Even more delicate than peaches, nectarines have a similar texture but a flavor that can be easy to distinguish if you're a fan of the stone fruit: Nectarines are often sweeter and more tart than their fuzzy family members. California produces approximately 95% of the nectarines grown in the US, offering both clingstone and freestone varieties. For recipes like ours that require pitting, freestone nectarines are preferable, as the fruit is easier to separate from the seed.
Select: Smooth, bright skin with slight give. Avoid very hard, wrinkled or brownish fruit.
Store: At room temperature until ripe, then refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to 5 days.
Eat: Homemade salsa with black beans, jalapenos, corn, onion, lime and cilantro. Substitute for peaches in pies and crisps.
Watermelons were first cultivated in Egypt 5,000 years ago and are now popular all over the globe. In fact, they are the most consumed melon in the US, perhaps because their 92% water content makes them exceptionally refreshing. Seeded melons are the best bargain, but opting for seedless (which are pollinated with the help of bees) can save you time.
Select: Firm, brightly colored skin and symmetrical shape; should feel heavy for their size. Avoid pale green skin, which indicates it is not yet ripe.
Store: At room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Very little ripening will occur after picking.
Eat: Remove rind and skin, cut flesh into cubes (or use a melon baller) and freeze for a cooling snack. Or slice and sprinkle with ground cayenne pepper and fresh lime juice, to taste.
Roasting, an unusual way to prepare radishes, gives this root vegetable a tender texture that makes them an ideal substitute for your usual roasted potato sides. The cooking technique also mellows the radish's naturally peppery bite (after all, radishes are a relative of the mustard plant), but their raw crunch is a welcome addition to salads and great for dunking in clean yogurt dips.
Select: Thin, smooth skin with crisp, vibrant green leaves and no soft spots.
Store: Trim off leaves and refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to 2 weeks. Scrub well before using.
Eat: Halve and sprinkle with extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt to serve as hors d'oeuvres, or thinly slice and add to sandwiches and salads.
All three of the most common cucumber varieties share a similar flavor and work well for salad-making. When it comes to pickling, however, the basic garden cucumber and the short, fat Kirby are best because of their firm, crisp texture. English, or "hothouse" cucumbers, which are often wrapped in plastic, have thin skin that does not need to be peeled, smaller seeds and a softer bite. We use garden cucumbers in this recipe because their longer shape is perfect for making ribbons.
Select: Very firm with smooth, vibrant skin. Avoid bulges, which indicate bland, watery flesh.
Store: Refrigerate in crisper up to 1 week.
Eat: Cut crusts off whole-wheat sandwich bread, top with reduced-fat cream cheese, black pepper and thinly sliced cucumbers to make tea sandwiches; eat as an on-the-go snack, tea optional.
5. Green Beans
Freshly cooked in-season green beans have a wonderful tender-crisp texture that can't be matched by frozen or canned varieties. And by blanching your beans (plunging the hot, just-cooked beans into an ice bath), you'll accomplish two key things: It halts carry-over cooking so the beans stay crisp, and it prevents their bright green hue from turning dark and dull.
Select: Hand-pick beans of uniform size with bright, unblemished skin. Avoid very thick beans and large bulging seeds, which can indicate toughness.
Store: In a plastic bag in your refrigerator's crisper for up to 5 days. Wash just before using.
Eat: Three-bean salad with chickpeas, kidney beans, sliced shallots, fresh herbs and vinaigrette.
Try: Summery Green Bean Casserole and Trout with Green Bean Succotash.
6. Summer Squash
With a mild flavor, summer squash is best roasted or grilled to bring out its natural sweetness. Apart from zucchini, the most common variety is the crookneck yellow squash with a long neck and round end. But other straight neck and scalloped types are available and may be used in most recipes that call for summer squash.
Select: Firm, medium-sized squash without nicks or soft spots; should feel heavy for their size.
Store: Refrigerate in plastic bags for up to 1 week.
Eat: Thickly slice on the diagonal, brush with olive oil and grill; eat as is; or stack on whole-wheat rolls with other veggies, pesto and cheese, for vegetarian sandwiches.