On Your Table: Summer produce in its glory

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Fresh, local corn, tomatoes, peppers and more are a delight

ByCathy Branciaroli, Food Correspondent, The Times

It's all fresh, local and delicious! This is the peak season for locally grown produce.

It’s all fresh, local and delicious! This is the peak season for locally grown produce.

We’ve been enjoying the summer produce season for weeks already, but it’s right now – when July has melted its way into August that the summer harvest is at its peak. Corn is coming in, tomatoes are plentiful and peppers are ripe for the picking. It’s certainly the most bountiful time of year.

But with all of nature’s bounty at your fingertips there’s nothing worse than cutting into just-bought produce only to find that it’s brown, bruised or just can’t be used. That can be a sad surprise. Luckily, this is an easy problem to solve if you know what to look for. Some produce lets you know it’s ripe based on color and with others it’s all about touch. Here are some tips to sort it out.

Corn tells you everything by its husk. If the husk is green and hasn’t dried out, the ear of corn is perfectly ripe and fresh. Corn’s silk threads are also indicative of ripeness. They should cling to the kernels, and the kernels should be plump.

For tomatoes, don’t judge by color alone because not all tomatoes are red. The best way to check for ripeness is with the touch test. If it yields slightly to the touch, it’s at the peak of ripeness.

Watermelons sound hollow and feel heavy when ripe. A ripe watermelon is heavy because it’s full of water. When you tap on it, there should be a hollow sound. Another easy way is to check the underside of a watermelon. If it has a yellow or light color on the bottom it’s ready to eat.

So, now that you’ve gotten your produce and are ready to cook, here comes a dilemma. What to make? Here are some thoughts about how to use and what to pair with summer’s most productive vegetables.

Corn is versatile and can be baked, boiled, grilled, roasted, sautéed or steamed. It’s best paired with basil, black beans, bell peppers, chili peppers, cilantro, garlic, onions, potatoes and tomatoes. If you are not going to eat it right of the cob, then a corn salad makes for a refreshing side dish.

Peppers, sweet or hot, red, yellow or green can be stir fried, stuffed, grilled or eaten raw as a crudité. Paired with black beans, onions, cilantro and garlic they make a great Mexican flavored dish, but add ginger, lime and serve over brown rice now you’ve got Asian flavors going.

That glut of tomatoes from the garden has many uses. I like to take cherry tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and roast them in a hot oven. They then can be frozen for use in sauces or additions to many dishes. Otherwise they can be bit into raw like an apple, stuffed or sun-dried preserved in olive oil.

Quick now, enjoy all the produce of summer before Labor Day creeps up on you and the season for many vegetables and fruits comes to an end.

Cathy Branciaroli also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her award-winning blog Delaware Girl Eats

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