Shop Like a Chef: How to Make the Most of Summer Produce

Fresh summer produce is on the verge of running rampant. Hurray! There are endless, easy ways to incorporate variety, color, and vibrant flavors into your warm-weather cooking. Follow these tips for using seasonal fruits and veggies—whether you picked them up at your neighborhood farmers' market or your own rooftop garden.
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Fresh summer produce is on the verge of running rampant. Hurray! There are endless, easy ways to incorporate variety, color, and vibrant flavors into your warm-weather cooking. Follow these tips for using seasonal fruits and veggies—whether you picked them up at your neighborhood farmers' market or your own rooftop garden.

Welcome to our new column, Shop Like a Chef, in which we ask chefs at Natural Gourmet Institute to offer expert tips on choosing vegetarian staples.

Fresh summer produce is on the verge of running rampant. Hurray! There are endless, easy ways to incorporate variety, color, and vibrant flavors into your warm-weather cooking. Simply follow these tips for using seasonal fruits and veggies—whether you picked them up at your neighborhood farmers' market, closest grocery store, or your own rooftop garden.

1. Go Local (and Organic)
Summer is the perfect time to support small local farms—a surplus of produce means inexpensive, seasonal finds. Buy organic whenever possible, especially when it comes to favorites such as strawberries, grapes, peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Anything with a thick outer skin like corn or cantaloupe is less prone to pesticide exposure. (Check out the EWG's Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen for a complete list.)

2. Store with Care
If refrigerating produce, store in a loose-fitting bag with a towel to absorb extra moisture, and don't wash it until you're ready to eat or cook it. Got a variety of fruits and vegetables? Fruits give off high levels of ethylene, which causes ripening, so keep them separate from the veggies. Lastly, set your refrigerator to 40° F or lower, and don’t overfill it, so as to maintain proper cooling.

3. Get Creative
To keep things exciting, try switching up how you prepare summer produce. A few foolproof ideas:

Pickling and infused oils Pickle items like okra, cucumbers and jalapenos in a warm mixture of vinegar, red chili flakes, and sea salt. As for fresh herbs like basil or chives, steep them in oil to make a flavorful base for salad dressings.

• Fruit granita Create a refreshing dessert by blending fresh fruit like cherries, peaches, or watermelon, then freezing and occasionally scraping the mixture with a fork until frozen.

• Infused water Choose anything from fresh chamomile flowers to peaches, and add to ice water for more enticing hydration.

• Grilled salsa and relishes Char anything from tomatoes to corn to zucchini and toss in a vinaigrette to serve with fresh mozzarella or your favorite protein.

• Vegetable carpaccio Cut your favorite vegetables like zucchini, summer squash, or tomatoes paper-thin, and toss with a small amount of salt to release moisture. Drizzle with a simple vinaigrette, and sprinkle with fresh herbs.

4. Waste Not
If you have too much to eat, don't toss it. You can always blanche and freeze extra greens for soups and sauces; blend large amounts of fresh produce down to a juice, chilled soup, or gazpacho; throw produce on the grill to use in weekday salads and sandwiches; or dehydrate items like stone fruit for a quick snack or to use in a favorite recipe. Still stumped? Schedule a dinner party or impromptu picnic with friends!

Meet the Author Chef Olivia Roszkowski is a graduate of Natural Gourmet Institutes Chef’s Training Program and a full-time instructor. She holds a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and behavior from Columbia University, has worked at various well-known NYC restaurants, including The Mercer Kitchen and Momofuku Ssam Bar, and is a master at root-to-frond cooking.