Originally published Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 7:00 PM

All ripe at once! And what Northwest cooks can do with it

Welcome to Peak Week: the last dog days of August and the start of September, the sweet spot of Seattle menus when market baskets overflow.



REMEMBER THE cold winter months of parsnips and kale? The "June-uary" of arugula and chives?

All is forgiven, cruel Northwest growing season. Now we're in Peak Week. It's the last dog days of August and the start of September, the sweet spot of Seattle menus when market baskets overflow with Washington-grown peaches, tomatoes, melons, corn, peppers, plums — all at once. What's not to like?

"The only thing is, it's kind of like walking through the museum of masterpieces and not being able to stop and admire every single one of them," says chef Seth Caswell of Emmer & Rye restaurant on Queen Anne Hill.

"You have so many ingredients peaking in such a short time that you don't get to use all of them."

We asked two masters of seasonal cooking, Caswell and Brian Scheehser of Trellis in Kirkland, to come up with some dream menu suggestions and general advice for navigating Peak Week. They've got the shopper and gardener perspective as well: Caswell can often be found at the area's farmers markets; Scheehser has long farmed his own acreage at the Eastside's South 47 Farm.

Here's some of their advice:

1. Shop with discipline. Peak Week winners like corn and tomatoes are best eaten fresh. Don't buy more than you can eat, prepare or put up in a day or two, advises Caswell. And stretch beyond your usual go-to dishes. With an abundance of corn last year, Scheehser made corn broth, which also freezes well. He served sautéed corn, and tiny corn cakes, and corn chowder, and salmon with corn and dried beans.

2. Get real. Think back to summers past to decide whether to buy less (or more). On a big scale, Scheehser stored 3,000 pounds of winter squash in his root cellar last year, but it was gone by the end of January.

3. Mix it up. So many Peak Week flavors are sweet, remember to add some tang for contrast. Caswell, for instance, is serving a "tomato tasting" appetizer, slicing up a carpaccio of Green Zebra and Brandywine tomatoes, along with roasted cherry tomatoes and a chanterais melon sorbet in basil-mint broth. Including the Green Zebras adds some zing. For dessert, he's topping his roasted plum-blackberry buckle with buttermilk ice cream to serve the same goal.

4. Extend the season. Pickle, can and freeze the extras.

5. Pace yourself. Next year keep in mind how Scheehser makes use of his tomatoes all summer to avoid a Peak Week panic. He makes green tomato chutney and pickled green tomatoes, for instance, at the season's start. When the fruits start to pink up, he puts some in the root cellar to ripen slowly and hedge against a crop-ruining late rainstorm. As the rest ripen on the vine they're sliced for salads and roasted for soup and other dishes. 6. Complement. Think about how to fit flavors together into a unified dinner. Caswell starts with one or two ingredients he knows he wants to use, then thinks of cooking methods and additional ingredients that will help link them. In the salmon dish featured here, the garlic and the fricassee bring all the flavors together.

7. Change perspective. For Scheehser, that means getting the pastry chef involved. She's made honey-lovage sorbet for dessert and zucchini muffins for the breakfast crowd. She dries pineapple sage to put in sugar for a syrup and fries mint for a garnish.

Rebekah Denn is a Seattle freelance writer and food blogger. John Lok is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

Grilled Sockeye Salmon with Summer Fricassee

Serves 6

2 ears fresh corn

1-pound mix of romano beans, green and yellow wax beans

½ tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons minced red onion

¼ pound chanterelle mushrooms

¼ pound lobster mushrooms

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup white wine

1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped

2 teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped

2 pounds sockeye salmon filet, cut into 6 portions

To prepare the corn: Heat grill to highest temperature. Fill a large bowl with cold water. Carefully remove the corn silk, making sure to leave the heavier outer husk intact. Place corn in the water for 30 minutes. Remove the corn from the water and place it on the grill; turn every 2 minutes, charring the outer husk. Set aside to cool. Remove the remaining husk and use a sharp knife to remove the kernels from the ears. This should yield two cups of corn.

To prepare the beans: Bring 3 quarts salted water to a boil and set up a bowl of ice water. Remove the stem ends of the beans with a paring knife. Plunge the beans into the boiling water and cook until the vegetables become very bright, but retain their crunch. Transfer the beans to the ice bath until completely cooled, then remove and set aside.

To prepare the fricassee: In a large, heavy skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over high heat. When the butter begins to bubble, add the garlic and onions. Stir for 2 minutes, then add the mushrooms, salt and pepper. Stir 3 to 4 minutes, until the mushrooms begin to brown. Deglaze the pan with white wine and add the corn, beans and herbs. Season again with salt and pepper to taste.

To grill the salmon: Season the salmon with salt and pepper and brush lightly with olive oil. Place skin side of salmon on the grill. It will crisp quickly, so turn the fish still on the skin side after about 1 minute. In another minute, flip the fish onto the flesh side and cook another 2 minutes. The fish should be just cooked through. Place the fricassee on a large platter and arrange the cooked salmon on top. Drizzle with your favorite olive oil.

— recipe courtesy of chef Seth Caswell