We’ve all got our fallback recipes, those tried-and-true dishes that we know everyone at the dinner table will like, and that we can practically make with our eyes closed. Chances are, you’ve got your favorite winter recipes, and your favorite summer recipes, but with a few small changes and substitutions, you can make any recipe a year-round standby.
You can easily adapt many basic recipes to include fruits and vegetables that are in season. After all, eating foods when they’re at their seasonal peak in your local climate not only means they’re more likely to be fresher — and therefore tastier and more nutritious — but also that you’re helping to cut down the energy used to transport out-of-season foods from whatever climate they’re grown in.
Here are 4 meal ideas, and how to alter them according to the season (there are plenty of online sources to find out what foods are at their peak in your area, but we’ve included some typical examples below):
Pasta with Vegetables
Pick your favorite pasta shape and your favorite sauce, and then hit the produce stand to see what add-ins are in season in your area.
- Spring: Stir in peas or spinach.
- Summer: Try adding fresh tomatoes and chard.
- Fall and Winter: Add roasted beets or squash.
While dense, hard foods like root vegetables will likely need to be boiled or roasted until tender, other vegetables, such as greens or softer veggies, can just be simmered in the sauce for 5 to 10 minutes.
You can also change up your sauce according to the time of year: A creamy alfredo sauce is nice in the spring with those peas, while a summer pasta might only call for a drizzle of olive oil; jarred tomato sauces are particularly perfect for chilly days in fall or winter.
What better way to showcase in-season fruits and vegetables than in a salad? Start with fresh greens and top it off with raw, blanched, or cooked fruits and vegetables straight from your garden or the farmer’s market.
- Spring: Top tender baby lettuce with baby artichokes or fiddlehead ferns (if you can find them). For a fruit topping, go for strawberries.
- Summer: Toss full-grown spinach with cucumbers, radishes and bell peppers. Watermelon is another great accent to summer salads.
- Fall and Winter: Add broccoli, celery, and fennel to chopped kale or shredded Brussels sprouts. You might also add pears or apples to the greens.
Top it all off with your favorite homemade or bottled salad dressing, and perhaps a piece of grilled or broiled chicken or fish, and you’ve got yourself a fresh-tasting and healthy meal.
A savory filling hidden under a lid of flaky pastry or biscuit is a favorite cold-weather meal, but with a few adjustments it can be appropriate any time of year. Find a pot pie recipe you like (one to try: Cooking Light’s Vegetable Pot Pie with Parmesan-Black Pepper Biscuits, and try out a selection of seasonal veggies instead of frozen.
- Spring: Mix in asparagus, leeks, and peas.
- Summer: Use carrots, corn, and green beans.
- Fall and Winter: Try out any root vegetables — potatoes, parsnips, sweet potatoes and onions, especially.
Blanch or roast the fresh veggies to shorten the cooking time of the finished pie.
Pizza or Flatbread
Perfect your pizza crust, and you’ll be able to create seasonally-inspired pizzas or flatbreads all year long. You can use traditional tomato sauce or simply a drizzle of olive oil, whatever ingredients happen to be in season, and a generous sprinkling of cheese of any kind to create interesting pizzas that rival the most creative pizzeria. Some combos to try:
- Spring: Add morel mushrooms and Parmesan cheese to your pizza crust.
- Summer: Give a classic a twist by adding summer squash to tomatoes and Parmesan. (And if you want to try something really unusual, go for cactus and cotija cheese.)
- Fall and Winter: Top pizza dough with beets and goat cheese or broccoli rabe, escarole, and mozzarella.
Pizza or flatbread is a particularly good way to try some interesting vegetables.
Don’t forget dessert! An easy, uncomplicated tart is one of the best ways to showcase the season’s ripe fruits, whether they’re ones you’ve grown at home, picked at a local farm, or bought at a market. Find a flaky, buttery crust recipe that you love, and choose a seasonal fruit.
- Spring: Use cherries or strawberries, or, for a tart tart, lemons.
- Summer: Try out any berry — blueberries, blackberries, strawberries — or plums, pluots, or rhubarb.
- Fall and Winter: Layer apples and pears in your tart, or go with pecans or walnuts.
Simply toss fruit with a little sugar and top with a few pats of butter for the filling. You can even create your own recipe at FineCooking.com based on the (seasonal) ingredients you have on hand.
Take another look at your own favorite recipes to see how you can transform them by season — all it takes is incorporating the fruits and vegetables that are at their peak in your area!