When you're firing up the grill this season, start with something fresh

The school year's ending, RVs are hitting the roadways, and fishermen and women are filling the shores. It's the time of year when mosquitoes are buzzing, tents are being pitched, wildflowers are blooming and grills are being fired up. Summer is unofficially upon us, and it's time to gather together in the outdoors and celebrate with good food and good company.

As much as I love a juicy burger, a spicy hot dog, a skewer of shrimp, tender, smoky ribs or some sticky barbecue chicken on the grill, what I really look forward to most in the summer is fresh, abundant produce.

I love the bustle of a farmers market at the peak of season, the colorful array of fruits and vegetables alongside bouquets of flowers and the glimmering jars of homemade jam and local honey. I love the feeling of a market bag slung over my shoulder, filling up, getting heavier with things like massive summer squash and frilly bundles of greens waiting to become salad. There's nothing that compares to a plump tomato just off the vine, sliced and salted, a refreshing wedge of juicy watermelon, or the first gulp of ice cold, puckering lemonade.

One of my favorite summer ingredients is corn on the cob. Fresh corn is delicious raw, grilled, removed from the stalk and sautéed in a pan, or simmered whole in salted water until the kernels are about to burst. Fresh corn adds color and texture to taco salad, potato salad or pasta salad. Left whole it can be enjoyed with butter and salt, spicy with a squeeze of lime and a hint of jalapeño, or in this recipe, grilled and slathered with basil pesto. The herbaceous, garlic-forward flavor of the pesto, the richness of the olive oil and the saltiness of cheese are a perfect match for the sweetness of the corn. Grab some napkins and devour.

Grilled corn on the cob with pesto
Serves 6

6 corn cobs, shucked
6 tablespoons basil pesto

Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Place the corn on the grill and cook, turning often, until the corn is heated through and there are grill marks on all sides, about 5-7 minutes. Transfer the corn cobs to a serving plate and spread 1 tablespoon of basil pesto over each cob, evenly coating. Serve promptly while hot.

Whether you're getting them at the farmers market or picking them yourself, berries are always a summer favorite. They are also a favorite in my kitchen because they are so versatile in recipes. Berries make a beautiful addition to summer beverages, from lemonade to iced tea and sangria to smoothies. They are also stunning atop a crisp green salad, like this strawberry and blueberry spinach salad.

Strawberry and blueberry spinach salad with feta cheese
Serves 4

6 ounces baby spinach leaves
2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 cups fresh blueberries
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup sliced toasted almonds (optional)
balsamic vinaigrette or poppyseed dressing

Distribute the baby spinach greens evenly between 4 salad bowls or plates. Top each salad evenly with strawberry quarters, blueberries, feta cheese, and almonds (if using). Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette or poppyseed dressing just before serving.

Fresh berries are also perfection in summer desserts. For me, nothing compares to a warm berry pie a la mode or a buttery homemade berry shortcake with freshly whipped cream. They are glorious layered in a trifle or atop a delicate vanilla bean panna cotta. But, in honor of Memorial Day weekend and the onset of summer, I recommend adding berries to the quintessential summer dessert — the s'more. Try Nutella s'mores layered with strawberry slices, and your summers will never be the same.

Nutella s'mores with strawberries
Serves 4

8 whole graham crackers
4 tablespoons Nutella
1 cup strawberries, thinly sliced
12 large marshmallows, roasted

Lay out graham cracker sheets, two per s'more. Spread one side of the graham cracker liberally with Nutella. Layer the Nutella with sliced strawberries. Top with three roasted marshmallows. Press the other graham cracker down on top of the marshmallows, sandwiching together until the marshmallows and Nutella begin to ooze out the sides. Repeat with remaining graham crackers. Enjoy promptly.

Maya Wilson lives in Kenai and blogs about food at Have a food question or recipe request? Email and your inquiry may appear in a future column.

Maya Wilson

Maya Wilson lives and cooks on the Kenai Peninsula and writes the Alaska From Scratch blog. Her book, "The Alaska from Scratch Cookbook: Seasonal. Scenic. Homemade," was published in 2018 by Rodale Books.