Mid Summer Vegetables (Mid-July Through Mid-August)
- These ruffle-edged, funnel-shaped mushrooms are found in many degrees of yellow, from pale, buttery hues to deep orange. They range in size from no more than an inch in diameter at the cap to as large as six inches across.
- In France, chanterelles are known as girolles; in Germany they are called pfifferlings. Their scientific name is Cantharellus cibarus. Cantharellus is derived from the Latin word for "drinking vessel," which refers to the shape of all members
of this genus of mushrooms.
- The chanterelle requires only a short cooking time to bring out its fruity fragrance and nutlike flavor. In fact, overcooking will toughen this already-chewy mushroom. Although some people enjoy them raw, they have a peppery quality that
strikes others as unpleasantly bitter. As with any mushroom, avoid having to submerge it in water to wash it; the best method is to wipe dirt off gently, using a damp cloth.
- The chanterelle bears a resemblance to the thoroughly poisonous jack-o-lantern mushroom (Clitocybe illudens), whose common name refers to the fact that it glows in the dark. Those who wish to gather mushrooms for themselves must be absolutely
sure to identify chanterelles -- and any other wild mushrooms -- correctly before popping them into the frying pan.
- Wild mushrooms are usually prepared by sauteing, and butter or olive oil is the perfect complement to the nutlike, delicate flavor of the chanterelle. They go well with poultry, game, and pasta. Try an omelette filled with sauteed chanterelles,
fresh parsley, and green onions.
- The eggplant, or aubergine (as it is known in Europe), is native to India. As a member of the deadly nightshade family, it is related to the potato, tomato, and tobacco.
- The ideal eggplant is firm and heavy, with skin as glossy and smooth as lacquer. The exceptionally spongy flesh can dry out without affecting the surface appearance too much, so you have to pick one up to evaluate it. If an eggplant seems light
for its size, it's sure to be past its prime.
- Eggplants are in the markets year-round, but they are decidedly better in the summer, and there is a greater variety. At farmers' markets, they appear in shades from white to lavender to the familiar black-purple. Some varieties are patterned,
as if their streaks and blotches have been painted in watercolors. They grow in round, oval, pear-shaped and elongated forms. You may even find an the small, oval, white type that presumably inspired our name for the vegetable.
- It is common to salt an eggplant before cooking it. This is done by cutting it into halves or disks (depending on the requirements of the recipe), sprinkling the flesh with salt, and allowing the pieces to sit under weight for about half an
hour. The salt is wiped away before proceeding. There are several reasons for doing this. First, eggplants contain a lot of water, which is released during cooking, diluting the stew or dampening the saute. Second, they are very spongy and will absorb a
significant amounts of fat in preparations that involve frying. Salting them reduces the absorbency somewhat (of course, the positive side of this is that they also absorb flavorful, fat-free sauces). Finally, older eggplants can have a bitter taste, which
the salting process counteracts.
- During summer, look for small, young Chinese or Japanese eggplants. Their tender, thin skin doesn't need to be peeled before cooking, and they are rarely bitter.
- Eggplant has a substantial, almost meaty texture and flavor. This versatile vegetable is one of the key ingredients in ratatouille; the focus of the Middle Eastern dip baba gannouj; and an ingredient in the Italian pasta sauce arabbiata. It is
found in Indian curries and Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian stir-fries.
Peppers (sweet and hot)
- Peppers are New World natives. In fact, Christopher Columbus noticed hot peppers (chiles) almost immediately after he struck land on this side of the Atlantic. He
soon sent a cargo back to Spain, suggesting that they might be a good substitute for black pepper, one of the precious spices that had caused merchant explorers to take to the sea in the first place.
- Sweet and hot peppers all belong to the genus Capsicum. They are very closely related -- so much so that, if a bell pepper plant is placed next to jalapeno plant in the garden, the two will cross-pollinate, sweetening the jalapenos and jazzing
up the bells.
- The substance that makes chile peppers hot is capsaicin, which is most concentrated in the white tissue inside the pepper where the seeds are attached. There appear to be several different compounds of capsaicin, each with a different effect on
the taste buds and nerve endings in the mouth. This may explain why different peppers are perceived as being "differently hot" -- some producing a sudden but fleeting flash of heat and others becoming steadily more potent as the meal progresses. Scientists
have theorized that the brain releases endorphins in response to the pain of the burn, inducing a state of euphoria in the eater. And certainly, many people consider themselves addicted to the hot pepper. Capsaicin has made a reputation for itself in
medicine too. Recent research suggests it is effective in decreasing inflammation and pain caused by arthritis, and that it relieves many other sorts of chronic pain.
- There are dozens of chiles available in markets nowadays. Here are just a few, listed roughly along a scale from hot to mild: Habanero, Piquin, Scotch Bonnet, Tabasco, Cayenne, Serrano, Cascabel, Jalapeno, Hidalgo, Ancho, Guajillo, Anaheim, and
- The green bell peppers that are always in the stores are simply immature fruits. If left on the plant, they will ripen into the bright yellows, oranges, and reds that are usually sold at much higher prices. At farmers' markets, even more exotic
colors of bell peppers are available. There are rich brown and purple varieties, as well as white bell peppers that become a mellow ivory when fully matured.
- Peppers are used both raw and cooked. Raw bell peppers add color and flavor to salads, salsas, and crudite platters (where a hollowed-out pepper might also be used as a container for dip). Cooked, they join onions and tomatoes in many pasta
sauces, stews, and sautes. Hungarian goulash contains liberal amounts of bell peppers, in addition to paprika (made from powdered, dried peppers). Look for hot peppers in hearty, tomato- and meat-filled chilis; mixed with mango slices, onions, and seafood
in Thai salads; and in their dried form in Indian vindaloos and Chinese melanges.
- The huge variety of shell beans is probably best appreciated in the dried bean section of a good grocery store. There, you will find white beans (navy, Great Northern, cannellini, flageolets), red and pink beans (kidneys), black beans,
multicolored beans (pinto, cranberry, and borlotto) and lima beans, to name only a few. The selection of fresh shell beans in markets is not nearly so good, although it is improving. Cranberry beans and lima beans are often sold fresh in their pods.
- When the Europeans encountered shell beans in the New World, they must have felt right at home for a change. The similar broad bean (fava) had been a staple in the Old World for centuries. Soon, the Europeans had adopted shell beans and
integrated them so thoroughly into their cooking that the legumes were believed to be Old World natives. In fact, the shell bean originated in Central and South America, where it has been domesticated for millennia.
- Gardeners who produce a bumper crop of beans can easily dry them for storage. It is best to leave the pods on the plant until they are pale brown in color. Then, to kill any weevils that may have tunneled into the pods, they should be baked for
an hour in a 140 degree oven. Once cool, the beans can be removed from the pods and stored just like store-bought varieties.
- Approximately one-quarter of the nutritional composition of a bean is protein. A one-cup serving is considered the protein equivalent of 2 ounces of meat.
- Winter savory is the traditional herb used for flavoring shell beans, but other aromatic herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, or sage, will do them justice. Expect to find beans in soups and summer salads, and pureed to make spreads and dips. The
famous Provencal dish, cassoulet, is made with flageolets or other small white beans. Kidney beans are often a key ingredient in chili.
- Most of the vitamin C in a tomato is concentrated in the translucent jelly that surrounds the seeds. So, those who prefer to remove the seeds before using a tomato are discarding nutrients as well. (By the way, tomatoes aren't nearly as high in
vitamin C as broccoli, which is the best possible source of the nutrient. It contains over 5 times as much vitamin C per serving as a tomato and close to twice as much as an orange.)
- The tomato, like the potato and the eggplant, belongs to the deadly nightshade family, so it isn't surprising that its roots and leaves are mildly poisonous. Actually, though, the negative effects are usually no more severe than a skin rash
where a sensitive gardener comes in contact with the foliage. And the leaves' toxicity has a positive side. It is believed to be a natural repellent for many insects that might otherwise harm the precious crop.
- The tomato is native to Peru and Ecuador and was probably domesticated centuries before the Europeans arrived. Our word "tomato" comes from the Aztec tomatl. In 16th century Europe, the fruit was given a number of romantic names, among them
"love apple" (or -- in French -- pomme d'amour, or -- in Italian -- pomo d'amore). It was regarded as an ornamental plant and had the fascinatingly unsavory reputation of being both aphrodisiac and poisonous.
- Although the tomato didn't catch on as a food in Italy until the 18th century, few flavors are more associated with Italian cuisine today. After the United States, Italy is the world's largest producer of tomatoes and tomato products.
- A really superb fresh tomato can be hard to find, because it takes a long, hot summer to ripen them to perfection. The best thing you can do when you've got good tomatoes is to slice them, sprinkle the pieces lightly with salt, pepper and fresh
chopped basil, and drizzle the whole with olive oil before serving.