Our Favorite Summer Produce (And What to Do With It!)

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It’s here! Summer is upon us, bringing picnics, barbecues, lazy dinners outside (in between water gun fights) and infinite inspiration with one simple stroll through the farmers' market. Seasonal summer foods are made for lazy cooks. And while I generally love cooking, I’d rather be outside enjoying the sun this time of year than standing at the hot stove creating elaborate meals.

No, this is the season for tomato toast with basil aioli, grilled corn covered in salty cotija and lime and cherries served over ice. When the food is this good, it’s more about assembling than cooking.

Here's your seasonal guide to delicious summer eats!

Tomatoes

In the northwest, tomatoes are really only worth eating in the summer, unless you roast them to coax out more sweetness. Come late August - September, we prove that our dirt grows some pretty great ones. I buy them in all shapes and sizes and do as little to them as I possibly can because, really, they’re pretty near perfect as is.

Tomato toast

You can do tomato toast a number of ways. Grilled bread rubbed with fresh garlic and then a thick slice of tomato, salt and a touch of olive oil is nice. Or, you can do as they do in Spain, rubbing the crusty toast with the tomato itself. I’ve grated the tomato on a box grater and topped that on toast too — definitely not a mistake. Or you can slather the bread with ricotta and then the tomato — even less of a mistake.

A kicked-up BLT

Add minced basil and a bit of raw garlic to some mayonnaise. Spread this on two pieces of toasted bread, then top with lettuce, tomato, crisp bacon and avocado.

Summer’s tomato sauce

Blend some tomatoes with garlic, dried or fresh oregano and a bit of olive oil. Toss with cooked pasta and voila! You could also heat this up for a fresh tomato soup or serve it chilled as gazpacho. Top with avocado and cilantro for even more summer freshness.

Corn

“Knee high by the fourth of July” is the mantra I grew up hearing. If the hardy stalks of corn don’t rise to your knees by the time the fireworks go off, then we know it’s going to be a late season.

Around here the kernels are so sweet I’ve been known to eat them right off the cob. But if you’re not into that, I have some other great ideas.

Mexican corn

Grill whole corn cobs with the husks removed until charred and the kernels brighten in color. While warm, slather mayonnaise or a mixture of mayonnaise and sour cream over the cob. Top with crumbled cotija (an aged Mexican cheese) and a squeeze of lime. Some like to sprinkle chili powder over it as well for a kick of spice.

Corn salad with feta and herbs

Remove the kernels off of cooled, cooked cobs. Toss with olive oil, lemon, crumbled feta and a couple handfuls of fresh herbs like basil, chives, mint and parsley.
 

Cherries

Really there’s nothing better than a snacking on a bowl of cherries served over ice. It’s the best way to cool down — or at least have fun trying.

White chocolate dipped cherries

That pretty much sums it up. Melt white chocolate over a double boiler with a touch of canola (or another flavorless oil). Dip the cherries into the chocolate then place in the refrigerator to set up. It's a summer dessert that celebrates all things simple.

Cherry soda

Combine halved and pitted cherries with a bit of sugar and water. Bring to a boil then turn off the heat and let cool. Add a bit of this cherry syrup to a glass and top with club soda and a squeeze of lime juice. Add a splash of cream for a cherry cream soda, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a float.

Roasted cherry jam

In the same way we made strawberry jam, you can roast cherries, sugar and a bit of lemon into a sweet, soft jam without standing at the stove and stirring a pot

Peppers

Peppers come late in the summer in a lots of different shapes, sizes and spice levels. Their season is short, so while it’s here, I like to roast as many as I can to have throughout the year. (Well, I try to make them last all year but they never make it passed dinner.)

I’ll use those roasted peppers in sauces, soups and served simply as part of an antipasto platter, which is a favorite meal of mine in these hot months.

Pickled peppers

Add sliced peppers in varying shades of spiciness (depending on what you can handle) to a brine made up of apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, water and spices like garlic and oregano. Cook the peppers in the brine until they're soft and plump. Cool completely then refrigerate or can. You can use these on grilled sausages, in pasta salads, on sandwiches or as the base for a vinaigrette.

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