Capture the taste of summer
Nutritionist Sarah Schenker samples the gastronomic delights of home-grown summer produce and provides a selection of recipes using seasonal ingredients and four special menus that really capture the taste of summer!
The benefits of eating seasonally are extolled by health experts, top chefs and environmental campaigners alike - and the nutritional, gastronomic, economic and environmental advantages combine to make a compelling case for locally sourced produce.
The benefits of eating seasonally
- Economic benefits. The cost of locally produced foods in season tends to be significantly lower than the imported equivalents available in supermarkets the rest of the year.
- Nutritional benefits. Whether locally grown or imported, fruit and vegetables lose some of their vitamins the longer they are stored, especially if they are stored in poor conditions. Sourcing produce in season from a trusted local supplier means you can get fresh food onto your plate quicker and with more valuable nutrients intact.
- Environmental benefits. If we all consumed more locally produced food when it was in season, carbon emissions generated by transporting foods long distances or growing food out of season using heated glass could be significantly reduced.
- Gastronomic benefits. Eating seasonally means we don't consume the same foods week in, week out, so increasing the level of interest and variety in our diet. And with flavours, colours and textures of fresh foods changing constantly from season to season, there's no excuse for any lack of inspiration in the kitchen!
From June to August, the supply of home-produced fruit and veg is rich and varied, suggesting endless possibilities for delicious summer meals, both hot and cold.
Here's Sarah's pick of the summer crop:
- Asparagus. Lightly steamed spears of tender asparagus signify summer is here just as much as much as a punnet of fresh strawberries. Asparagus is a rich source of the B vitamin folate, needed for healthy blood: an average portion (100g) provides over three-quarters of our recommended daily intake. Asparagus also provides good amounts of the antioxidants vitamin C and beta-carotene, as well as a little vitamin E - all of which are needed for healthy skin and a healthy heart. Asparagus also has a mild diuretic effect, which can help with fluid retention and swollen ankles.
- Peas. We are used to eating frozen peas (which are fine) all year round, but this is the time to go for fresh peas: you'll really notice a difference in the flavour. Freezing usually takes place as soon as the peas have been picked, so chemical changes are minimal. It may be several days before fresh peas are bought and consumed, by which time more of the sugar has turned to starch, giving them a nuttier rather than sweet flavour. Fresh (and frozen) peas are a good source of vitamin C and the B vitamin thiamin. They also provide protein, fibre, folate and phosphorus (needed for bone health).
- Fennel. Florence fennel has a crunchy texture and a delicate but distinctive liquorice flavour that works well in summer salads. It can also be boiled or, better still, braised to complement a light chicken or seafood dish. Fennel, like celery, is very low in calories and high in fibre, providing only 12 kcal per 100g. In fact, the energy spent in chewing and digesting it could be more than it gives you. Fennel is also a good source of beta-carotene, an important antioxidant needed for the immune system; folate, needed for healthy blood; and potassium, needed to help control blood pressure.
- New potatoes. Available as early as March, new potatoes are at their best in early summer. There are a number of varieties to choose from; some have firm, waxy textures and a slightly nutty, sweet flavour, while others are light and fluffy. Fresh new potatoes are delicious when simply steamed or boiled: they don't need to be fried or smothered in butter. Nutrition-wise, new potatoes are a rich source of carbohydrate and fibre, as well as a useful source of vitamin C and potassium, which is good for combating high blood pressure.
- Nectarines and peaches. Fresh, ripe peaches and nectarines are tasty, low-calorie foods. One average-sized (100g) fruit contains about 30-35 kcal and, if eaten unpeeled, provides nearly all of the daily requirement for vitamin C. Peaches and nectarines are easy to digest and have a gentle laxative effect, which can help with constipation problems.
- Cherries. have been growing in the UK since Roman times, when they were valued for their cleansing properties - it was believed that cherries could rid the kidneys of toxins. They are now recommended as a good source of potassium and vitamin C. Cherries have a mild laxative action that can help to relieve constipation. Cherries are also recommended for gout sufferers, as it is believed that they contain a substance that can help to lower levels of uric acid in the blood, high levels of which are responsible for the agonising symptoms of gout.
- Watercress. has a peppery flavour which contrasts nicely with sweet cherry tomatoes in a summer salad. The leaves are bursting with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, including folate, vitamin C, potassium, iron and beta carotene. The iron isn't particularly well absorbed, but you can get around this problem by having another vitamin C food as part of the same meal, like a glass of orange juice or a kiwi fruit.
- Sweetcorn. became popular in the UK after the Second World War, and it is now grown extensively across Southern England. Sweetcorn is a good source of carbohydrate and fibre, as well as providing vitamins A, C, niacin, folate and potassium. Picking your own corn and then taking it home to cook on the barbeque is a great way to spend a late summer day. After picking, the sugars in sweetcorn begin turning to starch very quickly. As the point of sweetcorn is that it's sweet, keep sweetcorn cool and eat it as soon as possible after picking, or on the same day as purchase where possible. If keeping for more than a day, parboil the corn for a minute (this will help slow down the conversion of sugars) before refrigerating or freezing. To barbecue, soak the whole corn, with husks on, in water for 10 minutes before cooking over the hot coals for 15 minutes until toasted. Smear with a little butter and freshly milled black pepper.
- Summer berries. include blueberries, gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries, mulberries, blackberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants. Their vibrant array of colours comes from the plant chemicals they contain known as bioflavonoids, which act as antioxidants and give the berries their health-promoting properties. Berries may even be good for varicose veins, as the bioflavonoids can help prevent broken veins and capillaries and strengthen artery walls.
Also in season through the summer months are:
- Broad beans
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