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An abundance of summer produce


Summertime, and the eatin' is easy: The abundant season has arrived and what a joy it is.

Every year, we wait and wait and wait and then suddenly slip over a watershed and can barely keep up with the harvest. Farmers markets now have plenty of tomatoes, several vendors have Padron chiles and the first of the year's bell peppers made their appearance two weeks ago. There are so many cucumbers they are practically throwing themselves into our shopping bags. Gravenstein apple season is poised to begin any minute now, the extraordinary Arctic Gem peach is in the first week of its short season and soon there will be plenty of poblano peppers. There are local melons, too, juicy and sweet.

It is so easy to prepare delicious meals right now, even without recipes. Just select foods at their peak, prepare them simply and enjoy. It is hard to think of anything more delicious than a sliced heirloom tomato seasoned with nothing more than good salt, good pepper and a tiny splash of good olive oil.

That said, Seasonal Pantry is primarily about recipes, so today I am sharing some of my current favorites.

If you'd like to share some of your favorite ways to enjoy summer fruits and vegetables, visit Eat This Now at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

Melon and prosciutto is a classic appetizer we've all had at some point. If the melon is good — that is to say, in season and harvested when ripe — it is delicious. I find it is even better when paired with black pepper and peppery arugula. Use the best black pepper you can find and be generous with it.

Melon with Prosciutto, Black Pepper and Arugula

Makes 3 to 4 servings

3 ounces (about 3 handfuls) small-leaved arugula

— Kosher salt

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

— Black pepper in a mill

1 small muskmelon, cut into wedges, wedges peeled

8 to 12thin slices of prosciutto

Put the arugula into a bowl, season with salt, add the olive oil and turn gently. Add a few turns of black pepper and turn gently again. Transfer to a platter or to individual salad plates.

Arrange the melon on top of the arugula, season with black pepper and drape the prosciutto here and there on top.

Serve immediately.

Now that most of the pine nuts available in markets come from China, there's a problem with pesto, as pine nuts are a traditional ingredient. Chinese pine nuts can cause what is called "pine mouth," a persistent bitter taste that can last for several weeks, in sensitive individuals. Walnuts are a good substitute but pistachios are increasingly common these days. I had an extraordinary pistachio pesto a couple of weeks ago, so good that it inspired me to make my own.

Pesto with Pistachios

Makes about 1? cups

3 to 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

— Kosher salt

2 cups, moderately packed, fresh Italian basil leaves, chopped

1 cup, moderately packed, fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped

? cup shelled pistachios, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 ounces (? cup) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano or Vella Dry Jack cheese

Put the garlic into a suribachi or large mortar, sprinkle with salt and use a wooden pestle to grind the garlic into a paste.

Put the basil and parsley leaves into a bowl and toss to combine. Add a small handful of leaves to the suribachi and grind until fairly well crushed. Continue adding a small handful of leaves at a time until all the leaves are used and form a coarse mixture.

Taste and correct for salt.

Fold in the pistachios, olive oil and cheese.

Use immediately or cover with a sheet of wax paper pressed against the pesto — this will prevent discoloration — and refrigerate for no longer than a day or two.

Variation: You can, if you prefer, make pesto in a food processor, though I don't really recommend it. If you process the ingredients for even a fews seconds too long, it becomes cloying. That said, to do it properly, begin with the garlic, add the basil and parsley and pulse a few times. Add the pistachios, pulse 3 or 4 times and then transfer to a bowl. Correct for salt and fold in the olive oil and cheese by hand.

Serving suggestions

For the classic pesto dish, simple toss with hot strand pasta. I prefer spaghettini, but spaghetti, linguine and strozzapreti work well, too. For the most successful dish, don't drain the pasta too thoroughly and absolutely do not rinse it; you want some of the cooking water to cling to the pasta.

Cut 4 to 5 medium-sized tomatoes into wedges and toss with a tablespoon or two of pasta. Serve neat or with mozzarella fresca or burrata.

Spread over grilled bread for pesto bruschetta.

Serve alongside grilled vegetables.

Slather over grilled pizza after cooking.

Stir into summer soups such as minestrone, bean soup, fresh tomato soup and zucchini soup.

Toss with steamed zucchini immediately before serving.

Serve as a condiment alongside wild Pacific King salmon.

Spoon over creamy polenta.

Although we tend to think of creamy polenta as a winter dish, it is wonderful in the summer, when we can pair it with fresh tomatoes and pesto. This recipe is especially delicious on a cool night, when we don't mind having the oven on.

Roasted Tomatoes with Mozzarella Fresca, Pistachio Pesto and Creamy Polenta

Makes 4 servings

2 pounds small (2? inches) tomatoes

— Kosher salt

— Extra virgin olive oil

1 cup coarse polenta

— Black pepper in a mill

2 tablespoons butter

8 ounces mozzarella fresca, cut into large julienne

? cup Pesto with Pistachios

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and gel. Set the tomatoes on a sheet pan or other oven-proof pan, season with salt and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Set on the low rack of the oven and cook until the tomatoes are shriveled and lightly browned but not blackened. It will take between 25 and 50 minutes, depending on the size and water content of the tomatoes.

As soon as the tomatoes are in the oven, put the polenta into a 1?-quart oven proof container, season with a generous tablespoon of salt, add 1 quart of water and stir with a whisk. Set on the middle or top rack of the oven and cook for 40 minutes. Open the oven pull out the rack and stir the polenta. Close the oven and bake the polenta for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, cover and keep warm.

To finish the dish, scatter the mozzarella over the polenta and top with the roasted tomatoes and all their juices. Add dollops of pesto here and there and serve.

Michele Anna Jordan hosts "Mouthful" each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. E-mail Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com. You'll find her blog, "Eat This Now," at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com