Still running around in flip-flops and shorts? That's OK, we're in denial too. But let's face facts: Summer will be over before you know it, and with it, peak growing season. The good news is there are plenty of dishes on offer right now that put the spotlight on fresh, seasonal vegetables. Some, like hearty kabocha, are just getting started. Others, like those juicy vine-ripened tomatoes you've been seeing on menus all over town in recent weeks, will be gone before you know it. So hurry up and sample the full range of nature's bounty while you can.
Kabocha (Japanese pumpkin)
Where to find it: Yoshi's Cafe
Why we love it: Chef Yoshi Katsumura spotlights kabocha, a squat green, golden-fleshed squash, in this hearty vegetarian stuffed pumpkin dish ($17.95). An entire kabocha is hollowed and steamed, then filled with a mixture of diced tofu, shitake mushrooms, onions, zucchini, red peppers and bamboo shoots flavored with a sauce of fresh ginger, sour apricots, soy sauce and Chinese red pepper paste. Spice lovers take note: Katsumura says this is not a "shy" dish.
Where to find it: Sepia
Why we love it: At this hot new Warehouse District spot, chef Kendal Duque combines summer squash with several varieties of locally grown eggplant (Turkish, Japanese and white) in a deceptively simple grilled eggplant and squash dish ($18). The fresh veggies from Indiana's Green Acres Farm are tossed in olive oil, shallots and herbs and given the grill treatment. Duque then tosses the eggplant and squash in a Meyer lemon vinaigrette and serves them alongside buckwheat salad with heirloom tomatoes and fresh parsley and basil.
Where to find it: Meritage
Why we love it: Cushaw, a green-striped squash that Mertitage sources from Homegrown Wisconsin Cooperative, shows off its sweet side in a squash-and-blue cheese ravioli entree ($18). The ravioli are served on a red-orange bed of pureed lobster mushrooms with a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts on top. "The saltiness of blue cheese balances the sweetness of squash," says executive chef Troy Graves, "and hazelnuts give it an earthy feel."
Where to find 'em: Le Lan
Why we love 'em: Most portabella dishes fall short of expectations. (Giant mushroom slapped on a bun? Please.) Not Bill Kim's. Chef Kim whips up an inventive Thai basil gnocchi with mushrooms ($18) that puts other portabella dishes to shame. The centerpiece 'shrooms marinate in soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic and smoked paprika before hitting the grill. The meaty mushrooms, zucchini and oven-dried heirloom tomatoes top a plate of house-made gnocchi resting on a star anise puree.
Where to find 'em: Landmark
Why we love 'em: For a classic downhome dish of fresh-from-the-vine fried green tomatoes ($16), try executive chef Benjamin Browning's cornmeal-breaded green tomatoes from the Green City Market. They're served over wood-roasted eggplant puree and topped with Jersey milk ricotta cheese and torpedo onions.
Where to find it: May Street Market
Why we love it: Rising star chef Alexander Cheswick sources his zucchini from Genesis Growers in tiny St. Anne, Ill., about an hour south of Chicago. His summer squash gnocchi dish ($22) features zucchini, pattypan and other summer squash varieties along with heirloom grape tomatoes, basil pesto and parmesan cheese. Alongside, Cheswick serves baby bell peppers stuffed with ratatouille and truffle perfume. "I like to highlight a vegetable like [it's] a meat item and make it the central focus of a dish--separate and whole and beautiful," Cheswick says.
[ Heidi Moore is a Metromix special contributor. ] email@example.comCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times