It happens like clockwork each year. As late spring inches toward early summer, I find myself unloading an overly ambitious farmers' market haul into my already crammed refrigerator. I may have hit the pavement with a (somewhat) planned list of what I needed to buy, but after a winter spent waiting for bright berries and fresh veggies, I can't seem to help myself. (Don't get me started on how many fresh cut flowers make their way into my basket too.)
After a complicated game of Tetris in the fridge, it's on to the next puzzle: how to use the goods before they go bad. A pound or two of okra always sounds like a steal at the time, truly. But as I sit at the table trying to plan out meals while my husband reminds me that there are just two of us to feed, I often start second guessing the second bag of corn.
Photo: Victor Protasio; Food Styling: Tina Bell Stamos; Prop Styling: Christine Keely
Then I'll stumble upon recipes that have been hibernating all winter, like Southern Living's Best-Ever Succotash, and feel my sanity come rushing back. A medley of corn, beans, tomatoes, onions, and okra, succotash just feels like summer. This seasonal stew of veggies and beans is open to substitutions and variations–some prefer butter beans over lima beans; others may add a bit of bell pepper. You can serve it warm right out of the skillet or cool from your container of leftovers in the fridge. Its versatility and taste make it a simple way to celebrate the summer bounty while helping to keep my overstocked seasonal produce in check.
This particular recipe is a favorite of ours each summer, especially when lake season rolls around. It's fast enough to whip up while the burgers are grilling and light enough to keep you from falling asleep at the table after a full day of sun. It uses butter instead of heavy cream, keeping things brighter in color without sacrificing any richness in flavor. We also opt out of the bacon at our house since we keep somewhat Kosher, though I've been told by others that it's a must. A bit of extra-virgin olive oil is all you need to cook the veggies in place of the bacon drippings.
After some chopping and sautéing, I can always rely on this recipe for a generous batch in just about 30 minutes. While it's typically enough for ample leftovers between the two of us, it's just the right size for a summertime party. If you want to get ahead of a big backyard barbecue, you can also prep the veggies a day in advance and refrigerate in an airtight container. Your guests will thank you later.