ethnic flavors.
Kick up your summer menus a notch with chiles by serving them raw, roasting, or sautéing. Cooking with peppers doesn’t have to be restricted to the typical bell and jalapeño varieties. The shishito pepper, a small, mild, sweeter green pepper often found in Japanese restaurants, is finding its way to a broader audience. The peppers are great for frying and are best when seared in a cast-iron pan until the skins are blistered and then eaten hot. Pickle or jar peppers to make them last year-round.
Also known as vegetable or Italian marrow, summer squashes (varieties include patty pan, yellow crookneck and yellow straightneck) and zucchini are harvested at the immature stage when small and tender for best quality and taste. In contrast to winter squash, zucchini and summer squash have soft shells and tender flesh. Look for locally grown summer squash from July through September.
Let squash take center stage by putting it on the grill, which has elevated vegetable cookery by helping chefs build bigger flavors. Aside from the satisfying char of the grill, other squash applications include steaming, sautéing and frying. Squash can also allow chefs to leverage interest in specialty diets such as paleo and gluten-free. With pasta consumption dropping in recent years, swap carbs for squash by using vegetable spiralizers that can turn these warm weather vegetables into “noodles.”
Don’t forget the squash blossoms, which are edible flowers. Batter and fry blossoms, stuff them with ingredients such as cheese, toss with salads, or add to any squash preparation.
HEIRLOOM TOMATOES/TOMATOES ON THE VINE
One of the telltale signs of late summer is a juicy, fresh, and tender tomato, the most popular garden vegetable in the U.S. The tomato plant is a warm-season perennial that is grown as an annual. Look for farm fresh tomatoes in July, August, September and October. The heirloom tomato, which comes in many varieties, is becoming more prevalent on menus across the country. Seeds saved from non-hybrid varieties result in plants that closely mirror the parent plant; many of today’s unique colors and shapes trace their roots to these older, selfsaved varieties.
Tomatoes are extremely versatile. Try smoking and using in sauces, such as a romesco. In the summer, customers will want options to beat the heat and a chilled soup such as a gazpacho will fit the bill. Cold liquid appetizers are good menu additions, helping to spur incremental sales while satisfying the desire for lighter, healthier and vegetarian options. A super ripe thick cut tomato can elevate a burger or BLT, and don’t miss out on salad opportunities that make fresh tomatoes the focus, such as a caprese salad.