By Jenny Stauffer

We North Carolinians are fortunate enough to be close to the mountains and the beach, and local produce is abundant in June. When I was growing up, my dad had a big garden. He would order seeds from catalogs and plant the seedlings that he grew in the spring. I was spoiled by the fresh vegetables that were outside our backdoor! You name it, he grew it and I still love the excitement of eating the first homegrown tomato of the season!

Our family loves to make the best of fresh produce.I am very lucky to have a husband who enjoys just about anything, and even both of my girls prefer fresh vegetables over canned. My picky eater has surprised me lately by enjoying steamed asparagus and green beans. Our bi-monthly produce co-op has encouraged a lot of that (that is for another article!). Still, I can’t wait to go to the Farmer’s Market and bring home some fresh okra/tomatoes/peaches, etc, over the summer.

This month, I would love to introduce you to some our favorite recipes that make use of fresh vegetables and fruit. Some are more family-friendly than others, but if you are like me, I can’t wait to use those recipes that highlight our season’s best!

Southern Living’s Okra and Corn Maque Choux

This recipe was featured on the cover of last year’s magazine. I adapted it by using Smoked Turkey Sausage for the meat and Old Bay to add seasoning. I have used frozen okra in the winter and it turned out well. This is great to serve in a big bowl with or without rice and crusty bread.

1/4 pound spicy smoked sausage, diced
1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups fresh corn kernels
1 cup sliced fresh okra
1 cup peeled, seeded, and diced tomato (1/2 lb.)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Sauté sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat 3 minutes or until browned. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic, and sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Add corn, okra, and tomato; cook, stirring often, 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Note: We tested with Conecuh Original Spicy and Hot Smoked Sausage.

Barefoot Contessa’s Orzo Salad

1 small eggplant, peeled and 3/4 inch diced
1 red bell pepper, 1 inch diced
1 yellow bell pepper, 1 inch diced
1 red onion, peeled and 1 inch diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 lb orzo pasta or 1/2 lb rice-shaped pasta
(Feel free to substitute zucchini and squash for the eggplant, if desired)

For the dressing
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

To assemble
4 scallions, minced (white and green parts)
1/4 cup pignolis, toasted (pine nuts)
3/4 lb good feta, 1/2 inch diced (not crumbled)
15 fresh basil leaves, cut into julienne

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Toss the eggplant, bell peppers, onion, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, and pepper on a large sheet pan. Roast for 40 minutes, until browned, turning once with a spatula.

Meanwhile, cook the orzo in boiling salted water for 7 to 9 minutes, until tender. Drain and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add the roasted vegetables to the pasta, scraping all the liquid and seasonings from the roasting pan into the pasta bowl.

For the dressing, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper and pour on the pasta and vegetables.

Let cool to room temperature, then add the scallions, pignolis, feta, and basil. Check the seasonings, and serve at room temperature.

Linguine with Fresh Tomatoes and Brie

This recipe comes from a cookbook you have seen recipes from a lot of times! You’re Invited by the Junior League of Raleigh is an old standby, and this recipe is absolutely yummy. Decadent, yes, but worth it when you have company and want to enjoy being outside without much hassle. You prepare the “sauce” ahead of time and all you have to do is cook the pasta and serve with salad and bread. This is one of my favorite summertime pastas!

4 large tomatoes, cut into ½ inch cubes
1 pound of Brie, rind removed and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 cup of chopped fresh basil
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ c olive oil
2 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 pound linguine

Mix all of the ingredients except the pasta in a large serving bowl and set aside at room temp. for 2 hours (to marinate…cover with a towel or paper napkin). Cook linguine until al dente. Drain and toss with tomato mixture. Serve immediately.

**The warm pasta will melt the cheese into a gooey, yummy sauce.Enjoy!

Quick sides

Toss watermelon cubes with fresh mint.

An easy, everyday twist on a Tomato Caprese salad is to plate some mixed greens, slice tomatoes, sprinkle basil and whatever crumbled cheese is on hand (blue, goat, feta) and place on top of lettuce. Top with Cape Cod Balsamic Vinaigrette. It is our go-to authentic store-bought dressing.

Melt a little butter in a pan. Add chopped squash, zucchini (either/or), sliced onion, if desired, and top with sliced tomatoes. Put a lid on, simmer, and top with cheddar when tender. This is an easy, healthier version of squash casserole.

Blanch fresh, bite-sized, fresh, green beans. Make a quick vinaigrette using olive oil and fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add sliced red onion, chickpeas (rinsed and drained), chopped dill, and crumbled feta.Chill to marinate.

An old standby that I sometimes forget is to marinate sliced cucumbers in apple cider vinegar, diluted with a little water, in the fridge for several hours. Likewise, don’t forget the cucumber, sliced red onion, diced tomato and feta salad. Add the Cape Cod balsamic vinegairette and you have an easy snack or salad.

Southern Living’s TennTucky Cobbler

This is such an easy, delicious dessert. It was featured in a winter issue, so it calls for frozen berries. Obviously, use any fresh berry you have on hand! I have used Splenda and Brummel and Brown butter and it turned out great.

1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 cups frozen blackberries

Whisk together 1 cup sugar, flour, and milk just until blended; whisk in melted butter. Pour batter into a lightly greased 12- x 8-inch baking dish; sprinkle blackberries and remaining 1/4 cup sugar evenly over batter.

Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until golden brown and bubbly.