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Fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes, corn scream summer — Don Mauer

This zucchini noodle summer salad is a great way to use garden-fresh summer veggies.
This zucchini noodle summer salad is a great way to use garden-fresh summer veggies. Special to The Herald-Sun

Plump, sun-warmed, bright red or golden, sweet and delicious, right-from-the-garden tomatoes scream s-u-m-m-e-r. There’s no way that out-of-season, greenhouse-grown tomatoes can begin to compare to garden-grown, summer tomatoes. No way.

Over the years I worked at producing home-grown tomatoes without much success, always yearning to grow those slice-of-bread-sized beefsteak style tomatoes like Burpee’s Big Boy Hybrid (burpee.com/vegetables/tomatoes/beefsteak-tomatoes).

My issues: insufficient sun (tomatoes like a full day of summer sun); too wet or too dry soil; and insects. If you grow or have grown tomatoes, you know how difficult that can be.

Last year, my life-partner Nan suggested, since she’d had so much success with them, that we grow cherry tomatoes (small and round). She told me that the cherry tomatoes she grew self-seeded and came back year-after-year. Easy pee-zee.

Knowing that cherry tomatoes can frequently taste sweeter than large tomatoes, I went along with Nan’s experience, and last year we grew two red cherry tomato plants. We ended up with so many tomatoes that we froze gallon bags full for use during the winter. Those frozen cherry tomatoes made some of the best spaghetti sauces I’ve ever made.

We’ll probably end up giving tomatoes away this year since we have four cherry tomato plants, two red and two golden. Yellow or golden tomatoes are also low-acid tomatoes. That reduced-acidity makes those tomatoes even sweeter. The texture of low-acid tomatoes is also finer grained; smoother. I’ve already gotten nearly a pint of yellow cherry tomatoes from our plants, and they are excellent.

There’s one other crop that means summer: corn.

I’ve never been able to do it, but the story goes that the best way to eat fresh summer corn is to heat a big pot of water out in a cornfield, when the water comes to a boil, pick some ears of corn, shuck them immediately and dump them in the boiling water. A minute later, pull the ears from the pot with tongs, slather them with melted butter and dust with a touch of salt and bite in. Nirvana.

The closest I can come to that is head to my local farmer’s market in July, buy some fat ears of unshucked corn and get them to a pot of boiling water as soon after that as possible.

The easiest and most certain path for sweet corn that’s not GMO and is still almost as sweet as the minute it was picked is to buy frozen, certified organic corn since organic corn cannot be from a GMO corn strain. However, frozen corn’s not quite as good as biting down on a fresh, newly-picked ear of sweet corn.

Welcome to summer.

A fond farewell

I’m pleased that summer’s here, but also a little sad, since this is my last column at The Herald-Sun. I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have had the opportunity to share my thoughts about food and cooking with you for 24 years and less than 10 minutes from now will begin missing you. If you bump into me at a local farmers market, say “hi.” Be careful though, I might talk your ear off about my newest find (like huckleberry gold potatoes) or successful cooking method.

Thank you for sharing the ride with me for 24 years; it’s been nothing short of amazing.

If you grow zucchini or summer squash, you know they go great with tomatoes and corn, and they all make a most-excellent summer salad. If all three aren’t available just yet, store this recipe away; you’ll be glad you did.

Zucchini Noodle Summer Salad

1 1/2 pounds medium mix of green zucchini and yellow summer squash

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, divided

3 tablespoons extra-virgin organic olive

1/2 medium-size sweet onion (such as Vidalia), finely chopped

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and put through a garlic press

1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1/4 cup minced fresh organic flat-leaf parsley

1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper, or to taste

2 cups frozen organic corn kernels, defrosted

8 ounces (2 cups) cherry tomatoes, quartered

1/2 (3.5-ounces) sweet red pepper, core removed and diced

Measure 2 cups frozen corn and bring to room temperature.

Cut each zucchini and summer squash lengthwise into very thin (julienne) strips with a mandoline or julienne peeler, turning the zucchini and avoiding the core. Refrigerate cores for another use (such as dip crudités). Place zucchini spaghetti in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt, tossing to coat. Transfer zucchini to a colander, place over a bowl and set aside for one hour.

Meanwhile, place a skillet over medium heat and add olive oil. When hot, add onion and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until onions are translucent and garlic is fragrant. Remove skillet from the heat and cool.

Add cooled oil mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add and whisk in lemon juice, vinegar, parsley, remaining ½ teaspoon salt and pepper until combined.

By the handful, gently squeeze the zucchini to remove the liquid and add the squeezed handfuls to the oil mixture in the bowl; mixing until coated with dressing. Add corn, tomatoes and sweet pepper and mix until combined and coated with dressing. Taste and adjust seasoning. May be served at room temperature or chilled. Serves 6.

Suggestions: If you have fresh basil available substitute for parsley. The zucchini noodles can be intimidating to make and eat. Substitute 1 pound small-diced zucchini and summer squash that has been salted and squeezed as before.

If you’re making this with fresh corn, use three ears, cook the corn for three minutes, cool and then cut from the ears and proceed as above.

Nutrition values per serving: 130 calories (52.7 percent from fat), 7.6 g fat (1.1 g saturated fat), 11.3 g carbohydrates, 2.7 g sugars, 2.7 g fiber, 1.5 g protein, 0 mg cholesterol, 403 mg sodium.

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