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How to Use Summer’s Bumper Crops

How to Use Summer’s Bumper Crops
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BY DIANE SNOW JAVAID

Summer’s bounty of produce brings us delicious eating, healthful vitamins, antioxidants and reduced grocery bills for many fresh ingredients. By mid-July the growing season is in full-swing and much of the best eating is yet to come. Tomatoes, corn, peaches and peppers are now in abundance. Enjoy peaches until the end of August. Tomatoes, corn and peppers are plentiful until September or October in some parts of the country.

The challenge is in what to do with these bumper crops before they spoil. Whether the produce comes from your own garden, a local stand, grocer or farm, it’s great to incorporate the freshness of these foods as part of an entrée, side dish, dessert or appetizer. Some ideas to get you started:

Tomatoes When my dear husband’s tomato plants bring forth their fruit, there’s nearly too much to handle. Fortunately I love sharing those perfect red spheres with friends and neighbors as well as devouring them myself. After chomping on as many tomato, cheese and mayonnaise sandwiches as my cholesterol will allow, here is what I love to make:

Fresh tomato sauce – Simmered with onion and garlic, this can be used immediately or frozen. With this base I can later add Italian or Indian seasonings and have the perfect sauce for either cuisine.

Bruschetta – Made with the freshest basil and good olive oil on artisan breads.

Ratatouille – Which helps use other summer crops of zucchini, onion and green peppers.

Tomato salads – Fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil salad or tomato, cucumber salad.

SoupsTomato soup, minestrone or tomato vegetable soup.

Salsas – Which can also use up a volume of peppers and corn.

Italian dishes – A luscious layered tomato, eggplant and cheese bake comes to mind.

Indian entrees – Particularly recipes from North India that incorporate tomatoes and yogurt into a simmering sauce for chicken.

Tomatoes also can be canned, but I’ve always viewed that as too labor-intensive. A better way to save them is to freeze them whole on a cookie sheet. Use only blemish-free, perfect tomatoes and wash well before freezing. Once they are frozen they can be repackaged into a freezer bag and thawed under running water when needed. A side benefit of this technique is that the skins fall off when defrosted.

Corn In my mind, nothing reaches summer gastronomic nirvana as the sweet white corn variety named Silver Queen. Friends tell me that other varieties are equally good with descriptive names like Early Sunglow, Sundance, Country Gentleman, Butter & Sugar and Sugar Dots. Here’s how to enjoy sweet corn at its flavorful peak.

Corn-on-the-cob – Simplicity and flavor at its best. Folks debate whether it should have just butter or salt or both – but I say, go for both with the best butter you can find. And, we count our rows. This started when I was a kid, and I still cannot eat an ear without first counting the rows. In our family, we were offered $100 if we found an ear with an uneven number of rows. (Of course my father knew that the ear developed into an even number of rows.) Today I still count out of habit, although I’d have to pay myself, I guess. Also try:

Corn breadsBaked in many different shapes, as well as corn bread muffins. (Add kernels to a store-brand of corn meal. I do not recommend grinding one’s own corn meal.)

Corn pudding – For an extra sweet enjoyment of corn.

Corn-based soupsCorn chowder, Southwestern corn soup.

Corn salads – Particularly corn, tomato and black bean salad with spring onions and cilantro.

Roasted corn — A summer grilling favorite.

Corn can also be frozen. Take fresh, unblemished ears (no bugs, please), shuck them and blanch for 5 minutes. Stop the cooking process in an ice-bath and slice off kernels. Be careful not to cut too deeply into fibrous part. Seal in vacumn freezer bags or use Ziploc freezer bags where you’ve inserted a straw into the nearly sealed top and sucked out the air.

Peaches Ah, the very sweetness of summer. Eating an unadorned ripe peach is heavenly and an excellent way to get vitamin C and a fruit serving. Peaches are a natural for dessert. and they make me feel French. (Yes, fruit in a dessert still counts as a fruit serving. Ask any French woman who has created a delicate fruit tart.) More ideas include:

Warm peach dessertsPeach cobblers and crisps, peach shortcake or peach and apple tarts.

Cold peach desserts — Bring out that home ice-cream maker. It’s worth the effort when you have fresh peaches. Peach popsicles or simply sliced peaches over vanilla ice cream are other cold sweet items.

Baked peach treatsPeach cheesecake, peach cupcakes, peach muffins, peach-flavored cake with peach icing.

Freeze peaches for later use by starting with the best, unbruised fruits. Wash in cool water and place into boiling water for 30 seconds and immediately immerse in a cold water bath with loads of ice cubes. Peel, pit and slice peaches and add either lemon juice or a mixture of ascorbic acid and cold water. Gently mixed into the fruit, this retards browning. Then add sugar or sugar substitute (check recipes for exact measures) and freeze in vacuum-sealed bags or Ziploc freezer bags using the straw method to remove excess air. Use your frozen peaches soon after they are defrosted.  They will still brown quickly.

Peppers I have accused my gardening spouse of growing enough hot peppers to export to India. He doesn’t know when to stop planting cayennes, habaneros and jalapenos. The sweet green peppers I love don’t have a chance. They absorb their cousins’ hotness through the soil and become a strange hybrid of sweet and hot. So, I’ve accepted hubby’s proclivity for baskets of hot peppers and here’s how I happily cope with his bumper crops:

HabanerosLet me warn anyone who’s not familiar with these to treat them with kid gloves. (No kidding, do wear rubber gloves when working with this hot stuff. One stray touch to your eye could send you to the ER.) Habaneros can be used fresh in cooking many hot stews such as Indian lentils. Freezing them whole, they can add a hot blast to many dishes in the middle of the winter.

JalapenosEnjoy them fresh in many Mexican, Indian and Pakistani recipes. For an extra shot of pain-killing capsacin, you can eat them whole or diced into relishes and salsas, but again, check their heat factor. I always slice a thin piece from the middle of a pepper and taste to judge its hotness. If you don’t taste-test your dish could be either too bland or too fiery.

CayennesCan easily be air-dried for later use in meat rubs, salad dressings and flavorings for soups and stews. Wash and dry these peppers and string them together using a needle and thread. Hang to dry in the least dusty place you have. Once dried, they keep well in a closed container.

Sweet green peppersWhen I find these at a good price, I cook old-fashioned stuffed peppers using rice, sauteed mixed vegetables and any number of seasonings. The raw sweet peppers also freeze nicely – as do jalapenos. Thoroughly wash peppers, cut in half or smaller strips and remove seeds and blanch for 3 minutes (a little less time for finely sliced pieces). Cool fully in an ice-bath for 4 minutes. Drain and package in freezer bags or vacuum-seal. Use within 9 months for the best taste.

Enjoy summer’s bounty of fresh produce and feel virtuous in not wasting one single, tasty bite.

Diane Snow Javaid, a former executive with U.S.News & World Report, also writes a personal blog at http://godposts.wordpress.com.

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