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)

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

Fresh Pickles

When I think of fresh pickles, I immediately envision a platter of sushi, accompanied by pickled ginger (gari) and preceded by a quickly pickled cucumber salad (kyuri asazuke). The Japanese know a thing or two about pickling. They find a range of uses for pickled foods, including condiment, relish, garnish, palate cleanser, and digestive aid. Small portions of these foods can appear at any meal, even breakfast. Traditional Japanese pickles feature ingredients ranging from vegetables to eggs to fish to even cherry blossoms.

In America, the primary exposure to Japanese pickles comes as an appetizer before a meal and as a palate cleanser during it. A favorite local sushi restaurant serves sunomono, small portions of freshly pickled cucumber salad, before every meal—so of course I needed to come up with a version for our home-rolled, and more importantly boat-rolled, sushi nights. This salad is best made fresh when cucumbers are in season. Learn to make Quick-Pickled Cucumber Salad and Pickled Ginger

Frittata

If you like quiche but hate to roll crust, or if you crave omelets but your homemade ones always turn into scrambled eggs, you really should be making frittata. This crustless quiche or open-face omelet is just as adaptable to the ingredients you have on hand as its more finicky cousins. You can eat it at any meal and serve it as a tapa or a main. What’s not to like?

My first memorable frittatas were made by a Spanish woman running a hostel in Greece, so in my mind a frittata must have potatoes and the best additional ingredients are homegrown tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, and basil and homemade feta. I include the potatoes in my base recipe, but you can easily drop them and highlight other ingredients—or just use whatever’s in your fridge. Before summer crops explode, I tend to fill my frittatas with baby chard or spinach and herbs.
Learn to make Basic Potato Frittata and Spinach and Herb Frittata