This is a recipe in the works. The ricotta stuffing was excellent but the squash skin was kind of tough which was disappointing. Hopefully I’ll be able to present this in the next week or so.
We’ve been committed to eating mostly local produce for the last three years. What “mostly” really means is that I buy almost all local produce all year but each week I allow myself to buy one or two produce items that aren’t grown locally. Avocados are one of them. I don’t believe I can live without avocados and I’m okay with that. Because of buying avocados frequently I don’t buy oranges or tangerines (this winter I got three boxes full of them grown by a family friend which was an incredible treat) or bananas or pineapples or most other things that never grow in my climate. If I decide I want any of those things then I make sure that I don’t buy avocados that week or I give up buying lemons or limes which I buy periodically for cooking. It’s all about maintaining a high proportion of locally grown produce all year round.
Nearly always if you’re eating locally you’re eating seasonally. Eating seasonally has changed the way I think about produce for the better. When you eat tomatoes all year long you not only support an unsustainable system of shipping produce worldwide but you commit to eating sub-standard quality food. Wait, but that wasn’t what I was going to say- the best thing about not eating tomatoes until they’re in season is that they become infinitely more treasured. I cheated this early summer and bought some locally grown organic tomatoes grown in a greenhouse, which, it turns out, weren’t that great anyway. What can I say? After ten months of buying NO “fresh”* tomatoes I was dying for my first taste and was disappointed.
This week the tomatoes are truly in season! Here in my area they are beginning to show up at the farmer’s markets and they have flavor and I’m making a ridiculously poor sentence just because I’m so excited about it I can’t decide what to make with them first and I’m buying as many as I can at each market. (That’s a lot of excitement.)
Right now the summer produce is at its peak and I’m finding that there are so many things I can only cook during the summer because this is the only time I can get the real deal: the ripe local flavorful food that epitomizes warm weather and prevents me from relocating to the North Pole during the heat. Seasonal eating makes me savor food so much more than I did before. I’m experiencing a little bit of sensory overload right now.
Here are some of the things I want to make with what’s available right now:
Tomatoes: fresh salsa, pico de gallo, tomatoes on salad, stuffed tomatoes, slow oven roasted tomatoes, tomatoes in eggs, tomatoes in sandwiches, tomato gratin, pasta with tomatoes, a strange but unbelievably delicious casserole my mom makes with tofu feta and fresh tomatoes and cauliflower, tomato soup, Mexican rice, enchilada sauce, and Caprese salad.
Corn: corn chowder, corn on the cob, black bean chili with fresh corn, fresh in salad, corn in enchiladas, corn relish, creamed corn, and corn fritters.
Summer squash: squash gratin, stuffed squash, grilled on sandwiches, sauteed with fresh herbs and garlic, squash in summer soup, grilled as a side, zucchini bread, ratatouille, and in zucchini and feta fritters.
Eggplant: grilled for sandwiches, grilled and cubed on pasta, baked, stuffed and baked, ratatouille, made into sauce for pasta with tomatoes and basil, baked with garlic and put on sandwiches, eggplant lasagna, and pickled!
Cucumbers: added to an assembled salad, sliced and dressed in mustard vinaigrette, in a raita sauce, tzatziki sauce to go over falafel, eaten plain, and dipped into ranch dressing.
Those are just the main players. Now I’m seeing beets- I love a salad with beets dressed in lemon and olive oil with kalamata olives and feta over a bed of lettuce. Or roasted beets in couscous. Or just roasted and eaten. I love them pickled too. Soon I’ll be seeing a little celery which is exciting because I gave it up for most of the year when I went seasonal. I used to put it in almost everything I cooked. I sometimes blanch and freeze it but if I don’t get around to it then I don’t eat celery for 11 months out of the year.
What to make? How to make everything I want to in such a short time? The hardest part is that a lot of the time I’m truly happy just eating a cheese sandwich with fresh tomato, mayonnaise, spicy mustard, on wheat bread. Just like that. So simple. It’s what I had for lunch today and it’s so good! I’m one of those people who doesn’t think a sandwich is complete without tomato on it so I don’t eat sandwiches during most of the year either. Except for grilled cheese with home made dill pickles.
I stand in my kitchen the moment I have time to cook something and am paralyzed with choice. Winter and spring cooking is about finding 100 great ways to use celery root and chard and carrots but summer cooking is about becoming drunk with the limitless possibilities for meals.
Before I ate seasonally I didn’t appreciate what I was eating half so much or was nearly so conscious of the changes in my diet or of the seasons themselves in a broader sense; how when the air is hot and redolent of ripe blackberries it is also a time when I am most profoundly physically uncomfortable, my hens coo happily every late afternoon when the sun sinks and the heat eases and I toss them such succulent scraps as watermelon rinds or whole pieces of watermelon that Max has rejected, young squash trimmings, corn cobs full of corn scraps, and the low hanging blackberries in the garden.
Then there’s the way the air feels just as we turn the corner from the first two weeks of ripe tomatoes, when the nights start biting ever so slightly and underneath the lingering heat of summer is that queer smell we all recognize that tells us fall is coming; it’s time to preserve food madly, pick apples, clean up the summer garden if you’re normal and not lazy like me, and when the local giant cauliflowers start showing up downtown it means it’s time to pickle and it means that the last of the eggplants has drifted into the farm compost pile.
Seasons still drive humans on a truly primal level but so many of us have allowed ourselves to operate outside them, to ignore the natural drives that tell us when to eat every rich vitamin-laden piece of produce we can get our hands on against the coming bleaker months, when to store things away for the co
ld months, when to pull out the blankets, hibernate, go inward, and when to come back outside to watch the first green fronds ignite the icy cold with bright hope…and it matters. I feel more connected to myself and the earth when I eat seasonally.
This makes sense since eating is such a basic need we are constantly trying to fulfill and without it, like light, we will die.
So while I find it overwhelming to have so much lush produce at my disposal at a time when I am most inclined to eat salads and simple sandwiches, I also love this feeling of possibilities. I just ate a salad with all organic locally grown (affordable) produce: lettuce, tomatoes (ripe!), raw corn, and cucmber, and it was soul satisfying.
Tomorrow I hope to experiment with corn chowder. I’m chasing a memory of a bowl of corn chowder I ate in San Francisco in a cafe that has been gone for over 15 years and who’s name I can’t even remember: a bowl of corn chowder that was so sublime I completely forgot who I was sitting with while I ate it and ever since then there has been no corn chowder to match it. I keep trying.
Perhaps I’ll get it right this week and if I do I’ll share it with you.
Happy summer eating!!
*I do buy canned tomato sauce and canned diced tomatoes and when I can I try to can my own. The year before last I canned enough tomatoes myself that I didn’t even buy canned tomatoes for a year! They tasted better and were actually cheaper than the factory canned tins. If you don’t believe me you must read my article on the cost analysis between home canned and store bought canned tomatoes:
Is it cost effective to can your own tomatoes?