No matter what part of the country you live in, summer is the season of abundance. Farmers’ markets are full to overflowing, and backyard gardens are starting to produce in earnest. Who wouldn’t want to cook with all those colors and flavors for inspiration? We'll highlight some of our favorites here, but let the market inspire you to try new ingredients and experiment with techniques.
Beets are the rockstars of the vegetable world, showing off their deep purple, vibrant red, and gemstone orange hues. Don't let their rough exterior fool you, because inside, they're a mashup of sweet and earthy goodness. Their sweetness shines when roasted, but boiled, pickled, and yes, even raw, beets shine in chilled summer preparations.
With its smooth, shiny, and purple skin, eggplant has a creamy texture and a mild, slightly bitter taste when cooked. Whether sliced or whole, eggplant grills beautiful, with a toastiness that enhances the veggie's otherwise delicate flavor. If you encounter a farmers' market that is inundated with eggplant (meaning, a great deal for you!), buy extra to grill or roast whole. The flesh will easily come away from the skin, and you can freeze it for down the road. Puréed into a dip, soup, sauce, or even meatballs, it can add texture and nutrients without overpowering other ingredients.
If the soggy, flavorless zucchini of your past has turned you off to this tender, mild summer squash, give it another try. Alongside it's cousins, like yellow squash, and pattypan, zucchini are best-suited to hot heat and short cooking times. That means a quick sauté or a trip to the grill preserves a tender-crisp texture and a mild flavor that is perfect for soaking up marinades and spice blends.
In a world where peaches get all the attention, keep your eyes peeled for the dainty apricot. They have a delicate balance of sweetness and acidity, with a hint of floral and honey-like notes. When ripe, their flesh is juicy and soft, and their taste can range from slightly tart to intensely sweet, depending on the variety. Eat them out of hand on your way home from the market, and if there are any leftover, add them to your favorite baking recipe (sub plums for apricots in the plum tart below), poach them to spoon over ice cream (like these persimmons), top halves with cheese for a sweet and savory snack, or roast them alongside a grilled chicken and herbs.
Melons are the dark horse of the famers' market, but they shouldn't be overlooked. Local varieties from smaller farms tend to look less impressive: smaller than you expect, with more blemishes. They are just as good (and, in truth, usually way better tasting) than commercial melons, so look for fruits that are heavy-for-size and fragrant. While watermelon, cantaloupe, and honey are the most common, summer is the best time to look for less popular or heirloom varieties, like the ultra-sweet Galia, the cucumber-like Casaba, or the yellow-skinned Canary melon.