Tomato Basil Soup

Lots of tomatoes, lots of tomatoes! The season is definitely winding down, but the tomatoes are still fabulous and plentiful. When I find my kitchen is full of them at this time of year, I just quarter and throw them in a roasting pan with onion and garlic and a splash of olive oil. 

Opal basil

And, then, I can make all sorts of tomatoey things. But my favorite right now is tomato basil soup. When the tomatoes come out of the oven, I throw them in the blender with some stock and basil. I then stir in some plain yogurt or half and half, adjust the seasonings and have a delicious early fall soup. 

Tomato Basil soup with pumpernickel croutons

Tomato basil soup

  • 2 cups quartered fresh tomatoes (you can also use canned tomatoes)
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • ½ onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 2 c. broth (chicken or vegetable)
  • ½ cup minced basil
  • ½ c. half-and-half, coconut milk, plain yogurt or pureed cannellini beans (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375. Film a roasting pan with some of the olive oil. Toss in the vegetables, drizzle with the rest of the oil, and roast for about an hour, stirring occasionally. The longer they roast, the more caramelized they become (which is good!). 

Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Add basil and puree with a hand or countertop blender. You can puree it until smooth or leave it somewhat chunky. Stir in half-and-half or another cream if you wish and season to taste with salt, pepper and even cayenne if you want a little spunk. Pour into bowls and garnish with garlic croutons, scallions, feta or goat cheese, or parmesan. 

Corn Soup

Photo by Adonyi

It may be the end of sweet corn season, but you can still find it at markets and the grocery store. I am not quite ready to give up that summer flavor. It’s not as sweet for fresh eating as it was earlier in the season, but is definitely worth the purchase for the freezer. Or for my favorite, corn soup. I’ve written before about corn chowder, which I also love, but this recipe for corn soup is one I find myself craving. It’s easy and quick and satisfies the need for a creamy, comforting soup for the cusp of fall.

Corn Soup

  • 4 cobs of fresh corn (you can also make it with frozen corn)
  • ½ onion, minced
  • 4 T. butter (don’t be tempted to use oil – the butter flavor makes it perfect)
  • 1-2 c. milk, buttermilk or cream
  • ¼ t. cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Sriracha or habanero sauce
Photo by Kaboompics .com on

Cut the kernels from the cobs and then use the back of the knife to scrape all the “milk” into a cup. Save the cobs to make stock.

Melt butter in a heavy saucepan and add the onion. Saute the onion until soft, about five minutes. Add the corn kernels and saute another five minutes. Remove from the heat, add one cup of milk and puree to your liking. Add enough more milk to make it soup-like – as thick as you like it. If you choose, pour the mixture into a sieve to remove most of the solids. If you prefer a more rustic soup, just puree to your taste. Heat gently for a few minutes, and season to taste. Finish with a swirl of sriracha.

Riffs on corn soup:

Use grilled or roasted corn kernels for a smoky flavor
Add roasted sweet peppers
Add a bit of garlic when you saute your onions
Use leeks instead of onions
Serve with crumbled crisp bacon on top

Corn stock for the freezer.

This creamy stock adds an extra lift to pasta soups, mac and cheese, or any other dish you want to add smoothness to. Put leftover cobs in a pot and cover with water. Add onion peelings, garlic peelings and some celery leaves. Simmer for a couple of hours. Strain and freeze.

Janie’s Garden

My path to Janie’s garden

My friend Janie is an artist. An amazing artist and a beautiful soul. Her charming works of art are scattered throughout her garden which reflects her beauty and eye for art and design. Her art pieces set off and enhance the garden’s beauty. Her use of color, texture and whimsy invite you to stroll into this place of serenity, a true haven for reflection and relaxation. Walk with me through her garden.

Buddha Bowl

A soothing zen-inspired Buddha bowl recipe for a late summer evening – make it your own with whatever vegetables are available and make it beautiful.

My favorite Buddha bowl

Slice into rounds or matchsticks or shred:
red cabbage
massaged kale
roasted sweet potato

Marinated carrots

Artfully prepare your favorite beautiful bowl with the ingredients in separate sections. Squeeze some lemon over the vegetables. Spoon cooked grain or rice into the center and top with cooked chickpeas or lentils. Dust with sesame or flax seeds. Drizzle with dressing and find a restful place in the garden to enjoy.

Avocado Jalapeno Goddess Sauce

  • 1/4 ripe avocado
  • 2 T. tahini or Greek yogurt
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 c. fresh cilantro
  • 1 jalapeno, seeds & ribs removed, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Add all ingredients to a food processor and process until smooth. If it seems too thick, add 1-2 Tbsp. water until you achieve desired consistency.

Vegetable Triage (Tomato Glut Sauce)

This time of year brings so many good vegetables, whether through a CSA box every week with more than you can possibly eat or a garden that is inundating your fridge. Or even friends offer extras from their own gardens. How do you avoid wasting all this goodness as well as stock yourself up for the winter months?

My answer is to roast! Whenever I have loads of extra chard, mushrooms, leeks, onions, zucchini and eggplant, instead of succumbing to feeling overwhelmed, I toss them all into a roasting pan.

Red and yellow tomatoes, onions and garlic

Make delicious soup

It is amazing how combining roasted vegetables of all types with plenty of onions and garlic turns them into savory creations. I roast until everything is quite soft and then purée with a little stock if necessary. Freeze the pureed vegetables to use later as a soup base or pasta sauce. Or, to make a hearty one-dish meal immediately, add some evaporated or coconut milk, chopped sauteed vegetables of choice, cooked beans and/or cooked grains or pasta. A great result of this process is that the sauce never quite tastes the same.

A sauce made of mostly tomatoes is great for traditional pasta sauce. Sauce with spicy chiles added makes a good base for chili.

It’s easy to adjust seasonings according to your tastes. Add basil and oregano for an Italian twist; add cumin and chili powder for Mexican; add marjoram, a hint of cayenne and basil for Mediterranean.

Tomato Glut Sauce

I found this recipe years ago from a magazine called This Organic Life and have adapted and used it ever since. Film a large roasting pan with olive oil and cut up about six pounds of tomatoes – this is a great time to use those that have blemishes or splits because you can simply cut that part away. Chop and add one or two cups of whatever vegetables are coming in at the time such as onions, carrots, zucchini, celery and Swiss chard.

If you plan to use a food mill, you don’t have to take out tomato cores. If you plan to use a food processor, core the tomatoes before cooking. I don’t peel or seed my tomatoes but you can also blanch and peel and/or seed the tomatoes if that’s your taste. Throw in several cloves of garlic, some sprigs of fresh thyme, oregano, basil, and parsley. Splash with balsamic vinegar and roast for about an hour. The sauce will cook down and lose a good bit of moisture, and the vegetables will start to caramelize. Run through a food mill, food processor, or simply put in a high-power blender. Salt and pepper to taste, and use immediately or freeze.

Venny’s Garden

A shady haven

Photo by Venny Zachritz

I’m going to change things up a bit for my blog and feature special gardens, special gardeners, and special gardening techniques in addition to cooking from the garden.

One of the best finds right now is my friend Venny’s garden. She is an artful shade gardener and has a spectacular landscape. Here is her description of her garden!

Photo by Venny Zachritz

Greetings from Asheville!

I’m Venny and I am passionate about gardening. In the last 30 years I have lived in the southwest, the southeast, the mid-Atlantic Appalachian mountains of Maryland, and now the foothills of the southern Appalachian mountains in Asheville. I learned, through trial and error, how to garden in each of these locations but adding color to my landscape was never an issue until now.

My north Asheville home sits on the slope of a hill, as most Asheville homes do, and the yard is almost completely shaded by trees of various species, ages and sizes. Over the years I have thinned out some trees to open an area for a small plot of pollinator plants and a woodland area for native azaleas. But in the summer months there is little color variety – mostly shades of green.

Photo by Venny Zachritz

After spending years of buying sun-loving annuals and having them languish, I have now learned how to use different shades of green to add color and texture.

I line the edges of my garden with shade-loving variegated or chartreuse perennials. I love using hostas and am drawn to the variegated ones, in white, cream and gold, for their color. I also use chartreuse-colored Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa) and striped sedges (Carex) to add light and texture.

Photo by Venny Zachritz

I’ll drop in some caladiums and coleus for spots of color. Then, some yard art (not elves or flamingos, please) and colored pots of shade-loving annuals, and the shade garden is now filled with color and whimsy.

Photo by Venny Zachritz

Shade gardening has been, for me, one of the most challenging types of gardening to learn, and adding color to a summer shade garden has turned into a fun annual activity.

Photo by Venny Zachritz

Summer Vegetables


In this high season of summer, it’s natural to write about what’s inspiring right now. Mostly summer vegetables and beautiful gardens. Squash, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers.

Summer squash, tomatoes and eggplant are delicious in a simple layered dish cooked quickly to keep the kitchen cool. Layer with rich cheese, dust with panko and parmesan, and voila – you have dinner!

Summer squash

Puree fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers to make a delicious gazpacho. Season with a chili and garlic, and drizzle with good olive oil and sriracha for a cool, filling drink or soup to start your meal. 

For a little more complicated squash dish, my favorite:

Sweet peppers

Summer Squash Cheese Custard

2 large yellow squash, sliced into ½-inch rounds (about 4 cups) 

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped 

1 large clove garlic, chopped

3 ounces goat cheese or other cheese, grated

¼ cup cornmeal 

2 eggs, beaten 

1 cup milk 

3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus sprigs for garnishing 

1 teaspoon kosher salt 

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Steam the squash until tender. Saute onion and garlic until tender. 

Drain squash. Add all ingredients to a blender and puree until smooth. Pour into an 8-by-8-inch baking dish or 6 individual ramekins that have been coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400°F for 40 minutes (35 minutes for the ramekins) or until golden brown on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Lettuces and chard

Keep It Simple (the implied other S is for stupid which I don’t think is nice or appropriate).

I’ve been overwhelmed recently with the intensity of some recipes, mostly because they complicate cooking. The other day a recipe crossed my desk from one of the blog sites I visit. It sounded like a delicious dish. But it had twenty-three ingredients! I immediately dismissed it, but then went back to it and realized that it was mostly a list of seasonings. The actual food ingredients were only three.

I understand that when publishing a recipe it’s important to list everything that will be used. But so often a huge list is discouraging. And I want you to cook! So, I like to keep my recipes as simple as possible, with whatever fresh ingredients you can manage to get or grow. 

Grilled asparagus

Fall and winter chilis and stews certainly call for a more extensive list of ingredients, but summer is a time to simply roast or grill a zucchini and sprinkle with parmesan, slice garden tomatoes and douse with balsamic, grated garlic and torn basil leaves, or toss fresh roasted asparagus and eggplant cubes over hot pasta. 

Butter lettuce getting ready to bolt

In my garden, lettuce is bolting so I harvested all that was left, and after offering some to neighbors, made a saute of lettuce and onion served over rice. Yes, you can cook lettuce. 

Sauteed lettuce over rice

4 cups of torn or chopped lettuce (or any green – kale, chard, turnip) – This sounds like a lot but it cooks way, way down

1 T. sesame oil or olive oil

2 T. chopped onions

1 c. cooked rice (or any cooked grain – bulgur, quinoa, farro)

Seasonings of choice:

I like spicy so I use sambal olek (garlic-chili paste), maybe some hoisin sauce, soy sauce. I also like to finish off with a couple of tablespoons of greek yogurt or sour cream to make it creamy.

Start with a large pan because of the bulk of the lettuce. Saute the lettuce in the sesame oil, stirring frequently until it is wilted. Stir in the rice and seasonings and heat gently. Stir in seasonings and sour cream if using.