Califonia Bountiful

Hot days yield delicious choices

July/Aug. 2009 California Country magazine

Ahh, the long, hot days of summer are upon us, providing ideal conditions for a riot of fruits and vegetables. The biggest challenge is narrowing down which ones to have for dinner! Here are a few wonderful choices, so be adventurous.

Heirloom tomatoes
The tomato scene has recently taken a delectable step back in time, with cherished family seed lines expanding out to farmers eager to grow these treasured varieties. Heirloom tomatoes are ripe and delicious now through September or so. Cherry tomatoes come on the market first because there’s less of them to ripen. Midsized heirlooms such as Black Prince, Green Zebra and Yellow Taxi come next, and last are the big beefsteak types, the likes of Marvel Stripe, Evergreen and Great White. Most every cuisine incorporates tomatoes, so dig up a favorite recipe or simply enjoy sliced and unadorned.

The nectarine is a sub-group of peaches, not a peach/plum cross as some may think. Genetic studies show that a recessive gene is behind their smooth, fuzzless skin, versus the dominant peach gene, which results in fuzzy skin. As with peaches, there are many yellow and white nectarine varieties. Nectarines tend to run smaller and sweeter than peaches. Lacking the downy protective coating, they are also more prone to bruising, but the upside is that there’s no need to peel them before your baking projects begin!

While there are many delicious yellow and bicolor varieties from which to choose (and even some red), the majority of corn consumed today is white. Used to be that the natural sugar in corn converted very quickly to starch, which made the kernels gummy and, well, not sweet. Not so with today’s new hybrids. They stay sweet for a week, but as with all produce, the sooner from plant, stalk, vine or bush to the plate, the better for flavor and nutrition. California corn is at the peak of the season and is as versatile as it is delicious. Get steaming, boiling, grilling or cut the kernels off the cob and sauté, or make fritters, creamed corn, corn chowder or timbales.

It’s hard to beat beets

Beets are high in potassium, magnesium, calcium, sodium and phosphorous, which they soak out of the ground, contributing to their earthy flavor. Beets are related to spinach and Swiss chard, and all forms of the beet family trace back to the sea beet, a wild coastal plant.

Beyond basic red, look for golden and white beets, and Chioggias, a delicately flavored heirloom Italian variety. Chioggias are also called Candy Stripe because they feature rings of white flesh alternating with bands of pink/rose. As with all beets, the leaves are delicious cooked as for any green and are a nutritional powerhouse.

When cooking beets, baked is best to hold color and nutrients and to intensify flavor. From salads to soups to sides, beets are versatile and share a fine affinity with citrus, blue cheese, nuts and nut oils, butter, thyme and tarragon. Try a beet salad, beet tartare appetizer, a multicolored borscht, red flannel hash, chutney, pickles or a creamy beet and potato gratin. Any way you slice them, it’s hard to beat beets.

With the summertime heat upon us, you’ll want to keep the salads coming! Here are two of my own beet salad recipes for you to try:

Four other delicious salad recipes from California Country are:

Andy Powning is a produce specialist with GreenLeaf, a San Francisco-based produce company. Send questions or comments to him at

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