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August Produce Report from Howie's Market & Caprese Salad Recipe

August is here. Seasonal fruits and vegetables in this month are pretty similar to July’s. As in July, you’ll find summer squash, tomatoes, corn, melons and stone fruits. But by August, tomatoes really come into their own.

Tomato season in California is May-November, but midsummer is when they hit their peak. There are two types of tomatoes- heirlooms and hybrids. The terms have nothing to do with size or shape or color.

Heirlooms are open-pollinated varieties that pre-date modern industrial agriculture and have been passed down through generations. Open-pollinated means that the crossbreeding happened naturally; birds and bees did the pollinating and new varieties were born. And because nature is resilient, these plants are able to keep themselves alive. A seed saved from an open-pollinated plant will produce a replica of the parent plant.

Hybrids are hand-pollinated crosses of varieties that have been chosen for specific tray. These are produced by seed companies and plant breeders, and they can’t reproduce like open-pollinated plants do.

Putting this into the simplest possible terms: heirlooms are made by nature. Hybrids are made by humans. There are heirlooms and hybrids of every type of tomato.

It’s not possible to know every variety and hybrid that belongs to each group, and it’s hard to tell all of them apart because so many look exactly alike, but don’t get caught up over any of that. The only important thing is to find what you like and enjoy it.

Picking a good tomato is easy if you’re buying in season and getting them from a good source. Look for tomatoes with healthy-looking skin that has no dark spots or punctures. A good tomato should feel heavy, and it should be fragrant at the stem end. If you are not sure which one to pick, simply ask your produce person for advice.

One of the best things to do with these peak tomatoes is a simple Caprese Salad. You can find all the ingredients for this summery dish at Howie's!

Insalata Caprese (serves 4)

  • 3 to 4 medium ripe tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), sliced 1/4-inch thick

  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds (or you can use ciliegine, the smaller balls of mozzarella)

  • 1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves

  • Coarse sea salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or to taste)

  • 2 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar (or to taste)

Place the tomatoes and mozzarella on a platter & arrange in a pleasing pattern, alternating cheese and tomatoes in a spiral or in rows.

Scatter the basil leaves over the tomatoes and mozzarella. You can shred the basil or leave the leaves whole.

Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper, to taste.

Drizzle the olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil.

Serve immediately.

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