Along with fireflies, sundresses and beach weather, here's another reason we're sweet on summer: the chance to make weekly trips to the farmers market for primo fruits and vegetables. Whitney Wright, Southern Living magazine's deputy food director, shares her tips for enjoying the season's bounty.
"People don't talk to the farmers enough at markets, but it's great to take advantage of their expertise," Wright says. She suggests asking growers how they prepare and serve their produce, as well as the best ways to store it.
Don't overlook bruised and battered items, which many farmers market vendors sell at a discount. "They're perfect for pickles, salsas and chutneys, and can really help stretch your budget," Wright says. Pickling doesn't have to be a laborious process. "You can quick-pickle just about anything in 10 minutes and it will keep in the fridge for about a month," she says. (Southern Living offers a number of quick-pickle recipes, like this one for pickled cucumbers.)
When it comes to storing fresh produce, "almost everyone is making some type of mistake," Wright says. Remove produce from bags and take off ties and rubber bands, since pressure causes bruising. Wright's biggest pet peeve is putting tomatoes in the fridge. Other items to keep at room temperature: avocados and stone fruits like peaches, plums and nectarines. Fruits that emit a gas called ethylene can cause ethylene-sensitive produce to spoil if stored together, so keep your apples separate from your strawberries.
When you come home with shopping bags bursting at the seams, freeze some veggies for future use. "Most green vegetables and even corn kernels you've stripped from the cob will reheat beautifully for stir-fries," Wright says. Before freezing, blanch your veggies quickly in boiling water and plunge them into an ice bath. Then pat them dry with paper towels and freeze flat in zippered plastic bags.
Because flavors peak in summer, Wright says, you shouldn't overcook or heavily season your vegetables. Salt, pepper and olive oil are usually all you'll need. To maximize flavor, she suggests a 10-minute roast in a hot (450 F) oven or a quick sear in a sauté pan. "And don't underestimate the deliciousness of raw," she says. Wright likes to make salsa with raw corn kernels and thin zucchini "noodles" created with a mandolin or vegetable peeler. "I macerate them with olive oil and herbs and don't even bother cooking them." For more tastes of summer, check out our game-changing potato salad recipes.