Tips for Prepping + Cooking Summer Vegetables

Take advantage of late summer's bounty with these tips on selecting, prepping and cooking with the vegetables.

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Valuable Vegetable Tips

Make the most of late summer vegetables with these tricks for selecting, storing and quickly prepping your produce to save time and fresh flavor. 

Get to Know: Tomatoes

Heirloom tomatoes: vary in shape, size, color and flavor

Green tomatoes: firm, with a great balance of sweetness and acidity

Cherry tomatoes: small in size, very sweet, juicy flesh with tender skin

Globe tomatoes: round shape with sweet juiciness, well-balanced with acidity

Beefsteak tomatoes: large in size, firm juicy flesh, great sliced on a sandwich

Plum tomatoes: oval shape with meaty flesh and rich flavor, great for sauces

Pick Peak Tomatoes

Although tomatoes are available year round, their true season is from July to October. During this time, you are likely to find locally grown tomatoes that spend more time vine-ripening, creating a far superior quality than your artificially ripened supermarket version. When selecting a tomato, it should be heavy for its size, free of any bruises or blemishes and have a strong aroma. Color is not necessarily an indicator of quality, but avoid those that are supposed to be red but have a significant amount of green.

Let Tomatoes Breathe

Tomatoes continue to ripen after they are picked from the vine. Unless they have achieved peak ripeness, they should be stored at room temperature and never refrigerated. Refrigeration causes tomatoes to become soft and mealy, and it can prevent the development of their full flavor and color.

Stay Sharp

Be sure to sharpen and hone your knife before slicing tomatoes. Due to its thick skin, slicing a tomato with a sharp knife is the best way to ensure even slices and can help prevent any accidents.

 

Use this trick to cut a lot of cherry or grape tomatoes quickly: Take two small plastic lids of the same size (ideally quart-size lids), place as many tomatoes as you can in a single layer on top of one of the lids, then place the other on top and carefully slice through. 

Speedy Tomato Prep

Grating a tomato is a quick alternative when a recipe calls for dicing or pureeing. Cut a tomato in half and place the flesh side on a box grater and grate until all you have left is the tomato's skin. Discard the skin and your tomato's prepped and ready to use. 

Select Silky Fresh Corn

When buying corn, look for an ear that is tightly wrapped in its husk, bright green, fresh-looking and not dried out. The silk should be golden or golden brown, and the kernels should be tightly packed and go all the way up to the tip. 

Eat Fresh or Hit The Fridge

Corn loses 25 percent of its sugar content within 24 hours of harvest, so it's ideal to buy corn as soon as possible after it's been picked. Corn can be kept in the husk in the refrigerator for two to three days.

Off The Cob with Ease

An easy way to cut corn kernels from the cob is to place the skinny end of the cob into the center of a Bundt pan. As you cut, the kernels will fall directly into the pan instead of all over your work surface. If you don't have a Bundt pan, place a small bowl upside down inside a larger bowl and put the end of the corn on top of the smaller bowl and cut. 

Get to Know: Zucchini

Pattypan squash: thin skin and tender flesh

Green zucchini: the smaller the better, identical in flavor and texture to yellow 

Yellow zucchini: mild, faintly mushroomy flavor with tender flesh and skin

Tondo di Nizza: subtle meaty flavor

Cocozelle: stronger flavor than most, buttery-smooth texture

Straightneck squash: mildly sweet, watery flesh and thin tender skin

Choose Zucchini with Zeal

Summer squash and zucchini are best when young and small with no bruises or dents. Keep them in the fridge for a few days if not using immediately, loosely wrapped in plastic so they can still breathe. Give a wash or gentle scrub before cooking. 

Banish Excess Moisture

Purging zucchini is a technique used to release excess moisture, which helps to prevent a soggy texture once cooked. Purging is especially important when frying. After slicing the zucchini, sprinkle salt on the flesh, cover with paper towels and allow it to sit for approximately one hour. Pat it dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels. You can also remove excess moisture by grating zucchini and then squeezing it in the palm of your hand to release as much water as you can, then patting it dry with a paper towel. 

Quick Char Trick

When roasting peppers, you're especially fortunate if you have a gas stove. Turn the burner to high heat, and using long metal tongs, place a whole pepper directly on the flame. Let the pepper sit until the skin begins to blister and blacken. Using the tongs, rotate and flip the pepper until the skin is charred all over, but still firm, about 5 minutes. (If you don't have a gas stove, use your broiler.)

Seal and Sit

Once the pepper is blackened, lift it from the flame and place in a bowl or paper bag, then cover or seal. Let it sit to steam and loosen the charred skin from the flesh for about 15 minutes. 

Easy Rinse Removal

Once the pepper has been allowed to sit and steam, until the skin loosens from the flesh, take the charred pepper and place it under running water. Using your fingers, gently peel the blackened skin away. The water pressure encourages the skin to separate from the flesh, which makes peeling even easier. Bonus: Cleanup is a breeze!

Next Up

Meatless Monday: Hummus and Grilled Vegetable Wrap

For a quick dinner tonight and excellent lunch tomorrow, try Ellie’s hummus and grilled vegetable wrap. The tender zucchini gets matched against crisp bell peppers, toasted pine nuts and a handful of baby spinach to create a wonderful contrast of textures.