One of my favorite things about spending the summer in Maine as a child was the near-daily visit to my Nana’s vegetable garden. It was a large garden, fenced on three sides by chicken wire to keep the deer away, the fourth side protected by a thick tangle of raspberry bushes. The rows were neatly planted with all the summer best–delicate vines of wax beans and snap peas, cohabiting carrots and breakfast radishes, summer squash and pumpkins sprawling lawless over one side of the plot, abundant quadrants of lettuces, tomatoes, beets, and onions. An edible playground. My sister, Susannah, cousin Hannah, and I would pad around barefoot, trailing Nana with her baskets and her shears as she clipped lettuces and pulled weeds. Periodically she’d pluck a few carrots from the ground, brushing their dirt against her blue jeans before thrusting them into our pudgy hands, then turning back to her work. A favorite activity was to seek shade from the afternoon sun in the two long tunnels of corn, to sit in the cool dirt with a lap full of raspberries and the smallest snap peas, until we were full or found. I cherished these garden games, and those flavor-saturated gems that grew only in the summer.
To this day, there are certain foods I staunchly refuse to eat unless they are in season. It might be snobbish, but I would rather forgo a dry and tasteless tomato (or peach or ear of corn) in January and wait for the sun drenched, sweet and juicy version that appears in the summer months. The same is true of zucchini–out of season, bland and mushy. In season, however, the flavor of a young summer squash is delicate, slightly buttery, clean and hydrating.
The first California corn appeared at our local market last week and it seemed only natural to put it in my basket alongside the deeply crimson tomatoes, the tail end of the ripe peaches, and a few firm and lovely summer squashes. Eating in season has a simple logic to it–food at its most naturally flavorful requires little fussing, and foods that grow together, go together. These two just-for-summer sides celebrate that sunny simplicity. Eat up!
Corn & Peach Salad with Tomato-Cumin Vinaigrette
3 ears fresh corn
2 ripe peaches
1 medium-sized avocado
1 small ripe tomato
1/2 cup basil leaves, torn
1 clove garlic
1 heaping t ground cumin
1 t sea salt
1 t apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
cracked black pepper
-Shuck the ears of corn, removing all of the silk strands from the kernels. Using a chef’s knife, carefully shave the kernels from each corn cob, working vertically from one end to the other. Place the corn kernels in a medium sized bowl and set aside.
-Using the largest size holes on a box grater, grate the tomato into the bottom of the salad bowl you plan to use. Add the cumin, sea salt, and vinegar and stir. Using the smallest size holes of the box grater or a microplane, grate the garlic into the tomato puree. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
-Cut the peaches and avocado into cubes or quarter-moon slices. I recommend choosing the same cut for both the peach and avocado for uniform texture. Place the avocado, peach, corn and torn basil leaves in the salad bowl with the tomato dressing. Toss until everything is evenly coated. Taste and adjust salt as needed. Finish with cracked black pepper and serve immediately.
Shaved Summer Squash & Cultured Butter
3-4 medium green and/or yellow summer squash
1-2 cloves garlic
3 T cultured butter or other good grass-fed butter
big pinch salt
1/4 cup dill and/or mint
-Using the largest size holes on a box cutter, grate the summer squash. Using the smallest size holes or a microplane, grate the garlic and set aside.
-Chop the dill and mint and set aside
-In a medium pot or pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the squash and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and salt, and cook, stirring another 2 minutes.
-Remove from heat, stir in the herbs, taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Serve immediately. (This can be rewarmed in a casserole dish in a 350 degree oven if needed)