Florida produces a bounty of vegetables this time of year, and that’s good news for Floridians. Because it moves more quickly between farm and plate, locally grown produce has a lower carbon footprint, tastes fresher and retains more nutrients.
However, selecting, storing and preparing these farm-fresh items can be tricky. Martha Maddox, family and consumer science agent with UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County, has these tips for making the most of these healthy ingredients.
What’s in season right now in Florida?
There are a lot of options: snap beans, collard greens, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, sweet corn, tangerines, strawberries, squash, radishes, passion fruit, oranges, mushrooms, lettuce, guava, grapefruit, eggplant, cucumber, celery, cauliflower, cabbage, bell peppers and avocado.
What are some dishes that can be made with these vegetables?
Again, lots of options! Consider using them in casseroles, breakfast dishes, desserts, cooked on their own or fresh. Here are some recipes to try:
What should shoppers look for when selecting vegetables for these dishes?
Green beans: Choose beans that are crisp, undamaged and without wrinkling, bruised or shriveled spots.
Collard greens: Choose greens that are firm and unwilted. The leaves should be deep green with no signs of yellowing or browning.
Sweet potatoes: Choose potatoes that are firm and have a smooth skin with no cracks, soft spots or blemishes.
Yellow squash: Choose squash that are a bright yellow and firm without any soft spots, wrinkles or blemishes.
How should these veggies be stored and how should they be prepped before cooking?
Green beans: Store in a ventilated bag or container in the refrigerator. Before cooking, make sure to trim the top of the bean where it was attached to the plant.
Collards: Store in a plastic ventilated bag or container for up to five days in the refrigerator. Wash thoroughly in water before storing or cooking to remove any grit.
Sweet potatoes: Store in a cool, dry place (not the refrigerator) for up to two weeks. Before peeling or cutting, rinse thoroughly in water to remove any dirt and grit.
Yellow squash: Store in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator. Trim the ends before cutting and cooking.
What are some tips for cooking these items?
Above all, don’t overcook them! You are looking for vegetables that are vibrant in color, slightly tender but still crisp.
- Green beans flavor well with bacon, olives, onion, tomatoes, basil, oregano, dill, rosemary and marjoram.
- Collard greens can be steamed, boil, braised or sautéed. Cooking time may vary depending on how mature the greens are. You will know they are done when they turn a bright green.
- Sweet potatoes can be boiled, roasted, steamed, fried or grilled. They can even be used as a puree in baked goods!
- Yellow squash can be baked, steamed, sautéed and grilled. Again, be sure not to overcook them.
Is fresh always best? What about canned or frozen veggies?
Not always — it depends on how you plan to use them and how far they have to travel to get to you. Fresh produce that spends a long time between farm and table is not going to be as flavorful or nutritious, which is why local produce is a great choice. On the other hand, vegetables that are frozen or canned are usually packaged at the peak of ripeness and can be stored for several months. I like to use frozen or canned produce for baked items like casseroles or for adding to a smoothie. It all comes down to how and when you plan to use your vegetables.
Fast green bean casserole
This recipe uses an electric pressure cooker to produce a delicious green bean casserole in a matter of minutes.
- 3 cans (14.5 oz each) cut green beans or 24 oz. of fresh green beans
- ¾ cup chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 can (10.5 oz) cream of mushroom soup
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 spring fresh thyme
- 2 containers (6 oz each) crispy fried onions
Directions: Drain canned beans or, if using fresh, trim and cut into bite-sized pieces. In the bottom of a 6-quart electric pressure cooker, add the stock, beans, soup, black pepper, garlic powder, leaves from the thyme spring and half the crispy fried onions. DO NOT STIR. Secure the lid and make sure the valve on top is set to Sealing. Select High Pressure (or Manual) for a cook time of 2 minutes. Once cook time ends, do a quick release of the pressure by moving the valve on top to Venting. Open the lid (away from your face) and give the dish a stir, making sure to combine the soup with the liquids. Allow to sit for 3-5 minutes, as the sauce will thicken on its own. When ready to serve add the remaining crispy fried onions on top.
Collard green scramble
- 8 strips of bacon, crumbled, or 1 cup sausage
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 2 cup chopped collard greens
- 2 tomatoes, chopped, or ½ c salsa
- 8 large eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
In a large skillet, cook the bacon or sausage. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and pepper and set aside. Remove the meat and place on paper towel lined plate. Drain nearly all the fat from the pan. Add onions to the skillet and cook until golden, then add collard greens, cooking until they begin to wilt. Cut up the cooled bacon or sausage while you wait. When greens begin to wilt, add tomatoes or salsa and cook a few more minutes until the greens are tender. If your greens are still tough, cover to steam.
Add eggs and half the meat to skillet. Cook without stirring until eggs begin to set on bottom. Stir egg mixture gently to form large pieces. Sprinkle with cheese and continue to cook until eggs are firm. Add the remaining meat. Serve immediately.
Steamed sweet potatoes in electric pressure cooker
- 2 lbs sweet potatoes
- 1 cup cold water
- Butter (to taste)
- ½ c brown sugar
- ½ c toasted pecans
Place 1 cup of water inside the inner pot of a 6-quart electric pressure cooker and place the metal trivet or steamer basket at the bottom of the pot.
Measure or estimate the approximate width of each sweet potato (for best results, cook potatoes that are similar in size). Thoroughly wash your potatoes and use a fork to poke each sweet potato 4-5 times. Arrange the sweet potatoes on top of the trivet and secure the lid. Turn the steam release valve to the sealing position. Press or turn the knob to select the Manual or Pressure Cook option. Cook on HIGH pressure. Set the time according to the thickness of your potatoes:
- small (less than 2 inches) – 18 minutes
- medium (2-3 inches) – 25 minutes
- large (3-4 inches) – 35 minutes
When the total cooking time ends and your pressure cooker beeps, natural release for 10 minutes then turn the steam release valve to the venting position and allow the remaining pressure to release. Carefully remove the sweet potatoes and serve topped with all your favorite toppings such as butter, brown sugar and toasted nuts, or enjoy plain! NOTE: If you have sweet potatoes that are especially round and large, try cutting them in half to expedite cooking.
Baked yellow squash
- 2 pounds squash
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or olive oil spray
- 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon panko breadcrumbs
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut squash longwise into ½ inch slices. Toss with olive oil. Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl and toss with squash. Place squash on a baking pan and roast 12-14 minutes or until squash is tender and the crumb coating is golden brown. If not yet brown, broil 1-2 minutes.