“Look at me, squeeze me, smell me, taste me”
The simple approach to buying good produce is to try before you buy. This involves sampling anything that you have might have a doubt about. Buy produce in the peak of its season. It will taste better and it’s cheaper. We will discuss the “carbon footprint” later…
Heirlooms have been in the restaurant for about a month now and are still in their prime. Buy them when they are slightly firm to the squeeze. Do not refrigerate but use within a few days. Sliced Heirlooms are best eaten raw with a little salt, pepper and olive oil. Add fresh mozzarella and fresh basil to make a “Caprese” salad.
There are many varieties of melons to choose from, all with outstanding flavor. The safe bet with melons is to “try before you buy.” You can refrigerate them but be sure to serve melons at a cool temperature. A little salt and lime will bring out the sweetness.
Choose fresh figs that are firm (not hard) to the squeeze. Black Mission figs should be dark skinned without green shoulders. Green Adriatic figs are green on the outside and bright pink on the inside. Figs are very versatile and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. They can be eaten raw, baked, roasted, broiled, grilled and poached. They go very well with cheese, especially Goat and Gorgonzola.
Fresh cranberry, butter, cannellini and garbanzo beans all have a soft and creamy texture and wonderful nutty flavor. These can be shelled a day or two ahead of time and will keep for a couple of days in the fridge after they are cooked. We like to serve them with different types of meat, poultry and fish in various broths.
There are many interesting peppers available in produce markets right now. In the restaurant, we use a variety of mild Italian frying peppers with great flavor. These peppers are about 3-4 inches long and around 1 inch wide towards the stem. They are very mild and can be pickled, grilled or quickly sautéed whole in a little olive oil and salt. These are great with sliced salumi, olives or on sandwiches, pizza or Bruschetta.
The long awaited Brentwood corn is now available to us in the Bay Area. I was also recently able to enjoy some of the best Midwestern sweet corn purchased from a farmer’s stand alongside the road. I always inspect corn by pulling back the husk about halfway. The kernels should be plump and bright. Cut a few of the kernels off and taste them if you’re unsure. Corn on the cob can be grilled in the husk or shucked and boiled for a couple of minutes – there is no reason to overcook it. Often, we take the corn of the cob and sauté it with some peppers and zucchini for a side dish. If you are not going to cook the corn immediately, store it in the fridge, keeping the husk on.
Peaches, Nectarines, Plums and Pluots
Stone fruits can be a total crap shoot. The try before you buy rule definitely applies here as these fruits can look and feel great but once cut into can be dry, mealy and sour. The shelf life on these fruits when stored at room temp is fairly short, at which point they bruise very easily. When transporting these from the market to your kitchen keep, it’s best to keep them in a cardboard tray so they don’t develop these bruises. We often serve stone fruits with sliced prosciutto as an antipasti, but, needless to say, there are thousands of dessert applications. One of my favorite ways to serve peaches as dessert is to cut them in half and grill them with a little Amaretto and honey and serve with vanilla ice cream
There are many different varieties of zucchini in the market right now, and we use them all. I like the outside part of the zucchini best and serve it raw, thinly sliced and tossed with a little lemon, olive, salt and pepper. Zucchini also works very well on the grill, brushed with a little olive oil. Grilling only takes about 30 seconds on each side over a hot fire. When pulling zucchini off the grill, don’t pile slices on top of one another, as it will trap the heat and continue to cook, leaving you with mush.
Susan Spicer, the Chef/Owner of Bayona in New Orleans, once said to her cooks, “undercooked eggplant has no redeeming qualities.” There are several varieties on the market right now including White, Globe, Japanese, Rosa Bianca and the pink and white striped Listada de Gandia. Keep your eggplants in the fridge until ready to use. We typically slice, marinate and grill our eggplant or dice and sauté it for Caponata.