What to cook in July: Grab the last of the zucchini blossoms while you can!
Plus peas, lettuce and all the cherries — here's how to use them
This article was originally posted July 25, 2018 and was updated July 16, 2019.
It's no secret that the quickest and easiest way to make meals taste better is to start with the freshest and most in-season ingredients. In July especially, there are no excuses. Peas, lettuce, zucchini blossoms, cherries and berries are at the peak of their transient ripeness right now. Get them before they're gone!
Invest in good-quality olive oil and flaky sea salt and you're well on your way enjoying any of these beauties. What you don't feel like it eating raw, you can take outside and grill — even the lettuce! We'll get to that in a bit, but here are all the ingredients you absolutely must be cooking with this month and ideas and inspiration for doing it with ease.
Pass the peas, please
Grab a pound of local garden peas, pour yourself a cold drink, and sit and shuck them outside for a true summer experience. And sure, you could toss those fresh beauties into a pea risotto or tackle a pasta with sausage and mushrooms, but simple is better this month.
Make these sweet shucked nuggets sing by boiling them in plenty of salty water (it should taste like the sea) until their starchy insides convert to sugar. Keep tasting for doneness and don't take them out too soon. They'll likely take longer than frozen peas, so don't rush them.
Strain and transfer them to a bowl once they're done and quickly stir in a few pats of butter before seasoning liberally with your best salt. Or, for an Italian twist, cube pancetta and fry it up until crispy before adding your boiled peas to the same pan. Drain a bit of the oil off before the peas go in, if it looks like too much — but also don't be stingy here. That salty fat gives flavour and mouthfeel, so embrace it.
Snatch up sugar snap peas too before they're gone. You may find they're a little less work with their edible shells. Simply nip off the stem with a paring knife and pull off their stringy seam. Offer them raw with a bowl of hummus, or throw them right on the grill since you're probably outside grilling already, aren't you? Give them time to soften and char, but don't overcook them. You want them tender-crisp. Serve them with a splash of your best-quality olive oil and a generous sprinkling of — you guessed it — salt.
Lettuce, let us grill you
While we're on the subject of grilling vegetables, let's look at why you should be doing it with July's lettuce harvest too. It tends to bolt and turn a little bitter next month, so this is when you should be grabbing it. A quick sear on the grill coaxes out even more of lettuce's natural sweetness. Keeping it whole, wash the dirt from between the leaves, don't worry about drying, and coat its surface with regular olive oil — not your best stuff, save that for finishing.
Grill the lettuce just until it's marked on every side and begins to soften. You can do this with Boston, butter or romaine lettuce, drizzling the scorched heads with caesar or creamy ranch dressing and a handful of capers. Serve a few heads at your next al fresco dinner party and let guests do the cutting and portioning themselves.
Keep your eye out for smaller heads of lettuce too and turn them into a crisp, fresh shell for taco-style fillings. Try ground chicken sauteed with mushrooms and hoisin sauce, or this shrimp filling we like. No utensils required!
Don't blink — you'll miss the zucchini blossoms
If you're lucky enough to spot these at your local market, buy AS MANY AS YOU CAN, and stuff them with mozzarella, fresh or regular. Dredge them in batter and fry em' up and thank us later. Or skip the breading treatment and wilt them in a pan of olive oil instead, before pouring a few beaten and seasoned eggs over them along with a handful of herbs for a smart, seasonal frittata.
Cherries make us merry
You can't drive through places like the Okanagan right now without stopping at one, two, or ten of the farm stands selling cherries. Sure, popping them right into your mouth is pretty satisfying, but you haven't taken full advantage if you haven't baked them into simple skillet brownies.
Use cherries in salads too, as you would raisins or cranberries in the winter. And if it seems like work to pit them, get a cherry pitter and use it year-round on dates and olives too. We wrote about it here along with other little-known kitchen tools.
With lots of ideas for cooking with July's peak performers, here are even more recipes to bring summer to your plate.