The dog days of summer are here, and so are some of the most exciting CT Grown fruits and vegetables that require no cooking: heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, peaches, nectarines, blueberries, raspberries, cantaloupe, and cherries.
For easy summer meals, visit a local farm stand or farmers’ market and build your weekly menu around what’s available right now, starting with heirloom tomatoes. These beautifully colored and oddly shaped tomatoes are packed with flavor, so I like to use them in dishes like salads, where they take center stage. Starlight Gardens in Durham grows between 20 and 30 varieties of organic, heirloom tomatoes that are among the best grown in the state. At the Westport farmers’ market on Thursday, I overheard one shopper commenting on the incredible flavor of Starlight tomatoes. Just one look at their display makes your mouth water. We’ve been waiting all year for tomatoes, so eat up.
I’ve grown and eaten Green Zebras, Brandywines and even Zapotec Pleated (Mexican) heirloom tomatoes, but many of the varieties grown by Starlight and completely new to me, and quite rare. After surveying the table of heirlooms ranging from beefsteaks to cherries, I decided to buy one of each kind to compare their tastes. These included a Paul Robeson, a Black Russian Heirloom; Amana Orange; Pruden’s Purple, similar to Brandywine (which I mistook it for); German Red Strawberry; Striped German, a showy red and yellow when sliced; Wapsipinicon, a Native American Varietal from Idaho aka White Peach; Violet Jasper, purple with green streaks; Glacier; Great White, creamy white just like its name; and Green Moldova, a lime green Ukranian varietal. Tasting these is going to be fun!
One of my favorite dishes to make with heirloom tomatoes is Insalata Caprese, a very simple yet beautiful and incredibly delicious raw antipasto salad. Assemble the salad by alternating slices of heirloom tomato with slices of local, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil leaves, then simply dress it with good olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. Add some bread and the antipasto becomes a sandwich. A good wine pairing would be a rose.
Storage Tip: Do not refrigerate tomatoes; it changes their taste and texture. Leave them on the counter and eat within a few days of picking. Do not refrigerate basil; it will turn brown rapidly. Store it in a vase or mason jar out of direct sunlight and it will stay fresh for 1-2 weeks.
Any fruit – berry, stone fruit, or melon – can be eaten as is, but I also like to pair whole berries or slices of stone fruit – like peaches and nectarines – with local yogurt and honey for a healthy breakfast or snack. If guests are coming, layer the fruit and yogurt in a parfait glass and top it with honey for a beautiful presentation. At an informal gathering, put out all the ingredients – fruit, yogurt and honey- on the table and let guests make their own fruit parfaits.
When you’re wondering what to do with a large quantity of super ripe fruit, make smoothies or freezer pops. Freezer pop molds (look for the BPA-free kind) are pretty inexpensive and last for years. Sometimes I make smoothies and freeze any leftovers as pops. Try blending 2 peaches, 2 cups of blueberries and a cup of milk, plus 1 teaspoon of honey (or to taste) for a delicious, refreshing and perfectly seasonal smoothie. If you’re using a blender, add some ice cubes to make it even colder. If using an immersion blender (ice usually cannot be handled by them), chill down all your ingredients first.