Fresh Tomatoes

Tomatoes top the list of my favorite fresh summertime, homegrown vegetables. (Yes, scientifically, they’re fruit. But to a cook, they’re vegetables.) These are fresh summertime favorites because their sweet, juicy flesh is at its peak, tasting completely different from tomatoes that have been grilled, roasted, or otherwise cooked or preserved. They’re homegrown favorites because despite the few tomato varieties available in grocery stores, hundreds of varieties are available as seed.

We planted 26 tomato starts in late May and have been harvesting 14 varieties this month. Some are tiny, bright red cherry tomatoes; some are dark purple giants. My childhood loves are sweet Yellow Pears I eat like candy from the vine, but some of my recent favorites are heirloom Black Cherry tomatoes, with large (for the “cherry” class), dusky fruit, and dense, heart-shaped Oxheart tomatoes. Each adds a distinct flavor and texture to fresh appetizers and salads.
Learn to make Herbed-Tomato Dip and Panzanella (Tomato and Bread Salad)

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Fresh Fillings

If you grow a giant garden, each day’s harvest fills multiple boxes and baskets and then every spare corner of your refrigerator. But if you grow a more reasonably sized garden, your harvest likely comes in dibs and dabs: a couple of cucumbers and tomatoes, perhaps a pepper, a small mound of greens, a handful of herbs. Combining these garden-fresh favorites into a meal that showcases your effort often means coming up short for a standard recipe.

This is why I love fillings and stuffings; the ingredients are endlessly variable, a little goes a long way, and the result is a sparkling-fresh meal that highlights produce just off the vine. Whether you’re filling summer rolls, stuffing squash blossoms, or even building Grilled Fish Tacos, the key is to use less filling than you think you’ll need. A gentle hand while wrapping delicate rice paper or petals around that filling is also essential for success.
Learn to make Summer Rolls and Stuffed Squash Blossoms

Garlic and Nasturtiums

When it comes to making pickles, I often think big: pounds of produce, half-gallon jars for fermenting, multiple batches of quart and pint jars for canning, and hours spent cleaning, preparing, and processing. But when it comes to eating pickles, a few often go a long way: a couple of Definitely Dilly Beans in a Grilled Tomato Bloody Mary, a few slices of Better Bread-and-Butter Pickles to serve with or stuff in Gorgeous Grilled Cheese, a handful of Cumin-Spiced Zucchini Refrigerator Pickles to accompany Indian dishes.

As I’ve already shared this month, some pickles are best in both small batches and small doses. This makes them ideal condiments to pack quickly and easily into small jars, store in your fridge, and dip into as needed. Two I always try to have on hand are pickled garlic and nasturtium “capers.”
Learn to make Pickled Garlic and Pickled Nasturtium Seeds

Refrigerator Pickles

I don’t advocate small-batch canning, but I am a fan of quick and easy pickling that fills your refrigerator one jar at a time. If your only experience with pickling is opening a store-bought jar, then refrigerator vinegar pickles will convert you to homemade. Even if you grew up in a household that put up shelves of pickled vegetables every summer, like I did, refrigerator pickles have surprising benefits.

The disadvantage of refrigerator pickles—that they aren’t sealed in heated jars and thus shelf stable—can be an advantage in freshness and crispness. Small-space gardeners or CSA members can put up a jar at a time as produce ripens. Even expansive gardeners can use fridge pickles to test new flavor combinations. Cucumbers are ideal refrigerator pickles, because they soften so quickly when heated. You should still only use pickling cucumbers; the thick-skinned slicing cucumbers you find in grocery stores and even lemon cucumbers are really only useful as fresh pickles. After years of pasteurizing summer squash, I’ve switched from the canner to the fridge to keep the pickles’ crunch.
Learn to make Cucumber Refrigerator Pickles and Cumin-Spiced Zucchini Refrigerator Pickles