Right about now farmers market devotees start coming home with more than they know what to do with, simply because it's all so beautiful.
But an unusually good crop of produce-centered cookbooks offers inventive ways to use the bounty to its best advantage.
Susie Middleton's "Fast, Fresh and Green" injects your cooking with a little "Huah!!" and offers a strategy for decoding and deploying a greater variety of vegetables.
Built around foundation recipes for eight different cooking techniques such as grilling, roasting and sauteing, the book teaches home cooks how to handle different vegetables, and then offers suggestions for enlivening them. Roasted cauliflower gets a Moroccan feel from orange zest and olives and the simple sassy slaw strikes a Southwest note with lime, cilantro and Serrano peppers (technique: No Cooking). Great book for vegephobics or people stuck in a steamed broccoli rut.
"Cooking from the Garden" by Ruth Lively features more than 200 recipes that aim to move the greens from your backyard to your table with minimal fuss. With the big, blocky look of an elementary school textbook, the book offers quick, comfy fare like tomatoes in shallot-flavored cream (cooking time about 5 minutes), stir-fried shrimp with asparagus, and chicken pot pie with rosemary biscuits. Home gardeners will appreciate the section on turning your piles of borage and lemon verbena into herbal teas.
To answer the inevitable "But what do you do with it?" that comes after discovering some new treat at the market, Sur La Table's "Eating Local" ingeniously organizes recipes according to ingredient. Fava beans? Toss them with corn and bacon for a smoky succotash. Kohlrabi? Saute with butter and dill.
Enticing preparations will also get you over the hump of making the same things over and over. Beets join up with tahini for a rich, creamy dip, while their tops are sauteed and served with whipped feta. The book gets a big dose of soul - and a warm fuzzy feeling about eating local - from lushly photographed farmer profiles.
Cathy Thomas' "Melissa's Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce" also is organized by ingredient, but caters to broader tastes. Created by Melissa's World Variety Produce, one of the country's leading distributors, recipes such as chicken breast with apricots and green bean casserole hit a comforting note. Packed with nutritional information, tips on selecting and storing produce, and discussions of different varieties this is a handy, general guide for all things fruit and vegetable.
Several single-subject books let cooks plow the produce into their passions. In "Tomato," heirloom guru Lawrence Davis-Hollander showcases the sultry balance of sweet and acid in summer's most eagerly awaited fruit with more than 150 recipes from well-known chefs, including Daniel Boulud, Alice Waters and Deborah Madison. Standards like fried green tomatoes and traditional marinara sauce mingle with Middle Eastern "pizza" spiked with allspice and rabbit paella bursting with heirlooms. Tarts stacked with orange, yellow, red and green gems are the stuff of bakery windows. An indispensable guide for tomato lovers.
And lest you think salad is boring, chef Andrew Swallow's "Mixt Salads" offers innovative flavor and texture combinations that propel the genre beyond a bowl of cold vegetables. Organized according to season, a spring salad of English peas and morels gets goosed up with watercress and aged sherry vinegar. And perhaps summer's most seductive salad is a gentle cascade of lamb's lettuce caressed by floral lychees and the fresh, green essence of cucumbers.
For your sweet tooth, "Farmers' Market Desserts" by Jennie Schacht offers more than 50 recipes for all those berries, plums and peaches.
Amid traditional recipes for pies and buckles, surprises like easy chocolate cherry cupcakes frosted with chocolate sour cream icing and chilled plum soup with sour cream give summer's candy a show-stopping twist. With recipes for petite salted caramel apples and ginger pear skillet cake, the book will also take you into autumn and throughout the year.
When you're feeling whimsical and Italian, "Recipes from an Italian Summer" is a massive tome from the publishers of "The Silver Spoon." The book conjures picnics and countryside meals. A rustic vegetable tart packs in summer's bountiful Swiss chard, spinach, zucchini and leeks, and a cold corn and mozzarella salad contrasts crunchy green peppers with springy cheese and sweet corn. As with most of Phaidon's books, head notes telling users what to expect from each recipe are absent, but stick with ingredients you like and experiment.
"Fast, Fresh and Green" by Susie Middleton (Chronicle Books, 2010)
"Cooking from the Garden" by Ruth Lively (Taunton Press, 2010)
"Eating Local," Sur La Table with Janet Fletcher (Andrews McMeel, 2010)
"Melissa's Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce" by Cathy Thomas (Wiley Hardcover, 2010)
"Tomato: A Fresh-from-the-Vine Cookbook" by Lawrence Davis-Hollander (Storey Publishing, 2010)
"Mixt Salads" by Andrew Swallow with Ann Volkwein (Ten Speed Press, 2010)
"Farmers' Market Desserts" by Jennie Schacht (Chronicle Publishing, 2010)
"Recipes From an Italian Summer," (Phaidon Press, 2010)