We are gorging on summer produce now, dribbling peach juice down our chins and arms, munching fresh green beans (well, everyone except Carlos), zipping through ears and ears of corn, serving fat slices of delicious heirloom tomatoes with everything we can think of and sometimes just eating them all by themselves in their ripe, naked glory. I saw the first tiny red and gold Maple leaf today and it reminded me not to wait too long to get this post done. Here are a few tips to keep our affair with summer produce if not hot, at least simmering vigorously into the cooler months to come. How long is up to you and will depend on both will power and freezer/shelf space.
Extending seasonal eats is as easy as A, B, C, F.
A - Acquire
B - Blanch
C - Can
(D Devour, E Enjoy...what, you didn't think I could spell?)
F - Freeze
A few simple steps will go a long way toward some stellar meals in the midst of winter.
Basil like this will soon be a distant memory - but there are ways to extend the seasonal eats.
For most of your recipes, you should choose the produce free of blemishes and bruises. Skins should tight, weight should feel good in your hand. Corn silks should be damp - older silks mean older corn. Basil should be pre-blossom stage as the flowering basil will be a bit more bitter than those still in its prime. With heirloom tomatoes you may have to ask the farmer which varieties are at peak. Some of the large ruffly tomatoes (like pleated Zapotecs) are good for stuffing and won’t feel heavy. Green Zebras are more firm than Carbons.
For fruit that may have a blemish here or there, you could muddle them into shrubs or make simple syrups for cocktails and homemade sodas.
Tip: Chat with your farmer about what’s best that day. Ask for a sample.
Blanching is a technique that will keep your vegetables bright and crisp. You’re simply dropping them into boiling water, then quickly moving them to a large bowl of ice water to arrest the cooking. Your corn will stay more sweet, beans more green.
- Tip: Even basil stays bright green as will your pesto. Thanks to Vivian Bauquet Farre for this tip!
- Tip: Blanch corn on the cob then cut off the cob and freeze for future use. If you’re using it right away, no blanching is necessary. To easily cut off the cob, stand an ear on its stem end in the middle of a large wide bowl. Cut down with a knife and the kernels will fall into the bowl.
- Tip: Save fresh naked cobs to make a stock for future corn dishes, to make crackers, as a base for chowder. Cover with cold water, add a bay leaf and a few peppercorns. Simmer gently until the cobs have become pale. Strained stock can be frozen in cubes or in zip bags flat on a cookie sheet to be easily filed away or stacked in the freezer for that next chowder.
Sometimes a surfeit of summer goodness is simply not sufficient. What to do to keep this sensual sustainable love affair going strong in the colder months to come? You can preserve food in jars without tons of specialized equipment, though a few items help to do it safely and efficiently. Even if you’re not using a hot water bath and ball jars, you can put food by in freezer containers. So I’m including freezing here. Canning Across America is an excellent site to help you get started (you can even read my Confessions of a Canning Virgin.)
- Tip: freeze plum tomatoes whole on a half sheet pan then place them in zip top bags. You can then have the individually frozen peak-of-season plum tomatoes to use in colder months. The skins will slip off as they thaw, easy to remove or buzz up.
Put ‘em Up - a great guide to all sorts of food preservation from freezing, to canning, pickling and more. My friend Sherri Brooks Vinton is on her second (or third?) book now and my copy is stained and stickered where I've marked pages with ball jar labels as I've made them.
Food and Style - is a recipe club and website by Viviane Bauquet Farré. It's gorgeous and chock full of sexy, delicious recipes and wine pairings. You'll be surprised to note several pages in that it's also vegetarian. I got this blanching basil tip from her just recently. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?
Now, share YOUR favorite tip for saving summer produce...do you can? Freeze? Site or book you go to again and again?