As we dive deep into the heart of summer, the season of beach trips, getaways, and outdoor adventures, it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of trying to do it all. We often find ourselves disappointed by the impossibility of experiencing every summer activity and succumbing to the pressures of the “more and more” and “better and better” mindset. But amidst the hustle and bustle, it’s essential to pause, take a breath, and appreciate the summer we are living right now.
Surprisingly, one of the things that helps me savor the moment is cooking. With an abundance of delicious summer fruits and vegetables available, it’s a joy to indulge in fresh, local, seasonal produce. Whether it’s a garlicky kale salad, a sweet and tangy corn salad, or a vibrant radish salad, preparing a healthy and beautiful dish allows me to fully embrace the offerings of summer at that very moment.
Here are some delightful seasonal fruits and vegetables that have been gracing my plate:
Summer Squash: There are actually dozens of varieties of summer squash. Summer squash is harvested when it’s still “immature,” so the rind is still soft and edible–even when raw! Why not try a thinly shaved costata romanesco zucchini with lots of herbs and feta? Or roasted eight ball zucchinis stuffed with mushrooms, nuts and quinoa? As a bonus, squash has pretty much all the vitamins and minerals you want: vitamins C, E, B, as well as magnesium, potassium, copper, phosphorus, calcium and iron, and the yellow varieties contain manganese.
Zucchini Blossoms: With the arrival of summer squash come squash blossoms! These are so beautiful and versatile and quintessentially summer. They make a wonderful garnish on pasta or salads or even eggs. But they also lend themselves to heartier applications: stuff them with herbed goat cheese or ricotta with lots of lemon zest and bake them in the oven or lightly sautée them.
Garlic Scapes: You might not have even heard of these–but believe me, you’ll soon be waiting with bated breath for the slim window of time that they’re in season! Garlic scapes are the skinny flower stems that grow from the tops of hardback garlic. According to Cook’s Illustrated, “farmers have long known that removing them encourages the plant to direct its energy toward growing a plump underground bulb,” but they are also delicious in their own right, with “an assertive garlic flavor that’s less fiery and more grassy than that of raw cloves.” So what do you do with them? Make a pesto with scapes, pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan. Or incorporate them into a mixed vegetable grill. Whatever way you want to make them, get to the store now! They’re usually only available in late spring/early summer, so their season is almost over!
Butter Lettuce: For a lettuce, this one is quite controversial. Well, okay, that’s an overstatement. But there is some confusion about which is Butter lettuce, which Bibb and which Boston. Butter Lettuce is actually the umbrella lettuce of which Bibb and Boston are varieties. How do you tell them apart? They have a fairly similar taste, but Boston’s leaves are wider and lighter green than Bibb’s. It is Bibb lettuce that has the beautiful rose and red-tinged varietals. Both Boston and Bibb have a subtle, sweet, and buttery (hence the name) flavor that lends itself to many pairings. I personally love the most simple one: a very French salad with Butter lettuce, sliced radish, chopped shallots, and a Dijon mustard vinaigrette.
Radishes: Just like squash, there are spring/summer radishes and winter radishes. Spring radishes actually go from seed to harvest in a span of just four weeks or less–super fast!–but they only keep for about a week in the fridge. Spring radishes are softer than winter ones and a great, perhaps under appreciated use for them is in sandwiches! They have such a sharp, peppery crunch that they can complement so many milder, fattier ingredients like avocado, hummus, and even soft cheeses. They are also super high in vitamin C and very low in calories: around 1 calorie per radish, if you can believe it! I love radishes raw and sprinkled with a little salt for a healthy summer snack.
While fresh and raw can be the most tempting and natural way to want to eat in the summer (and obviously, one of my favorites too in the summer!), eating warm foods is best for digestion, and I often recommend warm foods to my patients with sluggish digestion. In the summer, however, some colder dishes are a little more forgiving for some people–as long as they are enjoyed in moderation. Butter lettuce, summer squash–these are delicate and subtle and usually not too hard on the digestive tract. But while it may not be the first preparation you think of, consider lightly cooking any of the above vegetables: bibb lettuce and fresh green pea soup or a summer squash and garlic scape fricassee? What could be better?