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10 seasonal fruits and vegetables

Sysco SHAPE May 2018

Fresh, healthful produce revs up spring and summer restaurant menus


After enduring a winter that seemed to never end, chefs and restaurateurs are happily embracing the warm weather by menuing dishes that showcase a rich array of seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Late spring and summer is a great time of year for chefs to focus on fresh produce. It is an exciting season for bold flavors as well as highly appealing colors and textures.

During the spring and summer months chefs increasingly draw inspiration from seasonal and local ingredients. “They are doing this because today’s consumer is more knowledgeable about the connection between healthier, fresh foods and their well-being, and are demanding these items,” says Arlene Spiegel of New York-based Arlene Spiegel & Associates. Local, seasonal items also taste better and can cost less than those shipped from other states or countries, she adds.

Since seasonal produce tends to be more flavorful, chefs don’t have to work as hard to coax the flavors out as much as they do when handling foods that are out of season. In addition, produce procured at its peak also contains more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than items harvested before they're ripe and gassed during long distance shipping.

“Consumer sophistication regarding food, dining and nutrition is at an all-time high,” says Dale Miller, president of Master Chef Consulting Group in Clifton Park, N.Y. “Trend forecasts along with marketing strategies focusing on health and the benefits of fresh produce have resulted in a tremendous increase in the awareness, appeal and consumption of seasonal local produce.”

Miller and Nancy Farrell, of Farrell Dietitian Services and national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, identify 10 of the more go-to seasonal fruits and vegetables:

Asparagus

Asparagus is an excellent source of folic acid, which is important for childbearing women. It helps to control levels of the amino acid, homocysteine, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Asparagus also contains inulin, a fiber which promotes an increased level of friendly bacteria in our gut.

• Menu Ideas: Asparagus with hollandaise sauce is a classic. Vary it by steaming asparagus and sprinkling it with lemon juice and roasted almonds.

Blueberries

Blueberries — considered by some to be a “super food” — contain high amounts of anthocyanins and phenolic acid. These compounds help to prevent cancer as well as improve memory and cognitive function — think slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, Farrell says. Blueberries can help to decrease the risk of urinary tract Infections

• Menu Ideas: Versatile blueberries can be used as a topping for yogurt, baked in muffins, scones and pancakes, and as a garnish for salads. Blueberry sauce can accompany salmon, pork, flank steak and chicken, and be featured in desserts such as pies, ice cream and cobblers.

Cherries

Cherries contain anti-inflammatory properties that can benefit individuals suffering from gout or arthritis. Cherries may help to stop the pain as uric acid crystals build up in the joints.

• Menu Ideas: Add dried cherries to the oatmeal bar or as a topping for salads. Serve a balsamic cherry mixture with cheese, crackers or on a charcuterie board. Top seafood with a balsamic cherry sauce. Offer warmed fruit crisps topped with cherries and an oatmeal crunch.

Fava Beans

Fava beans contain no cholesterol but are rich in protein, and high in fiber, iron and calcium. Some fans say they fit the criteria for being a super food.

• Menu Ideas: Serve pan-braised fava beans with citrus, grains of paradise and pecorino, Miller suggests. Combine with rice, couscous or orzo, or add to a summer vegetable risotto.

Peas

High in protein and fiber, peas are great for weight management, Farrell says. The varied nutrients, fiber and protein that peas contain can help control appetite while providing health benefits.

• Menu Ideas: Pea puree is a good way to add peas to soups, sauces, pasta, stews or smoothies. Serve cold peas in a salad or as an accompaniment for salmon. Add peas to rice, quinoa or egg dishes.

Spinach

An excellent source of fiber and vitamins A and K, spinach is also rich in the minerals calcium, iron and magnesium, the B vitamin folate and lutein, which protects against age-related macular degeneration. This powerhouse leafy green helps to improve heart health, vision and brain function while possessing anti-cancer properties.

• Menu Ideas: Add spinach to salads, lasagna, ravioli, pierogis, green soups, pasta and chickpea recipes. Spinach combines well with beans in vegetarian dishes.

Sweet Corn

Farrell says corn is a good source of fiber (think weight management), folate (heart health and risk of birth defects) and a host of nutrients that have heart-healthy and cancer-fighting properties. Cornstarch (used as a thickener), has shown improvement in blood sugar metabolism in normal and overweight women.

• Menu Ideas: Fresh grilled corn on the cob, corn in salads, chowder and salsa. Corn can be used to top pizzas and pasta salads.

Tomatoes

Tomato products have a high lycopene content, a plant chemical helpful in reducing prostate cancer, skin cancer and preventing heart disease. Americans love Italian food, so select a tomato-based marinara sauce rather than a white sauce for the best nutrient punch. Mexican salsa is also a great source of tomatoes.

• Menu Ideas: Any Italian recipe — shells, spaghetti, zucchini Parmesan,Mexican tacos, pico de gallo etc. Serve in tomato bisque soups, omelets, salads, or present dried or fresh on cheese and cracker boards.

Watermelon

The lycopene content in one cup of watermelon is comparable to the amount found in two medium raw tomatoes. Lycopene helps to decrease the risk of colon, prostate and skin cancer and aids in preventing heart disease.

• Menu Ideas: Serve fresh watermelon cubes, watermelon ice cream, watermelon soup, roasted watermelon and arugula salad topped with nuts, and ceviche dishes.

Zucchini

Zucchini is low in calories and packed with antioxidants and Vitamin C. It is heart healthy because it helps to lower blood pressure and prevent clogging of arteries. It’s also a great weight management vegetable.

• Menu Ideas: Zucchini squash noodles are popping up everywhere. Top them with a marinara sauce and sprinkle with Parmesan or serve in zucchini lasagna. Add it raw to salads or zucchini bread. Zucchini puree can be used in zucchini dips, soups or quiche.

In addition, Miller cites several on-trend fruits and vegetables including watermelon radish; tri-color peewee potatoes (marble-sized in white, red and purple); Turkish eggplant (small, round with orange skin); anything heirloom (carrots, tomatoes); Romanesco broccoli; purple asparagus; green, yellow and purple cauliflower (all possess unique flavor profiles); chaga mushrooms; nettles.

“There has been a monumental shift because of the consumer demanding healthier, naturally raised ingredients,” Miller says. “By taking advantage of the season, chefs can satisfy the customer while serving produce that is at its peak of flavor and nutritional value.”



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