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Food column: Use fruit, veggies in summer meals

With the month of June upon us, it is time to fire up the grills. It is also the season for an array of local fruits and vegetables to be available. The color palette of summer is amazing with the varieties of peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, strawberries, peaches, kale and many other nutrient-dense foods. Farm stands are reawakening from the long winter’s inactivity.

What can you do with all these healthy, delicious, abundant crops? There are many different ways to prepare the summer bounty. There are many recipes available. I chose WebMD as a source for many of the recipes in this column.

One salad recipe is a healthy meal in itself, including fruit, chicken and greens. The recipe calls for cantaloupe and honeydew melons. Strawberries, blueberries, other berries, even peaches would also work well. I prefer to use mixed greens, baby kale or romaine in salads. The original recipe recommends preparing the chicken by poaching, but I prefer to grill it.

Zucchini is abundant during the summer. If you are lucky, a friend or a neighbor will share some. If not, the local farmer’s markets or grocery stores will have them available. The recipe calls to roast the zucchini and toss with pesto. I would prefer to grill it.

Pesto is easy to make or you can purchase it in a jar in the grocery store. It is made from basil, garlic, cheese and olive oil. The pre-made version usually contains pine nuts. The recipe from WebMD uses “Omega-3-laden walnuts in the mix for their crunch and delicate flavor” and health benefits. According to WebMD, pine nuts, almonds, pecans or even pistachios may be substituted for the walnuts. I also prefer walnuts in my pesto.

Potato salad makes an appearance at many cookouts. The recipe for Country Potato Salad gets more flavor from smoked ham and is a healthier version. The dressing in this salad uses buttermilk and oil instead of the traditional mayonnaise. I prefer to use olive oil in most of my recipes.

Here’s another idea: tomatoes on the grill. According to WebMD, the heat will intensify the flavor and boost the antioxidant power. Cut the tomatoes in half, brush the cut side with olive oil, and grill them with the cut side down until they've softened and charred. Season with pepper, chives, parsley, basil or any herb you desire.

Caprese Salad uses fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, leafy basil and olive oil. Use heirloom tomatoes if available. The golden-yellow or dark green stripes will add extra color. It is easy to make and makes a nice presentation on the table.

According to WebMD, grilling is a great way to cook vegetables. High temperatures and quick cooking times help preserve the nutrients of vegetables. Vegetables should be sliced thinly or in chunks for kebabs. Sweet peppers and onions cook well for about 5-8 minutes on each side. Corn on the cob will take longer but can be cooked in its husk for about 25 minutes. Other vegetables such as onions, romaine lettuce hearts, asparagus, peppers, and potato slices are very tasty when grilled.

Recently I looked through my maternal grandmother Jennie Pirrelli’s box of recipes. Many are faded and the pages are disintegrating from use and age. I discovered some interesting recipes to share. My grandmother never owned a grill. I am sharing her recipe for a chili to be used on hot dogs or hamburgers.

I was also surprised to see a recipe for Spanish rice in my Italian grandmother’s collection. My son Chris liked it, and this would be a good side dish for grilled meats. Meat can be added to make it a complete meal.

Roasted Zucchini & Pesto

WebMD Recipe from

Total Time: 25 mins


• 2 pounds zucchini, slices 1 inch thick

• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

• 2 tablespoons pesto

• Salt to taste

• Freshly ground pepper to taste


Place a baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Toss zucchini with oil in a large bowl.

Spread the zucchini on the preheated baking sheet in a single layer.

Roast until beginning to brown, 5 to 7 minutes.

Turn the zucchini and continue roasting until just tender, 7 to 9 minutes more.

Return the zucchini to the bowl.

Add pesto, salt and pepper; toss to coat.

To grill:

Toss zucchini with oil in a large bowl.

Place on grill grates and cook until lightly browned then turn over and cook other side.

Spanish rice

1 cup uncooked rice (I would use brown rice)

¼ cup oil

1 onion thinly sliced

1 cup diced green pepper (A variety of red, green yellow or orange would be colorful)

2 cups diced tomatoes with juice

1 ½ cups water

1 teaspoon salt

Heat oil in large saucepan. Add rice, onion and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring continuously till lightly browned. Add tomatoes, water and seasonings. Cover and cook for 30 to 40 minutes on low heat until liquid is absorbed and rice is soft.

For a healthier complete meal variation, I added quinoa, kale sausage and greens to the pot.


Chili for Hot Dogs

1-pound ground beef

1 cup water

½ cup ketchup

2 teaspoons chili powder

Salt and pepper as desired

2 tablespoons pickle relish (optional)

In skillet, brown ground beef. Drain off fat. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook on low heat for about 1 hour.

Chicken & Fruit Salad

WebMD Recipe from

Total Time: 15 mins


• 1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream

• 3 tablespoons fruit-flavored vinegar

• 4 teaspoons sugar

• 1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds

• 1/4 teaspoon salt

• Freshly ground pepper, to taste

• 8 cups mixed salad greens

• 2 cups sliced grilled chicken breast

• 2 cups chopped melon, such as cantaloupe and/or honeydew or any fruit of your choice

• 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

• 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese


Whisk sour cream, vinegar, sugar, poppy seeds, salt and pepper in a large bowl until smooth. Reserve 1/4 cup of the dressing in a small bowl.

Add the mixed greens to the large bowl and toss to coat.

Divide among 4 plates and top with chicken, melon, walnuts and feta.

Drizzle each portion with 1 tablespoon of the reserved dressing.


To toast chopped or sliced nuts, heat a small dry skillet over medium-low heat. Add nuts and cook, stirring, until lightly browned and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes

To poach chicken breast: Place boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a medium skillet or saucepan and add lightly salted water to cover; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer gently until chicken is cooked through and no longer pink in the middle, 10 to 12 minutes.

Basic Basil Pesto

WebMD Recipe from

Total Time: 20 mins


• 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves, (2-3 bunches)

• 1/4 cup walnut pieces, toasted

• 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

• 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

• 2 tablespoons water

• 1 large clove garlic, quartered

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper


Place basil, walnuts, Parmigiano-Reggiano, oil, water, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor; pulse a few times, then process until fairly smooth, or to the desired consistency, scraping down the sides occasionally.


Tip: To toast walnuts: Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and lightly browned, 7 to 9 minutes.