Summer produce season is almost over so now's the time to make one last pass at the grocery store or farmers market to stock up.
"This is the best time to cook up your favorite fruits and veggies on the grill, enjoy a refreshing summer salad and blend up frozen drinks and smoothies," Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, author of "2 Day Diabetes Diet" told TODAY Food. "You can even use end-of-season fresh produce to make delicious homemade popsicles that cool you off while packing in the nutrition."
Palinski-Wade said that watermelon should be at the top of your shopping list.
"Watermelon will be in season for a few more weeks. Take advantage by stocking up on fresh varieties with a consistent stripe pattern with deep, dark green stripes and creamy, light yellow stripes that indicate ideal ripeness."
Sweet corn is synonymous with summer, and Palinski-Wade said now's the time to grab a few ears. "Stock up on fresh corn locally now, since corn loses some sweetness each day it is separated from the stalk," she said.
You can enjoy some corn on the grill now, but also be sure to shuck some and freeze for soups, chilis and stir frys throughout the cold weather months. "For the sweetest and freshest corn, look for bright green husks that are tightly wrapped and have a bit of a damp feel to them instead of yellowed or dried husks," she said.
Those sweet, juicy fruits that need a lot of heat, rain and sunshine to grow, such as stone fruit (peaches, plums, nectarines and cherries), grapes, tomatoes, fresh corn and melons (honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon) should be going in your bag and into your belly, Olivia Roszkowski, chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education explains. She said that purchasing local summer produce at peak ripeness will yield the tastiest results.
"Because the produce does not have to travel long distances, it is picked at a more optimal level of ripeness," she said. "This means that the fruits and vegetables will most likely taste more flavorful, and possibly be more nutritious as they were allotted more time to absorb nutrients from the soil. From a culinary standpoint, ripe foods contain a peak level of natural sugars and essential oils that contribute to flavor. Just-picked produce will also have a more delicate texture, appealing aroma and deeper taste."
Roszkowski said now is also the time to scour the stores for produce that grows on vines, contains high water content and has thin skins which usually require refrigeration because of this including eggplant, bell peppers and hot pepper varieties, zucchini and summer squash varieties, cucumbers and string beans, yellow wax beans and fresh shelled beans, like edamame, fava and cranberry beans.
She also suggested "Fresh tender leaves and botanicals like tender lettuces (butter lettuce, lolla rossa, romaine, mesclun, little gem, leaf lettuce), edible flowers (marigolds, pansies, nasturtiums, violas, chamomile, borage, calendula, lavender) and delicate herbs (basil, chives, parsley, cilantro, lemon balm)."
Buying the last of summer's bounty also makes more sense if you want to keep money in your pocket.
"When produce is in season, it is usually more affordable because it is so plentiful and the conditions are favorable for the items to be grown," she said. "It also usually costs less to transport these items shorter distances."
Roszkowski suggested several ways to get that last taste of summer:
- Consider preserving: ""Fresh abundant produce can be frozen or canned to be enjoyed at a later date," she said.
- Dehydrate: "Dry out fresh herbs and botanicals to create custom spice blends or loose leaf teas."
- Fire roasted salsas: "Fire up the grill one last time and throw on tomatoes, jalapeno, scallions, red onion and garlic. Pulse them in a food processor with lime juice, cilantro and sea salt."
- Gazpachos: "This is a great strategy to use large amounts of tomatoes, peaches, watermelon, cucumbers and peppers in a flavorful application."
- Juice: "Tender lettuces, cucumbers, watermelon and herbs all do well juiced and can prevent waste when faced with an abundant amount of perishable produce."
- Ratatouilles/sauces/pestos: "This is a versatile way to add flavor to any dish while showcasing local produce."
- Savory & sweet galettes: "This is a great way to showcase produce like corn, tomatoes, or stone fruit like peaches."
- Quick pickle: "Make a brine of 75% apple cider vinegar and 25% water and season with sea salt, maple syrup and spices. Warm the mixture, pour it over cut produce and store in the refrigerator. This is great with jalapenos, red onions, cucumbers, or green beans."
Another great idea is to save summer ingredients for future smoothies.
"When you stock up on fresh summer produce, you can plan ahead and meal prep delicious smoothies year-round," said Palinski-Wade. "For instance, slice watermelon into small cubes and add to a freezer bag along with any other ingredients you want to include, such as fresh berries and spinach. Then freeze in individual portions. When you are ready for a smoothie, simply pour the frozen contents of the bag into a blender, add liquid, and blend." Your future self will thank you!
Need more ideas for an end-of-summer feast? Check out these recipes:
This bright, juicy dish is summer on a plate!
The crunch from the fresh lettuce will make this a hit with the whole family.
You could use frozen corn in this delicious recipe but since it's still in season grab a few fresh ears and mix up the magic.
Galettes are a great vehicle for summer fruit and here, fresh peaches and blackberries take center stage.
Toss some fresh summer herbs in this pesto and use it now and maybe jar some for a cold, rainy day.
Tomatoes fresh off the vine will shine in this simple recipe.
Garnish this refreshing soup with some fresh cilantro.
Enjoy the last of the summer eggplant and zucchini in this savory recipe.