Now’s the time to cook these 5 great summertime vegetable dishes! Better hurry before it’s too late.
There’s just something very special about Lowcountry summertime vegetables and time spent outdoors that makes it hard to let go of the great sense of freedom and joy summertime brings. There is absolutely nothing subtle about this seduction, as the Lowcountry has it all and almost too much; lucent Carolina blue skies, blustery cumulus days, waters that sparkle, and enchant everywhere in dramatic seascapes, duned beaches, and secluded inland ponds.
Our sun shines bright and often, while rains intimidate with loud claps of thunder and bolts of lightning that send us racing to shore. These tantrums are cleansing giving new life to our resurrection ferns that cling to live oaks along roadsides. Graceful old oaks shade, pine forests hold hidden secrets, and cobblestoned streets captivate with quaintness.
A late July Sunday drive through the countryside reveals the last of summer’s sweet produce on rickety fruit stands and family farms. It won’t be long now until the summer sun will be too hot for anything to grow. Soon vegetables must be tilled under sandy soil as fields lay dormant.
Farmland is still plentiful on St. Helena’s Island, Beaufort, S.C.
Sapelo Island, Georgia: Treasure to be Found on the Secret Coast
My corn salad recipe originated in Hog Hammock on Georgia’s Sapelo Island. On this barrier island is a 300-year-old African American culture of about 70 permanent residents who live in the small community of Hog Hammock.
Many of them are descended from the antebellum slaves of Sapelo’s plantations. They are the Gullah Geechee people who were enslaved on the rice, indigo, and Sea Island cotton plantations. Most arrived on our shores from the rice-growing region of West Africa.
How to Get There
R.J. Reynolds Mansion on Sapelo Island
Sapelo is accessible only by private boat or passenger ferry. The dock where you may go to board the state-run ferry is in Meridian, Georgia, a small town north of Darien, Georgia. The Sapelo Island Visitors Center will be happy to give you their schedule 912 437-3224.
The University of Georgia manages a Marine Institute on the island, and the DNR operates the R.J. Reynolds Mansion, built by Thomas Spalding in 1810 and restored by automotive pioneer Howard Coffin in 1925 and tobacco heir Richard J. Reynolds in the 1940s. The Mansion provides overnight accommodations for groups and operates a public beach campground at Cabretta. Other than that, the island is pretty much left for the shorebirds and native wildlife.
Where to Eat
You may want to eat dinner at Skippers Fish Camp in Darien on the banks of the Darien River, a coastal institution known for fresh seafood and ribs. The local shrimp fleet docks right at their back door making sure you will have plenty of sweet Georgia wild-caught shrimp.
But if Lula’s Kitchen is open while you are in Sapelo, they have a delicious Southern buffet. It’s a popular restaurant on the island but don’t be too surprised if you get there and find it closed. It runs on island time, a time that moves as slowly as a wisteria vine.
The day I was there it was open and I was fortunate enough to meet Miss Lula herself. Best of all – she told me how she makes her famed Geechee Corn Salad. Make sure everything is local and fresh from the fields for best results.
Geechee Corn Salad in Vinaigrette
Inspired by Lula’s Kitchen, Sapelo Island, Georgia. These are summertime vegetables at their finest!
6 ears of corn, shucked
⅓ cup red bell pepper, diced
⅓ cup cherry tomatoes, diced
½ cup red onion, diced small
½ teaspoon of sea salt
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
11/2 cups farro
1 cup arugula
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Blend well by shaking in a small jar.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the corn for 3 minutes. Drain and immerse in ice water to stop the cooking process and set the color. Once cool, cut the kernels off the cob, cutting as close to the cob as possible.
Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil. Stir in farro and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Cook until the farro is tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Toss the kernels in a large bowl with red bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, red onion, minced garlic, salt, pepper, sugar, and vinaigrette. Just before serving, toss in the fresh parsley, farro, and arugula. Taste for seasonings and serve cold or at room temperature.
Artwork by Jeanne Rossier Smith. www.andersonfineart.com
Pole beans, half runners, strong beams. snap beans, haricot verts, wax beans – these are the beloved beans of the South – summertime vegetable dishes at their finest!
Most of us have a tendency to cook our summertime vegetables such as green beans with a lot of bacon and season them up with vinegar, hot sauce, and sugar. That’s perfectly ok because it tastes great. But I challenge you to back off on all of that and try to cook the beans a different way. Cook until they are just tender, seasoning them up in a minimal fashion so that you can actually taste the beans. This is my favorite way to cook ’em.
Roasted Green Beans with Lemon, Pine Nuts and Parmigiano
1 ¼ pound green beans, rinsed well, stems trimmed
1 head garlic
¼ cup, plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Place the beans in a large bowl. Peel the garlic, quarter each clove and slice lengthwise. If cloves are small, halve them. Add them to the green beans. Toss the beans and garlic with ¼ cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon of lemon zest and 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper.
Spread the beans on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven for 10 minutes. Stir the beans and garlic with a spatula for more even cooking and coloring. Continue roasting until the beans and garlic pieces are lightly browned and tender throughout, another 10 to 15 minutes.
Spread pine nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until just golden.
Transfer beans to a small serving platter and dress with the lemon juice and the remaining 2 tablespoon olive oil. Toss to coat and season with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle on the toasted pine nuts, the remaining 1/2 tablespoon lemon zest, the Parmigiano, and the parsley.
Artwork by Sara Jane Doberstein www.haganfineart.com
Eggplant Casserole – One of the most Delicious Summertime Vegetable Dishes
Aunt Maggie’s Eggplant Casserole
Light, delicious, perfect for a summer supper – full of eggplant goodness.
6 cups eggplant, peeled, and medium diced
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons onion, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup panko crumbs
1 cup cheddar, grated
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 tomatoes, peeled and sliced thin
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and butter a 1-quart casserole.
Boil eggplant in salt and water, covered, for 5 minutes or until tender. Drain.
Beat egg and add butter, oregano, onion, salt, pepper, and panko together. Add eggplant.
Layer half of the tomato slices in the casserole dish, then add all the eggplant, and remaining half of the tomatoes.
Mix cheeses with paprika and use to top the casserole.
Bake 35 to 40 minutes.
Art by William Berra. www.ellaricharsonfineart.com
Pasta with Roasted Summer Vegetables and Basil
This dish shouts summer! And who doesn’t love pasta with Pecorino Reggiano cheese?
4 summer squash halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise about 1 inch
2 pints grape tomatoes
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 red onions, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/2 inch thick
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup good olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces short pasta such as campanelle
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup Pecorino Reggiano cheese
1 cup firmly packed torn fresh basil leaves
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Divide squash, tomatoes, onions, sweet red pepper, and garlic between two large rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat and spread evenly. Roast, tossing about halfway through, until tender and starting to brown, 30 to 40 minutes.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt and cook pasta until al dente according to package directions. Drain, and return to pot.
Add roasted veggies, butter, cheese, and basil to the pot. Season with salt and pepper and toss gently with pasta to combine. Reheat over medium-low if necessary before serving.
Stewed Okra and Tomatoes
You’ll need some rice with this one. Serve okra and tomatoes are the perfect summertime vegetables to serve on top.
2 cups onion, diced
4 cups tomatoes, peeled and medium-diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups okra, sliced
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
1 batch rice
Sweat onions in oil and salt, then add sugar, tomatoes, and tomato paste
Bring to a simmer, add the okra, and simmer 15 minutes.
Finish with pepper and Tabasco.
There you have it – some of summertimes most wonderful dishes, simple, Southern and soulful – great reasons for loving the Lowcountry.