The Stars of Summer

A guide to five must-have summer ingredients.

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These ingredients can take a basic meal and turn it into something spectacular for your friends and family. Hit your local farmer’s market and fill your basket with these fresh ingredients that abound in summer. 

BASIL

Basil is the quintessential herb of summer! Use this beautifully aromatic herb in salads and to make buckets of homemade pesto. Like parsley, basil (basilico, in Italian) is a major herb used in Italian cooking. It brings a peppery freshness to food, and pairs particularly well with tomatoes, garlic, and lemon. It is incredibly easy to prepare and makes an incredible pasta and pizza sauce, sandwich spread or simply tossed with roasted vegetables for an added kick of flavor! Its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties are amongst its many health benefits and the best part is that you can freeze pesto so that you can taste summer, long after it’s gone. 

Like parsley, basil is a major herb used in Italian cooking.

TOMATOES

Off-the-vine, ripe tomatoes are a beloved staple of summertime for good reason. You don’t need to do much with this versatile fruit in order to turn out a delicious feast. Yes, tomatoes are technically a fruit but are typically treated as a vegetable in cooking. 

There are many varieties of tomatoes, each unique in size and flavor profile. Use them in salads, tarts, bowls and sandwiches but, however you prepare them, keep it simple. Let the flavor of fresh, ripe tomatoes shine and do the majority of the work. Some classic pairings to keep in mind are basil and milky fresh cheeses like ricotta and burrata. While it’s hard to beat uncooked tomatoes, a lightly grilled, blistering tomato – especially the cherry varietal – is a wonderfully flavorful preparation method that draws the delicious juices out of this favorite vegetable. When in doubt, always look to Italian cookbooks for inspiration when it comes to cooking with tomatoes, since it is a key ingredient in their cuisine. 

If you have the means to grow your own produce, tomatoes are relatively easy to grow. While they can be susceptible to a number of pests, they don’t take up much space, and they just need plenty of sun, water and TLC in order to thrive. 

BEETS

While they tend to last longer than most summertime produce, beets are at their most flavorful during the balmy summer months. There are many reasons to love this vibrant vegetable. They are versatile, packed full of nutrients, and add beautiful color to any dish. One of the easiest and best ways to enjoy beets is steamed, with fresh herbs in a vinaigrette, but their sweet, earthy flavor makes them a nice addition to smoothies, rice bowls or roasted and served as a side dish with seafood. Perch, in particular, is a fish that pairs very nicely, and if you haven’t eaten beets alongside goat cheese, you’re missing out! You can also pickle beets for a delicious cold weather treat and, believe it or not, using them in baked goods is a trend that is on the rise! No matter how you choose to enjoy them, remember that they stain so be sure to protect your wooden cutting board and counter with an old dish towel and wear plastic gloves. 

When shopping for beets, make sure to buy them with their greens still attached.

When shopping for beets, make sure to buy them with their greens still attached. Not only does this mean that the beets are fresh, the greens are also edible and nutritious. It’s also worth noting that the smaller the beet, the more flavourful it will be. 

PEACHES

This popular stone fruit is commonly eaten as is or baked into a delicious dessert, but peaches have a wonderfully savoury side too. They can be used in meat glazes and grilling them results in a wonderful blend of smoky and sweet flavors that showcases another reason why this juicy fruit of summer is so appreciated. Roasting peaches only intensifies their flavour because the direct heat reduces their water content and magnifies their incredible taste. 

Nectarines, sometimes referred to as shaved peaches, are their smaller, hairless cousins and have a slightly sweeter flavor profile than peaches. Either pair well with grilled chicken, fish and pork or on a bed of arugula, with feta cheese. Is your mouth watering yet? Another incredible use for ripe summer peaches is in a chutney or relish and served as an accompaniment. And don’t even think about throwing out bruised or overripe peaches, since they can be salvaged in stewed form. 

Roasting peaches only intensifies their flavour because the direct heat reduces their water content and magnifies their incredible taste.

CORN

No summer ingredient list is complete without corn. A steamed ear of buttered corn is truly the taste of summer. Grilling is another great way to prepare corn and roasted corn is the method of choice for elote, a popular Mexican street food. This messy snack is a roasted cob of corn slathered in mayonnaise and chili powder before a generous sprinkling of cotija (a crumbly cow’s milk cheese). Indigenous to Mexico, you’ll find that almost every Mexican recipe incorporates the golden grain somehow, from kernel to husk! Aside from preparing the entire cob, shave the kernels from it and include as a salad ingredient or sauté them with just about anything. Some favorite complimentary ingredients include bacon, sage, chilis and red onion. 

This rundown only scratches the surface of summer’s abundance of amazing ingredients but we hope that this roundup of some of our favorite summer ingredients gets you inspired for the season!