Enjoying the Bounties of the Season

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It's that time of year where fresh garden produce is more readily available. Whether from your own garden or the farmer's market down the street, that garden fresh taste is hard to beat. Unfortunately, most produce we find in the grocery store is harvested before it is ripe and transported many miles to finally settle on grocery shelves. In contrast, locally grown produce is usually ripened on the plant and travels 50 to 100 miles or less, reaching the market at peak quality and ripeness. It's also great to support small, family-owned farms and get a chance to chat directly with the farmer.

Benefits of fresh produce extend well beyond our taste buds. Nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables supply important vitamins, minerals, enzymes, dietary fiber and phytochemicals. All these plant compounds have known or potential disease fighting benefits. Purple, red, orange, green or yellow, the more colorful the better! Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in calories, sodium and fat; yet tend to be filling because of the dietary fiber they provide.

It's a great time of year to try some not so familiar produce or even a familiar fruit or vegetable served in a different manner. Of course, availability of fresh produce will vary depending on your location. Each year I look forward to many "first" of the season. Some of my favorites are:

Asparagus

Asparagus: Choose asparagus with a vivid green color and closed firm tips. It is a versatile vegetable that can be cooked in a variety of ways. Grilled or roasted asparagus is my favorite. Simply brush with olive oil, sprinkle with some tarragon or thyme, drizzle with a little lemon juice and grill or roast until tender but crisp…delicious!

Peas

Peas: In my opinion a very under-rated vegetable! There is no comparison between green peas out of a can and garden fresh green peas. Look for pea pods that are firm and plump. Peas are a great addition to a spring or summer salad, added to a stir fry, casserole or simply steamed and flavored with a little basil, tarragon or even mint. Growing up, my mother prepared fresh garden peas and new baby potatoes together in a cream sauce. This is still one of my favorite ways to eat peas and potatoes and a comfort food from my childhood.

Swiss Chard

Swiss chard: Chard is gaining popularity in the United States. It can be green, red or rainbow which might be yellow, red, orange or pink. Leaves should be free of blemishes and still crisp, rather than wilted. Chard is great just sautéed in a little olive oil with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. I enjoy sprinkling fresh grated Parmesan cheese on sautéed chard for added flavor.

Strawberries

Strawberries: Nothing embodies warmer weather and picnic season more than fresh strawberries. Strawberries should be firm and full of red color rather than pale with uneven coloring. Strawberries are delicious eaten as is or tossed into a green or spinach salad. You certainly don't want the season to pass without enjoying that all-time favorite summer treat of a mile high strawberry pie.

Melon

Melons: Nothing brings back memories of summer more than the flavor and sight of sliced watermelon. Melons are some of the season's sweetest treats and great for hydration in hot weather. Peak ripeness and flavor for melons is a little more difficult to discern than other fruits. Watermelons should be heavy with a hard rind that is not easily penetrable. The long held common practice of "thumping" the melon listening for a dull sound is not likely to be the best indicator of ripeness. Melons add not only flavor but pretty colors to a bowl of fresh cut fruit.

Whether these delicious, fresh tastes of the season come from your backyard garden, local farmers market or neighborhood grocery store; feel free to experiment with different flavors and combinations. The possibilities and flavors are endless!

I lightened this recipe up a bit for a healthier version of one of my "comfort" foods. Enjoy!

Fresh Peas and New Potatoes

Fresh Peas and New Potatoes
Makes 6 servings

1½ pounds new red potatoes
1½ cups fresh green peas, shelled
¼ cup onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup skim milk
¼ teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste

Wash potatoes and cut in half. Cover potatoes with water in a sauce pan and simmer about 10 minutes or until tender. Add peas and cook an additional 5 to 8 minutes. Drain potatoes and peas. Sauté onions in melted butter. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute stirring continuously. Gradually add milk stirring with a whisk until smooth and thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Add peas and potatoes to white sauce and stir to mix well.

Nutrition Facts: per serving - 158 calories, 4 gm total fat, 2.5 gm saturated fat, 11 mg cholesterol, 148 mg sodium, 27 gm carbohydrates, 3.7 gm fiber, 6 gm protein

Today's post was written by Marilyn Csernus.  Marilyn Csernus, MS,RD,CDE is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator serving Boone, DeKalb and Ogle Counties as a nutrition and wellness educator. Csernus' specific areas of interest are helping individuals improve their health and prevent or manage chronic disease through programs addressing healthy cooking, diabetes, heart health and obesity.