IT’S TOO darn hot ! That’s a given in Central Florida. But we still have to eat. And there are a few folks who brave the heat to bring us fresh fruits and vegetables at local farmers’ markets. They have my sympathy, and as often as I can get to one of them, my money.
Just to illustrate how little is being harvested locally right now (during August), the zucchini I bought in the grocery store a week ago was grown in Canada. They do have more than just snowballs up there. But, before long our own Central Florida crops will be decorating the markets. So now, while sweet tea is the beverage of choice, is the time to think cool and gather ideas for later — all of them using foods grown here, in Central Florida.
Cucumbers are not glamorous, but they are refreshing in a crunchy kind of way. And they don’t need peeling, just a good wash. Supermarket cucumbers have a coating of wax. Can you see a friendly local farmer waxing a cucumber? Here’s a quick idea to tuck away for later. It works in a school lunch or as a pre-dinner nibble for adults.
Slice a cucumber into rounds about a quarter inch thick. Top each round with a slice of hard-cooked egg. Now top that with a slice of black olive or piece of colored pepper and a touch of fresh or dried herb.
Have a little tuna, chicken, or egg salad left over? Not enough for a sandwich, but too much to throw out? A small mound on cucumber slices is tasty any time. You can do the same layer-it-on with slices of zucchini and yellow squash.
Here’s another quickie for leftover salad. Cut green or colored peppers into bite-sized pieces that can hold a nibble or two and fill the cavity with something tasty.
Sweet potatoes are a goldmine of nutrition, inexpensive and easy to cook. Think of them as regular potatoes with a sun tan. Baking them in foil yields a product that is soft and mushy — not my favorite way because it’s really steaming the vegetable. The same happens with white potatoes. Do them this way if you like to eat a soft-skinned potato. Bake them naked if you want skin with texture. Just wash, prick a few times with a fork and put them in the oven wet. The result is a shell-like skin with insides that hold melted butter and cinnamon.
When we used to visit Florida on vacation back in the dark ages, one of the foods I liked and couldn’t get in the Great White North was sweet potato patties. You can make something that tastes even better with very little work.
Slice sweet potatoes into rounds about an inch thick. Fry them slowly in butter until they are soft and lightly browned around the edges. You can speed up the process with a splash or two of apple juice or orange juice, put on the lid for a few minutes and let the slices steam.
It won’t be long before our own citrus starts to hit the farmers’ markets. Greening has knocked us down, but not out.
Here’s a simple way to make an easy orange dessert that’s fancy enough for company but easy enough for family. A child efficient with a kitchen knife can help too. Figure on one orange per person and one for the pot. (You have to remember tea commercials from a long time ago to get that one.) Grate a teaspoon or so of zest from one orange, then take off strips of zest with a vegetable peeler. Cut the peel off the fruit, getting all the pith with it.
Put two cups of water into a pot and add a cup of white sugar, three or four cinnamon sticks, a couple of cloves and a few strips of zest. Simmer it for 15 minutes. Simmer. Not boil. We want flavored simple syrup, not candy.
Slice the oranges about a quarter-inch thick and put them in a nice bowl. Pour the syrup with the spices and zest over the fruit. Mix gently and let it steep for at least an hour. Chill until it’s time to serve in glass bowls with a smidgen of grated zest on each portion. Mint leaves make a pretty garnish.
If you’re serving this for a holiday dessert, it can be fancied up with cranberries. Don’t eat the cranberries. You will have terminal pucker from the tart fruit. See you at the market!
article by TRENT ROWE, CFAN Food Editor