Cooking with Summer Produce

By Kristin Boza 

With the 95th Street Farmer’s Market in full swing, there’s an abundance of delicious, fresh and local summer produce available. As you head to the market at 95th and Longwood Drive each Sunday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., keep in mind these tips for choosing and preparing seasonal produce from local chef and Beverly/Morgan Park resident Alvin Green. 

Talk with the Farmers
Farmer’s markets are more than simply places to buy fresh food. They are an opportunity to speak directly to the people who are cultivating the food you are purchasing, so you can get a better understanding of where your food is coming from.  

“Find out what’s really in season by asking the farmers questions about their food,” Green said. “You can even find out about their ‘second harvest’, which may not be the perfect ‘supermarket ready’ foods we’re use to, but this produce is great for cooking now and freezing so you can have fresh and healthy food all winter.”  

Anything in-season will be cheaper and more flavorful, since it is in abundant supply locally and fresh from the vine without being packed and shipped from warmer climates. 

Choose Fresh Foods That You Will Actually Eat
Green advises farmer’s market shoppers to buy foods that they’ll actually eat. Gather up fruits and veggies that have imperfections, such as an odd shape or small size.  

“So much food in this country never makes it to market because of imperfections, which means it is ultimately wasted,” Green said. “I’ve found that a farmer’s ‘second tomatoes’ [the second harvest of the seasons, usually a smaller yield] make the best tomato soup or pasta sauce. Even food that is a little past its prime will still make flavorful smoothies or soup.” These imperfect foods usually are priced lower than produce without blemishes. 

Buy Now, Eat Later
“Use everything and go back to the way people used to eat. They didn’t throw anything away,” Green said. Normally cast-off ends, peels and odd sized pieces of produce can be saved to make a vegetable stock that will keep for months in the freezer.  

For example, buy corn on the cob at the market, but don’t discard the cobs. Instead, create a corn stock that will act as a base for soup or polenta. Put cobs in a pot, cover with water and simmer. You can also make vegetable stock with the ends of carrots and other vegetables from the scrap pile.  

“This cuts down on food waste and works with nearly any vegetable. There’s still a lot of flavor and nutrients in these parts of the vegetable. I freeze the stock in quart size bags and it’s great to pull out in the middle of winter to make soup that will taste a lot better than canned soup,” Green said. 

Adding produce to dishes that traditionally don’t contain them is another great way to use up the farmer’s market bounty while adding more vegetables to the diet. Green developed a recipe to use a zucchini surplus in a popular breakfast food; check out this recipe: 

Alvin Green’s Zucchini Pancakes 

Ingredients 

2 cups grated zucchini 

2 large eggs, slightly beaten 

2 Tbsp. chopped green onion 

1/2 cup all-purpose flour 

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese 

1/2 tsp. baking powder 

1/2 tsp. salt 

1/2 tsp. garlic powder 

1 tsp. Italian herb seasoning blend 

1/4 cup olive oil, or as needed 

Directions 

Blot grated zucchini with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Stir zucchini, eggs and onion in a large bowl. Mix flour, Parmesan cheese, baking powder, salt, garlic powder and Italian herb seasoning blend in a separate bowl; stir flour mixture into zucchini until batter is just moistened. 

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Drop rounded spoonful of zucchini batter onto hot oiled pan; cook 2 to 3 minutes per side until golden brown. Set aside and keep warm. 

Add more oil to pan as needed and continue with remaining batter.