Chef Johnny Gnall is luxuriating in summer produce. Today he shares new ways to use old favorites. If you have questions or suggestions for tips, email Chef Johnny.
In case the massive heat wave didn’t clue you in, summer is at full force right now. If you don’t enjoy the heat, you can still take joy in the bounty of seasonal produce. From the sweet nectar of stone fruits to the spectacular reds, yellows, oranges and greens of heirloom tomatoes, summer means something extra-special to food lovers.
If you’re not sure what is at its very best, take a look at the list below for the must-grab fruits and vegetables, as well as a couple of fresh ideas for serving them. Whether you get them at your corner grocery or a destination farmers market, these foods are at their tastiest and most inexpensive in July and August. So stock up and stuff yourself until you can eat no more; this sun-soaked bounty won’t be around forever!
Add berries to savory dishes, like roast meats. Photo courtesy GiantFresh.com.
Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries…the berry bounty is extensive in the summer months. While they are superb in jams, pies or parfaits, berries like to dip their toes into the savory side of cooking as well.
Salads. Pair them in salads with pecans or walnuts and creamy cheeses like brie or chèvre.
Rubs. Blend them with herbs and spices to make a wet rub for meats. A liberal sprinkling of sea salt on an rosemary and blackberry rubbed roast lamb loin right out of the oven is the perfect touch for a sweet and summery take on juicy, succulent lamb.
Bonus: Low in calories, high in antioxidants. (More about antioxidant-rich foods.)
Summer melons are one of those foods so perfect that you really don’t want to do much to mask their flavor. But you can, literally, spice things up:
Spice. Go to your pantry and grab an armful of your favorite spices, then cut up a couple of melons. Bet you didn’t realize a tiny dash of cayenne could make watermelon so exciting; or that a bit of ground cardamom rubbed on a slice of honeydew could taste like actual ambrosia.
Fun. Have fun with it, and don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Sure, there will be some misses the more you experiment, but it’s all about finding something you haven’t tried before. I personally love chili powder and lime on watermelon; it’s a popular street food in Mexico. Using lime zest in addition to juice adds a subtle, classy nuance.
Bonus: Low in calories; watermelon is higher in the phytochemical lycopene (a plant-based antioxidant) than tomatoes!
Arguably the most popular of all the summer treats, you can’t help but devour a sweet, juicy cob, typewriter-style, paying no heed to flying kernels and buttery cheeks!
For your next barbeque, set up a DIY corn on the cob bar for your guests. Start with husked ears stacked on a platter, a roll of aluminum foil and a bowl of melted butter with a small pastry brush.
Wrap the ears in foil and position them near the edge of the coals (but not completely off them), turning regularly for 15 minutes.
Pull everything you can out of the fridge and pantry, from herbs to spices to fruit preserves to anchovies—literally anything! Then people can give their corn a brush of butter and go crazy, rubbing and sprinkling to their hearts’ content.
Wrap the ears in foil and position them near the edge of the coals (but not completely off them), turning regularly for 15 minutes. Eat heedlessly, but have plenty of paper towels and wet-naps on hand.
Assorted eggplants. Photo by Alistair
Williamson | SXC.
Here’s my absolute favorite way to prepare eggplant. If seasoned just right it can end up almost tasting like pork belly in its umami, as well as its texture: crispy outside, buttery and tender inside.
Dice. Start by cutting your eggplant into 1″-2″ dice and tossing them in a bowl with a few generous pinches of salt. Lay them out on paper towels for fifteen minutes to drain.
Sauté. Next, get a sauté pan as hot as possible and add enough canola or rice bran oil to cover the surface. Drop the eggplant dice into the pan; they should sizzle loudly as soon as they hit.
Cook. Cook on medium high heat until golden brown, two to three minutes or so, then toss.
Repeat this process until the dice are golden brown on all sides. You may have to add oil as you go to keep things cooking evenly; just don’t add so much that all of the dice are sitting in oil or the eggplant will get soggy.
If you want to be meticulous, and you’re quick enough, you can go in with a fork or spoon and turn pieces individually to ensure totally even cooking.
When all sides are golden brown, lay out one more time to drain excess oil on paper towels for a moment and season with a couple pinches of salt. Then toss in a bowl with some hoisin sauce and serve with fluffy white rice, garnished with sliced green onions.
Bonus: “vegan pork belly,” cholesterol-free.
Tomorrow: Part 2: four more delicious ideas.