Triage or Rescue Cooking

So what do you do when you have too many vegetables? Whether you have a CSA membership that provides a box every week with more than you can possibly eat. Or your garden is providing a plethora of tasty produce that is inundating your fridge. Or friends offer extras from their own gardens. How do you avoid wasting?

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 like to 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.

Here’s a recipe, but be prepared to change and adapt according to whatever vegetables you have on hand.

Tomato Glut Sauce

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 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. 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, 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, salt and pepper to taste, and use immediately or freeze.

Or to be more specific:

6 lbs. tomatoes, cored and quartered (if you don’t have tomatoes, you can use canned pureed tomatoes)
1 ½ c. coarsely chopped carrots
1 ½ c. coarsely chopped celery
1 ½ c. coarsely chopped onion
9 cloves garlic, chopped
6 T balsamic vinegar
1 bay leaf
1 ½ T fresh thyme, oregano, basil, parsley
1 ½ t. salt
1 T. pepper

Roast 45 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Process briefly to leave slightly chunky, freeze. Makes 2 quarts. You can use any combination of vegetables and herbs – each batch of sauce comes out a little different.

What do I do with all those tomatoes?

This is such an exciting time of year with the produce coming in from the garden in buckets and baskets. But it can sometimes overwhelm. 

Tomato plants may be on the decline in the garden, but the tomatoes are still ripening and filling our counters. Let’s figure out what to do with them. 

Canning is certainly one option but I like to freeze them for later use. 

I simply rinse them and throw them into a bucket or freezer bags in the freezer. No blanching, no cutting up before freezing. When I’m ready to make sauce or salsa, I pull out what I need and run them under warm water briefly to loosen the skins. They can then be cooked or thrown into the food processor with onions, garlic and jalapenos for fresh-tasting salsa. They won’t be firm as when fresh, but they still have the delicious taste of summer. 

Simple ingredients

Here is a salsa recipe to get you started on using them fresh. Check out the recipe tabs for Catalan tomato bread, gazpacho and bruschetta. All have few ingredients – mostly tomatoes, garlic, onion and olive oil. Quick and easy! 

Bruschetta

And check out my YouTube video on how to make each one. https://youtu.be/nhh51JuE8lA

summer salsa

Summer salsa dip (pico de gallo)

1 chile, chopped (with or without seeds depending on your taste)

3-4 tomatoes, chopped finely

1 small onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 T. vinegar or lime juice

1 T. fresh cilantro

1 t. Salt

Mix and chill. Serve as dip with tortilla chips, on black bean tacos or as topping for a baked potato. Feel free to add other ingredients such as black beans or corn.

Pestos!

Pesto over hot pasta couldn’t be a simpler, more healthy meal (or over rice or on a baked potato). Traditional Italian pesto is made of basil, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic and parmesan. It’s delicious, but at the risk of offending my Italian cook-friends, I’m going to give you some riffs on traditional pesto, to make use of whatever is harvestable. 

Pestos are infinitely adaptable

Pestos can be adapted to just about any flavor you like, and will give you a good shot of serious vitamins when added to soups, stews or pastas. I’ve also heard the term “green smash” used for a pesto-like sauce made with herbs which is a beautifully imaginative way to present it.

Greens make great pesto

Greens such as kale, beets, Swiss chard or Asian mizuna, are prolific producers, so you will almost always have more greens than you can eat in summer. One of the easiest ways to preserve them for winter eating is in pesto. 

Chard pesto ingredients

Simply wash and stem the greens, and toss in the food processor with a couple of cloves of garlic, some olive oil, a handful of roasted nuts (pine, almond, walnut, pecan, pistachio), fresh basil or other herb of your choice, salt and pepper. Punch up your pesto with roasted peppers, sun dried or fresh tomatoes, roasted winter squash or roasted carrots.

Prepare for the freezer

Puree the mixture and put in a plastic freezer bag. Squeeze out all the air and flatten the bag to freeze. This way, you can simply break off chunks to use without having the thaw the entire bag. Alternatively, you can freeze in ice cube trays or single portion bags. Don’t add cheese until you plan to use the pesto – it doesn’t freeze well. 

Toss with pasta, rice, potatoes

For a quick lunch or dinner, thaw the pesto and toss with pasta or rice and add a generous helping of high-quality grated parmesan, romano or asiago cheese. You can embellish with chopped tomatoes, fresh slivers of red onion or anything else that catches your eye. Add silken tofu or plain Greek yogurt to any pesto when serving for added nutrition.

I’ve listed a classic pesto recipe below but check out the recipe page for chard, red pepper and garlic scape pesto recipes.

Classic Pesto

3 cloves garlic

2 c. fresh basil leaves

¼ c. nuts

1 ½ t. salt

¼ t. pepper

½ cup olive oil

3 oz. Parmesan

Combine all ingredients except oil and cheese in blender or processor. Add half the oil. Process while adding other half the oil. Stir in cheese as you serve.

Ugly Fruit

Ugly tomatoes


Let’s be honest – none of us is perfect. Including the vegetables we so carefully nurture in our gardens. But why shun the forked carrot, the split beet or the knobby tomato in favor of their more perfect counterparts? If a peach has a bruise, can’t we just cut it out and enjoy the rest of the peach?

Food waste is an international issue, and one of the best ways to help stop food waste is to shift our thinking to accepting imperfect vegetables and fruits in our own kitchens and at our tables. 

I’ve recently become acquainted with a wonderful organization called Bounty and Soul (https://bountyandsoul.org/), whose mission is to get food and nutrition and wellness education into everyone’s hands and to build community while doing it. I get to help out with cooking demonstrations and food distribution at their markets. 

Bounty and Soul market

Every week I see wonderful smiles as people from all types of life walk away with not only free food, but information on nutrition bringing the food to their tables. Much of the food is donated by local farmers, markets and groceries, and the truth is that it’s not the picture perfect produce you see in the grocery store. It is all perfectly serviceable and delicious, just not perfect in appearance. 

The French started a national campaign several years ago called “The Inglourious Fruit.” It was a public relations campaign to get French citizens to slow food waste by purchasing and eating those fruits and vegetables that are not perfect. These were discounted in grocery stores and markets, and the campaign was a huge success. 

There is a new website from which you can order imperfect vegetables and fruit and have it delivered right to your door. Check out https://www.imperfectfoods.com/ for great information on food waste, not to mention access to wonderful produce. Their slogan is “Eat Ugly With Us”. 

For my own resolution to reducing food waste, I’ve started keeping all my vegetable trimmings and am using them to make a delicious broth for soups. As I trim vegetables for a meal, I make sure to wash the leftovers well (getting all the dirt out of the onion top), and then throw them in a bag in the freezer. Once I have a bag full of not-so pretty beet greens, carrot tops, leek greens, parsley, mushrooms stems and cilantro stems, I put them in a slow cooker along with the remains of tomatoes and a few garlic cloves. I cover with plenty of water and let simmer twelve hours or so. 

Once it’s done, I either strain the broth, squeezing out all the liquid I can, or I puree it (depending on what vegetables I’ve used). With a seasoning adjustment, this becomes the base for a delicious, nutritious soup. You can use it right away or freeze it for later. 

“Glut” sauce ready to roast

My other favorite way to save the uglies is to make a batch of “glut” where everything goes in to roast and then gets pureed for a pasta sauce or spaghetti sauce base. This is the perfect way to use all of those tomatoes toward the end of summer. You can add any other vegetables and herbs you have an abundance of. It will taste a little different each time, but that’s the fun! Because it is milled, you don’t have to core the tomatoes or peel anything. Simply make sure everything is washed well. 

Sauce for the freezer

6 lbs. tomatoes, quartered (or for an eggplant-based sauce, substitute eggplants)

1 ½ c. coarsely chopped carrots, tops and all

1 ½ c. coarsely chopped celery

1 ½ c. coarsely chopped onion

9 gloves garlic, chopped

6 T balsamic vinegar

1 bay leaf

1 ½ T fresh thyme, oregano, basil, parsley

1 ½ t. salt

1 T. pepper

Roast 45 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Run through a food mill, bag and freeze. Makes 2 quarts. Use for pasta sauce, over fish or chicken, or use as a base for chili or minestrone.