The Cycle of Love for Produce

Sunday, July 25, 2010

-Ready for a quick flurry of salt and pepper.-

Throughout the year there are certain staple dishes that I look forward to making based on their seasonality. These particular recipes are ones that are best made at the peak of their season for a few simple reasons.

Most obviously, fruits and vegetables taste their best at their peak and when they've just come off the vine. For example, July seems to be the time when all varieties of eggplant, from white to Hmong to Japanese, seem to be their most strong and spongy and ready to absorb every flavor you throw at them but still retain that distinctive soft-foam texture. In June they're too small and tough to eat and come August they're so bloated with water they turn to mush at the slightest singe.

-July is the season for cherry tomatoes of all kinds here in Sacramento.-

Second, they're cheap at that time of year. Apricots come into season at late May to early June here in Sacramento, however, you can find them for sale at the Farmer's Market in April. Ignore these false prophets of an early apricot season. They'll only feed you lies. For a whopping $4 per pound you'll be taking home sugar water filled pouches or too tart rocks in the shape of apricots. Fruit devoid of flavor that leaves you devoid of your hard earned cash. However, come back on June 1st, well, those apricots will be bursting with flavor and cost $1.50 per pound.

Still, it's good that some of these dishes only have such short seasons. I know I sound crazy but stay and listen before clicking over to check your Facebook. The reason I say this is because I overindulge in seasonal produce and the recipes I've attached to them. When butternut squash is plentiful in October I puree it and turn it into gnocchi or roast them with maple syrup, cinnamon, and brown sugar. When spinach and kale are bountiful in January it gets wilted in a pot with garlic and oyster sauce. In summer, eggplant gets marinated in fish sauce, curry power, and lemongrass then tossed in a skillet with coconut milk and onions. I will eat these dishes three or four times a week because at their freshest they're tear jerkingly good and so easy to prepare.

-This set-up is a common sight in my kitchen.-

However, eating these a few times a week for three or four weeks makes you grow tired of them. It's how we as humans are; constant exposure to something makes it less special. It's the same way that after a long vacation you get tired and ready to go home as you've been overexposed to the newness of your locale. As a kid my friends had season passes to Disneyland and guest passes that were at my disposal. After one summer where I rode Space Mountain at least 50 times it no longer held any real excitement. I had the timing of every hairpin curve down pat and knew exactly what to expect. Ho-hum, I would say, spinning upside down at 80 miles per hour.

Similarly, the produce I once pined for for eleven months are no longer new and unique. In fact, I get sick of them and begin to look forward to the next seasonal favorite like squash blossoms or pea shoots. It seems that all things in moderation applies to produce as well.

Right now I'm at the beginning of that alimentary cycle with small cherry tomatoes of all kinds. I am not simply eating a lot of them, but rather I'm buying enough to put the farmer's daughter through college. Probably a nice one at that. (It certainly would explain the new Trojans t-shirt he had on this morning.)

-While great on its own this is a perfect side for any barbeque and is wonderful over grilled skirt steak.-

I enjoy them with little pearls of mozzarella and a good spoonful of pesto but I so rarely have the ingredients on hand for that. Usually I use a basic preparation that's sunny, bright, and makes for an excellent side dish to steak or pork, or works as a simple meal on its own. I simply cut the tomatoes in half and lightly salt and pepper them. Next, I mince a large clove of garlic. After heating a few tablespoons of olive oil in a fry pan I toss in the tomatoes and garlic and shake them a bit over high heat. After a minute or two I add a bit of red wine vinegar and continue to toss until the liquids thicken up a bit, about 30 seconds. After that it's done and ready to serve. (If you do happen to have pearl mozzarella on hand use it, the creamy flavor and melty texture adds depth.)

The result are sweet and sour cherry tomatoes that are packed with flavor from the salt, pepper, and garlic. The whole thing only takes a few minutes and is an immensely satisfying, no-fuss way to enjoy these little fruits in the height of summer. Indeed, I've been making them for my lunch four days out of the week for a few weeks now.

I suppose in another I'll start to get tired of them, but that's fine. Soon the big heirloom tomatoes will be ready and those are great marinated in balsamic and tossed under the broiler or on the grill. The cycle will begin again.

-And come next July I'll be making this dish over and over again once more.-


  1. Mmm, delicious. I roast ordinary-sized tomatoes using the same method (garlic, olive oil, and red wine vinegar) then use them as a salad with stale/toasted bread and lots of basil, and sometimes cucumber. The tomato juices become the dressing, which is soaked up in turn by the crunchy bread. In my last house (hello, tomato vines!) I'd make huge batches and keep a tub in the fridge. They're a great summer snack... until you get sick of tomatoes!


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