The abundance of locally-grown fruits, vegetables and herbs can be overwhelming in late summer. To truly take advantage, here are some practical tips to make the most of summer’s bounty by eating some and preserving the rest for delicious dining throughout the year.
Cooking with fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs:
Many Americans do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, so late summer is a good time to add more plant-based foods to our meals. Make fruit cobblers, crisps or pies with stone fruits such as the peaches, apricots and plums that are in season now. Grilling heightens the sweetness of these fruits, making a light, but nutritious dessert. Fruit that is past its prime, but still edible is perfect for no-cook jams and morning smoothies.
Certain vegetables are over-abundant in late summer, especially tomatoes, so serve many tomato-based dishes such as the bread-tomato salad Panzanella, Mexican salsa, gazpacho, and marinara sauce for pasta.
Fresh herbs are usually used in main dishes and vegetables, but they can also be used for chimichurri (an Argentian sauce of herbs, olive oil, garlic and vinegar) or flavored oil by pureeing a fresh herb with olive oil in a blender, then straining it to remove the solids. Served on top of grilled meats or vegetables, chimichurri and herb oil jazz up even the simplest dishes.
Vegetables, especially tomatoes, are easily dried in a convection oven (or a food dehydrator). Although any size tomato can be dried, the smaller plum, grape, and cherry varieties work best because they have fewer seeds and dry more quickly. Sliced in half, tossed with olive oil and salt, bake them on parchment-lined baking sheets at 200°F until completely shriveled and dry. Throughout the winter they go into soups and casseroles or dips and sauces where their concentrated flavor lends a taste of summer.
Fruits can also be dried, but work best when sliced fairly thin. Smaller fruits such as blueberries and cherries dry quickly while stone fruits and pears take longer. Vegetables such as carrots and zucchini can be dried into chips for snacking but work best when sliced very thin with a mandolin.
To combat the fleeting shelf life of herbs, use what you need within a day or two, then dry them in the microwave (layered on a paper towel). Depending on the moisture in the herb, they dry in about 2 to 3 minutes and can be stored in jars for use throughout the winter.
Both freezing and canning are time-honored methods for preserving, but canning is more time-consuming and requires special equipment. Instead, one can freeze produce in resealable freezer bags. Herbsâ€•especially soft herbs like basil, chives, cilantro, dill, mint and parsleyâ€•freeze well in small freezer bags for six months. They will look a little bruised when thawed, but their flavor is still intact.
Fruits can be frozen, but take the time to freeze the fruits in a single layer on a baking sheet before transferring them to a resealable freezer bag. The fruits freeze faster this way and don’t clump together, helping to maintain their quality after thawing.
Marinara sauces freeze exceptionally well in Mason jars or resealable freezer bags. Transfer sauce to clean containers and refrigerates it for a day to meld the flavors. Sauce can be frozen for up to six months and thaws easily in the refrigerator overnight.
Taking the time in late summer to preserve fruits, vegetables and herbs will bring a Summery taste to your foods, even in the dead of winter.
Source: Carol Fenster, author
Published with permission from RISMedia.