Although we may not see evidence of the seasons as dramatically in South Florida as in other parts of the country, the changes in the produce department and at some farmers’ markets is noticeable. Many farmers’ markets should be called produce vendor markets, as many do not, in fact, grow the food, but rather pick it up from wholesalers. However you get your produce, thanks to rapid transportation, we are able to enjoy food from all over the world, and while that means you can get summer vegetables year ‘round, there’s nothing like local produce at the height of the season. Here’s an A to Z list of seasonal vegetables and some hints on how to prepare them.
Apples - “As American as apple pie,” but apples are equally at home in savory dishes and pair well with pork or veal. Wash and slice a few apples and toss them in the pan the last 30 minutes when preparing a veal or pork roast. Fall apples will store for weeks in the refrigerator, so buy them on sale and keep plenty on hand.
Brussels Sprouts - If you hated them as a kid, it’s probably because they were frozen and/or cooked to mush. Sauté fresh ones with bacon, sprinkle with a tablespoon of sugar and roast them at 350° for 30 minutes. You’ll be a fan for life.
Cauliflower - Another hated veggie that becomes a favorite when roasted. Toss with olive oil and Italian herb mix, roast at 350° for 30 minutes.
Dates – All right, they’re always in season, but they’re so good, who can resist? Freeze goat cheese, cut in small cubes and insert in pitted dates. Allow to thaw, and enjoy the sweet and salty goodness.
Eggplant - Roast an entire eggplant (better yet two, you’ll want leftovers) at 350° for 45 minutes or until soft to touch. Place warm eggplant in a food processor and puree while streaming in ¼ cup olive oil. Add crumbled feta and herbs (oregano and thyme are good options). Great with pita bread.
Fava Beans - Hannibal Lecter was right about one thing; fava beans pair great with a nice Chianti. Shuck 4 cups of fava beans, cook in salted water, shock in an ice bath and peel away the husks. Toss with crushed garlic, lemon juice and a little olive oil.
Grapes - Everyone’s had grapes, but have you had frosted grapes? Wash and rinse, then dry in a colander. Place a package of flavored gelatin mix (cherry for red grapes, lime for green) on a large saucer. Roll the grapes in the gelatin and set on a sheet pan to dry in the refrigerator for one hour.
Herbs - Fresh herbs are abundant this time of year. Place in small plastic bags and freeze for use in any cooked dish.
Indian Corn - One of the oldest varieties of corn, flint corn as it is properly known, comes in a range of colors and has “hard as flint” shells (hence its name). It contains a small amount of soft starch surrounded by a larger amount of hard starch, which makes the kernels shrink uniformly when drying and less prone to spoilage. Although mostly decorative, it can be ground and used for polenta, but make certain it hasn’t been coated with a protective lacquer.
Jicama - this root vegetable has a tough, bark-like coating. Use a knife to cut away the edges and slice the remainder into sticks. It’s almost apple-like in flavor and as crunchy as a raw carrot. When fried as chips, it’s addictive.
Kale - It will be a few more weeks before most kale is ready to harvest, but if you pick a few of the baby leaves right now, they make a wonderful salad green. It’s very trendy right now, but the health benefits are the same as any dark, leafy green.
Lingonberries - The Scandinavian equivalent of a cranberry is usually harvested in late September. Fresh ones will keep for quite a while in a glass jar with just a bit of sugar added. Eventually the mixture will turn into a jelly like consistency, which can be melted into syrup. Lingonberry cosmos anyone?
Mustard Greens - Another green where you can harvest its young leaves for use in salads.
Okra - Okra is ready to harvest after 2-3 months, so those who started their gardens late are just reaping their bounty. If Okra’s slimy texture has turned you off, try roasting it (see Brussels sprouts above) with plenty of kosher salt.
Parsnips - Another root vegetable that doesn’t get the love it deserves. Roast until fork tender and mash with warm cream and butter.
Quince - Related to the pear and apple and harvested at about the same time, quince is lesser know because it isn’t very flavorful raw. Cut it and poach it in slightly sweetened water and you’ll be rewarded with the most wonderful combination of pear, citrus and vanilla.
Rutabaga - A hybrid between the turnip and wild cabbage, the root vegetable can be roasted, sautéed, baked, fried, boiled, mashed, eaten raw when grated into salads or coleslaw and added to soups and stews. The seeds are used to make canola oil.
Sweet Potatoes - Healthier than a white potato, and more versatile, sweet potatoes and their cousins, yams, can be baked, boiled, mashed or fried.
Turnips - ‘Tis the season for root vegetables and turnips get the least love of all. They do tend to have a somewhat sour taste. Peel, dice and boil in chicken stock to remove some of that funky flavor, then sauté in butter. Add two tablespoons of sugar and stir over low heat until the sugar caramelizes.
Ugli Fruit - It is not very attractive on the outside, but inside, hides something wonderful (sounds like a few men I know). The Ugli fruit is a hybrid of a grapefruit, an orange and a tangerine and is sometimes known as a Jamaican Tangelo.
Victoria Plums - Is there any better fruit than a perfectly ripe plum? The way the juice explodes in your mouth is so sensual. The Victoria Plum is English, with a yellow flesh and red or mottled skin. It is equally good raw or roasted in pies and tarts. It is at the height of its season in late September.
Winter Squash - The hard squashes; acorn, butternut, buttercup, delicate (which tastes like a cross between a squash and sweet potato) are just four of the 11 varieties. All store well at room temperature and reveal excellent, nutty flavor when roasted.
Xigua - Otherwise known as the Asian watermelon, it is just a bit smaller than a traditional watermelon. It is sometimes marketed as a “personal watermelon”. A sprinkle of kosher salt brings out the inherent sweetness. I like to cube it and toss it with feta cheese, fresh basil and a bit of olive oil, as a salad.
Yard-Long Beans - Also known as snake bean or Chinese long-bean, it resembles, and tastes a lot like, an extremely long green bean. Cut off the ends, and then slice in 4-5 inch lengths. Stir-fry with garlic and ground pork. Add black bean sauce and serve over rice for a quick and delicious meal.
Zucchini – Who hasn’t had a neighbor drop off some of this prolific produce? It can grow to pornographic proportions, but, like the human organ they resemble, are more manageable, and easier to eat, in 5-6 inch lengths. The very large ones do make for an impressive entrée, though; slice off the top third, length-wise, hollow out the flesh and re-fill with a mixture of ground meat and the chopped flesh.