Dear Friends and Cooking Comrades,
Welcome back home!
We are getting into the season where the garden grows, the farm stands open, the U-picks have something to pick. LOCAL becomes much more than a buzz word, a dreamy ideal, or something trendy. It can actually become a reality: something we can eat.
Cooking with produce is a thrill when it hasn’t been picked too early, when it doesn’t have to travel for days or weeks on a truck, when it has peak flavor. That’s when we really have to simplify our cooking and stay out of nature’s way. We don’t need to try and coax flavor out of a sullen winter tomato, the summer tomato is present in a full spectrum of flavorful glory!
Do I season my ingredients a little differently in summer when things are full-flavored? Yes. Do I serve more fresh, lightly blanched, or raw things on the table? Yes. Do we do more outdoor grilling and simplify our menus? Absolutely.
Taste your garden or farm-fresh items for sweetness, for acidity, for flavor and then work with them accordingly. The subtle differences are incredible. The brilliance of the summer cook is staying out of the way and letting ripe and ready items show off. Doing less with just-picked ingredients that are packed with flavor, makes you an easy genius in the kitchen. It is the reward of restraint. There is nothing I can do as a chef to improve slices of ripe tomato sprinkled with a pinch of kosher salt, or the crisp snap of a garden green bean, or the first bite of a fragrant peach when the juice runs down your chin. And don’t forget all the variety of fresh herbs, like a painter’s palette, ready for experimentation. I just stand back in awe.
And if you’re not the farming type, remember the cost of a little bunch of cut herbs is expensive at the market, compared to growing a few flavor-enhancing plants yourself. How about planting a few herb plants like thyme, basil or rosemary? This gives you a fresh snip of herbs until autumn, for your spur-of-the-moment inspirations in the kitchen. Even if you only have a small patch of ground, or a window box, or even a window sill, herb plants pay for themselves. Do it now, before summer is bolting and you wish you had.
Summer produce makes my heart race with possibilities and makes my mouth water at the thought of it. Make sure you take advantage of it and savor it!