Contrary to what tourists and even some locals might think, Florida crops go far beyond the oranges and grapefruits for sale at roadside stands throughout the state.
“Citrus is part of who we are, and we love that,” says Chef Justin Timineri, executive chef and culinary ambassador for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). “If you’ve ever driven up and down the state, you can smell it, see it. It’s incredible and part of what built Florida into what it is.”
But citrus is just the beginning, he adds. The state’s mostly subtropical climate bodes well for farms, fisheries and, in turn, consumers.
“This is really paradise when it comes to food,” says Timineri, who grew up in Florida. “It’s really the perfect place for chefs and home cooks because you have access to so much good stuff.”
From blueberries and new varieties of peaches in northern Florida, to citrus groves in the central corridor to guava and mangoes in the south – not to mention seafood harvested from coast to coast – the state offers something for every palate.
“The Florida strawberry industry is incredible,” Timineri says. “Americans have a soft spot in their hearts for fresh, luscious berries, and when [the strawberries] are coming out of the state of Florida at peak harvest, there’s nothing better.”
Many Florida chefs are challenging themselves to create recipes featuring another prolific crop: peanuts. Using the versatile legume as a base, Timineri and his team concocted a recipe for savory boiled peanut hummus as well as a white sauce that can be spooned over vegetables, proteins or salads.
And then there’s the seafood, found from Key West to Pensacola to St. Augustine. For those who are hesitant to cook seafood at home, Timineri recommends starting with shrimp – rock, red, brown, white or pink.
“It’s a superclean protein, delicious – and the price is great,” he says. “When you cook it properly and very simply, you’re going to come out with an excellent, tasty, nutritious, beautiful meal that everybody’s going to love.”
In fact, says Timineri, simple is always a good idea. “You don’t have to have all these crazy ingredients. You don’t have to have a ton of experience. You just have to have some good, fresh ingredients, and beautiful things will happen.”