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Restaurants & Bars

Here’s the Best Fresh Produce to Cook During Late Spring in Dallas

From squashes to melons, from strawberries to corn, we have ideas for you to cook at home.
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A celebrant at a past edition of the Dallas Watermelon Festival. Bret Redman

Texas growing seasons are dramatically different from seasons in the rest of the country. Everything grows at different times here, which means that cookbook guides are often useless. Newcomers moving to the area, especially, have a hard time adjusting. Even restaurant chefs have told me they experience a learning curve when moving to North Texas.

With that challenge in mind, we decided to launch a semi-regular series on what’s fresh and in season right now. We’ll tell you what to cook, where to find it, how to pick it yourself in some cases, and what seeds you can plant in your garden right now.

For expert advice, I called Joel Orsini, executive chef at beloved Oak Lawn bistro Parigi. Orsini has a long-standing affinity for local produce and local growing. His last job was as chef at Profound Farms, and at his previous tapas bar, Izkina, he maintained a beehive on the roof. Orsini is a great guide to what’s in season now—and where to get it.

Here are his tips.

Peach season is here

There’s no need to wait around until late summer, because peach season is arriving now. Want to pick your own peaches? Head to Ham Orchards in Terrell, where last year the Ham family told D that, with 30 peach varieties cultivated, some of them are growing at all times of the year.

Really good peaches,” Orsini told me. Then he added a spicy take: “Texas peaches really are the better of the bunch, Colorado’s are right behind it, and then obviously Georgia’s are last.”

Don’t underestimate field peas

Black-eyed peas are associated with New Year’s Day, but they’re at their fresh, tender best right now. Look for lima beans, purple hull peas, and crowder peas, too.

“I always put some sort of beans on toast dish on a menu throughout the season,” Orsini said. “They’re incredibly inexpensive and so fast to cook. That’s a misconception to people who think it’s like a dried bean you have to cook for hours. [Fresh peas are] quick to cook. Treat it more like a green pea, like an English pea. They’ve got a great pop. Just a little butter and a little chicken stock goes a long way.”

Since field peas are so fresh and have such a short shelf life, they’re flash-frozen and sold in small freezers. Look for specialty pea freezers at Central Market, Sprouts, and Cox Farms Market, and Orsini said he’s sometimes seen them at Trader Joe’s.

A bonanza of squashes

Orsini says he has five varieties of summer squash growing right now. My back garden, too, is squash-mad: we just harvested two zucchini that are each more than a foot long. One of them weighed 25 ounces, and it was all flavorful squash, not a water-logged mistake. Zucchini bread season is here!

If you did not plant squash in your backyard, head to organic you-pick-them Pure Land Farm north of McKinney. The owners use a ticketing system to make sure that the land isn’t overcrowded with guests or picked over before you arrive. Check the farm’s social media accounts for regular posts talking about what’s growing and when it’s ready.

Peak strawberry-picking time

Orsini recommends heading west to the small town of Boyd, to pick strawberries at Demases Farm. “Right now they’re in the height of their strawberry picking. I’ve got close to 100 pounds of their berries coming to me this week. They have a little farm stand, too, where they sell dairy and stuff. They grow incredible stuff.” (After we spoke, Orsini posted an Instagram update: Demases sent Parigi 60 pounds of strawberries, which the kitchen used to make two kinds of jam, strawberry vinegar, strawberry top fenugreek vinegar, and strawberry basil orange shrub.)

Add variety to your melon diet

It’s not just watermelon and cantaloupe, though they are coming into their season as well. Orsini says to look out for canary melons, Santa Claus melons, honeydew, and Tuscans.

The midsummer bounty is almost here

“We’re in that period where everything is starting to show,” Orsini says. “Tomatoes will show, all the varieties of peppers will show, eggplant will show. I’m not a big okra guy, but I like candle fire okra. They’re like a bright rouge. That has the most minimal amount of that slime contact, so you can cook it other ways outside frying.”

If you got a late start on your gardening but want to plant a few veggies, Orsini says it’s not too late. “You can start peppers right now. You can start eggplant right now because it grows extremely fast and it loves the heat.”

Author

Brian Reinhart

Brian Reinhart

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Brian Reinhart became D Magazine's dining critic in 2022 after six years of writing about restaurants for the Dallas Observer and the Dallas Morning News.
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