With more consumers gravitating toward seasonal, local, and organic produce, summer is the season for chefs to capitalize on the veg-centric trend. Spring has given way to a bumper crop of produce as excitement reaches its peak among chefs who’ve waited all year for fresh produce to showcase their creativity, technique, and innovation.
To source the freshest produce, Maines supports and works with local farmers such as Tassone Farm in Cicero, New York, which is an hour and a half from headquarters, to offer some of this season’s best fruits and vegetables including butternut squash, corn, and tomatoes. Other highlights for the season are pomegranate and eggplant.
One way to utilize the season’s best vegetables is to purée them. And it’s not just for soups — these purées are excellent building blocks(i.e., thickeners and binders to layer in flavor). Having prepared purée at the ready will add new dimensions to any dish, transforming them from average to stellar. Incorporate these produce items into your menus this season to take advantage of summer’s bounty.
A favorite among kids and adults alike, sweet corn is a warm-season, annual vegetable. A form of maize, “nature’s candy” is in season from July to about October. Corn needs to be used immediately after being harvested, otherwise the sugars will turn into starches.The most popular way to serve is on the cob and this can be done in several ways, such as boiling, steaming, and grilling. Serve with interesting and unique compound butters highlighting seasonal fresh herbs, or for some Mexican flair, slather cobs with mayonnaise and lime for a twist on the popular street food, the elote.
Corn works well in other applications; it stars as the main ingredient in cakes and fritters, forms the base for silky custards or can top off grilled meats and fish in the form of salsas and relishes. With its natural sweetness, corn can also be an essential component of dessert. Try incorporating it into pastry cream and pair with fresh berries or make powdered corn from dehydrated kernels to use in cookies and cakes.Sweet corn can also be enjoyed in different ways. Transform those kernels into silky, creamy purées. It can be the base of an elegant dish when paired with seared scallops or star on its own in a simple to prepare but savory soup to offer as a seasonal special.
This brilliant, ruby-red shrub grows well in areas with hot, dry summers. The plant has been grown for thousands of years throughout Africa, Asia and Europe. Pomegranates are in season from late summer to early winter, with some available as early as August while a majority of the commercial harvest is at its peak from October through January Pomegranates are regarded as a superfood because of the pulp and juice’s high levels of antioxidants.
The red jewels inside the leathery exterior are called arils and can be eaten whole or juiced. Mediterranean cooking showcases pomegranates’ power, such as fattoush dressing or as a complementary flavor for lamb. Other proteins such as beef, chicken or pork pair well with the sweet tartness of pomegranate. The seeds also make a great garnish, adding a pop of color to salads. The juice by itself is already a flavor powerhouse, but try making it into house-made syrups to flavor cocktails and desserts
While botanically it’s a berry from the night-shade family, eggplant is primarily used as a vegetable in many cuisines, including Japanese, Middle Eastern and Italian. This versatile fruit is at its peak in August and September. The most popular variety is the big and bulbous Globe commonly found at supermarkets, but eggplants go beyond that. For example, Chinese and Japanese varieties are slender and less bitter with a thinner skin.
Italian eggplants are smaller and more oval; the Sicilian variety is slightly smaller than Globe with a wider base and its purple skin is easily recognizable with its white streaks. Some eggplants aren’t even purple — the tango variety is white, turning yellow later in harvest; it has a thicker skin and a firmer, creamier texture.
No matter the shape or size, eggplants work well in many applications, from baking to broiling to frying. As a staple food in the Middle East,eggplants figure prominently in baba ghannouj, the smoky and creamy dip. Italians use it for caponata, while the French use it in the classic dish, ratatouille. Cook with chiles, soy sauce, black vinegar and garlic for a version of the classic Sichuan preparation or fry to make Japanese tempura. When puréeing, keep in mind the high water content and cook using a dry-heat method
BUTTERNUT AND ACORN SQUASH
Winter squashes such as butternut and acorn are summer-growing vegetables. They differ from summer squash in the sense that theyare harvested and eaten when the seeds have matured completely and the skin has hardened into a tough exterior. Other varieties of winter squash include spaghetti and pumpkin. These hardy
vegetables are in season from early fall through winter.
When cooked, the squash’s consistency is creamy and sweet, making it extremely versatile. Golden acorn squash makes a sweet, creamy purée while butternut squash — also a good candidate for purée — is perfect as a pie filling. They’re also extremely adaptable to different cuisines; use as a filling for ravioli and other pastas or a topping for pizza for the Italian treatment. Roast and mash to use as the base for a silky and hearty soup.
Or try it raw: uncooked butternut squash can be julienned using a mandolin for a fall slaw. Cook with aromatics and broth to make a vegan base for “cream” sauces to cater to diners who are avoiding lactose because of dietary needs or who subscribe to a plant-based philosophy. And don’t throw out those seeds; bake them and use for everything from snacks to garnishes.
These popular tubers are at their peak in the summer and fall. Shapes range from long and cylindrical to short and round. Colors are also as varied, with red the most well known but there are also gold, yellow and white varieties. Even though it has a high sugar content, the beet has an earthy, nutty flavor and can be prepared in many ways, including juiced, boiled, roasted, pickled, and smoked. It can be mashed into purées and soups or sliced for salads.
Beet purées form the basis of everything from dips to gnocchi to cakes. Grate or shred beets raw for salads, slaws or garnish. Try slicing them thin for carpaccio, or sliced thick and roasted with potatoes for pave, or even cook them sous vide. With its brilliant, deep red color, it can be used as a natural dye to add color to sauces and jams. All parts are edible so don’t toss the tops — those greens can be braised as an alternative to chard or collards.