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.

Bean soup

Bean soup made with adzuki beans

I always keep canned beans in my pantry. And, now that I have an instant pot, I’m gaining confidence in cooking them from scratch as well. Before the instant pot, my favorite thing to do was put on a pot of beans and promptly burn them since they have to cook so long. Lost a lot of good pots that way.

Another dirty little secret is that I have dribs and drabs of leftover vegetables, meats and grains in bags in the freezer. I cannot stand to waste food, so if there’s a little bit left, I’ll freeze it for use in soup later. Labeled of course.

Anything goes

The great thing about soup is that you can add simply anything to it and have unique flavors. Leftover bits of chicken or turkey with white beans and noodles make a great soup. Add some swiss chard or spinach, a can of chopped tomatoes and it turns into something different. As vegetables start coming in from the markets and our gardens, change up your soup accordingly. If hot soup isn’t appealing in the summer, remember that adding chiles will make you sweat, cooling you off. And, try bean soups cold!

Start with broth

The basic recipe for a soup is to start with good vegetable, chicken or beef broth. You can make an even richer soup with bone broth. Use store- bought if you don’t have time to make your own – you’ll still get a wonderful pot of soup (no guilt!). Saute some onion and garlic in a bit of broth or olive oil to get your flavor started. 

Sauteeing kale with carrots and peppers

Add protein and grain

Then add a protein like black beans, garbanzos, canellini or kidney beans. Use leftovers from a roasted chicken (again, store bought roasted chicken is good), leftover Thanksgiving turkey (you know you have some, somewhere in the freezer), tempeh or tofu. If you want to use cheese, add it at the very end. 

Next, add a cooked grain like brown or white rice, farro, quinoa, or a pasta such as egg noodles, farfalle, linguini or orzo. Whole wheat pastas which may not be as palatable for spaghetti are hearty and delicious in soup.

The best part – vegetables

Then comes the best part – the vegetables. Add whatever you have in the fridge or freezer – cabbage, corn, peppers, spinach, broccoli, carrots, kale, Swiss chard, cauliflower or zucchini. The vegetable combinations can vary depending on the flavor you want. 

Season according to the flavor you desire. For Mediterranean, use thyme, oregano, a pinch of sage and basil. For Mexican, cumin and chili powder give it a kick. For Italian, use oregano, basil and smoked paprika. 

Although you really don’t need a recipe to make a great bean soup, here’s a start on a Mexican bean soup: 

Recipe for Bean soup

Black bean soup

2 cups broth

1 large clove garlic, minced

½ spanish onion, chopped 

1-2 cups black beans, rinsed and drained if using canned

½ bag frozen corn

½ cup chopped sweet peppers

¼ chopped chili peppers

½ c. diced carrots

½ t. smoked or regular cumin

½ t. chili powder

Saute garlic and onion in two tablespoons of broth for about a minute. Add peppers, carrots and corn and saute for another minute. Add beans and seasonings and simmer for about 45 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt and a splash of sriracha if you like more heat. 

Roots!

Purple Haze carrots

It seems that when we are sequestered indoors, our bodies yearn for warmth, both internally and externally. We naturally crave those earthy flavors of root vegetables such as carrots, beets, parsnips and even rutabagas. So, plan a visit to the winter farmers’ market or raid your own root cellar for any combination of delectable root vegetables. Cook up your roots into a rich soup (with the added sweetness of a butternut squash), dish up a bowl, cut a slice of rustic bread, and pull your chair up next to the fire.

Start planting roots crops

It’s time to start planting root crops. They are perhaps the easiest of vegetables to grow. Cool season crops, they bracket the garden season or can be planted multiple times for yield all season long. You can put the seeds into the garden as early as possible. The seeds will not be harmed even by heavy frost, so as soon as the thaw starts, get them out there. If your garden is prepared, you can even cast the seeds on the snow to get the earliest start as soon as they hit the soil.

Purple Haze carrots

Don’t forget fall planting

At the other end of the season, start planning the fall crop in July. Carrots and beets go in around the middle of the month, turnips the first week.

Easy to grow

Root crops grow well in any spot in the garden that receives six to eight hours of sun. The most critical element to healthy growth is preparing the soil deeply to have good tilth, with nothing to impede the growth of the roots. We’ve all seen carrots with forked roots – this usually is due to the tender root hitting something it cannot grow through so it moves off at an angle. The soil should be of average fertility and the plants should be mulched to keep the soil moisture even.

Chioggia beets

Plant frequently

Planting every two or three weeks will keep you in carrots and beets all season. My favorite beet is Chioggia, an Italian beet that is creamy white or pink with dark rings. The best feature is that these beets will stay tender all season, not becoming woody as some beets do when left in the ground.

Spiralized Chioggia beets

And now for the soup: 

Winter Root Vegetable Soup

Root vegetable soup

You really can use any combination of vegetables. Vary the flavors with different combinations and add herbs to give you further nuances of flavor. This soup is creamy, savory and slightly sweet, an amazing comfort on a cold winter evening. 

Use one cup of vegetables for each serving. This recipe serves  6-8 although you can cut it half easily. It also freezes well. 

Beets, carrots and parsnips ready for roasting

6-8 cups root vegetables (any combination of carrot, beet, parsnip, rutabaga, turnip, salsify, celery root, sweet potato, butternut squash) cut into ½ inch pieces

2 cloves garlic

¼ c. olive oil

1-2 t. salt as needed

¼ – ½ t. fresh ground black pepper (to taste)

1 small sweet onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 quart chicken or vegetable broth

½ t. dried or 1 T. fresh herbs of choice – basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a low-sided broiler or jellyroll pan, place vegetables and drizzle with about two tablespoons of olive oil. Roast in a preheated oven for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until all vegetables are tender when pierced. Sprinkle with salt immediately upon removing from the oven. 

Roasted vegetables ready to puree

While vegetables are roasting, in a large pot over medium heat, saute onions and celery in the remaining olive oil, stirring until the onions are translucent. Add pepper, herbs and stock. Bring to a simmer. Stir in roasted vegetables and heat through. Puree with an immersion blender or in small batches in a food processor or blender. If soup is too thick, thin with water, more broth, or creamy it up with half and half or coconut milk. 

Ladle into bowls, grate fresh pepper on top and drizzle with fruity olive oil. Serve with crusty, rustic bread and a crisp cabbage salad.

Aromatherapy

Sauteeing onions in butter

You can certainly have your lavender (I love it too) and your patchouli. But when I need scent to make me feel better, I turn to the kitchen. There is nothing as uplifting as the aroma of sauteeing onions in butter. It smells delicious and reminds me of happy times in my grandmother’s and mother’s kitchens. It is the great beginning for just about anything savory and tongue pleasing.

Spinach with onions

Minced onion and garlic sauteed in a little olive oil and a touch of butter brings a simple green like spinach to something sublime. This is a wonderful dish all by itself, but can also be added to soups, stews, risotto, eggs………only limited by imagination.

One of my favorite breakfasts:

Spinach and Avocado Toast

(called tartine if you want to be fancy – a tartine is a slice of bread with a sweet or savory topping.

1 medium bunch spinach, coarsely chopped

¼ onion, chopped finely

1 T. olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 slices whole grain bread

Grainy brown mustard

2 oz. your choice of cheese

½ avocado (optional)

spinach toast with avocado and sriracha sauce

Sriracha (optional)

Saute onion and spinach in olive oil until the spinach wilts. Salt and pepper to taste.  Toast bread, spread with mustard and pile on spinach and avocado if using. Top with cheese. Broil until cheese melts.

Creamy Mushroom Soup

Creamy mushroom soup with a swirl of sriracha

If you are a mushroom fan (believe it or not, some are not), this is a delectable, warming way to use just about any kind of mushrooms.

Vitamins galore

Packed with over a dozen minerals and vitamins, including copper, potassium, magnesium, zinc and B vitamins, mushrooms also contain antioxidants which help protect cells from damage and reduce chronic disease and inflammation. Also, mushrooms contain Vitamin D, the only produce that does, and you can increase that amount by setting your mushrooms on the windowsill for more sun exposure.

Immune system, depression

If you look up mushrooms and the immune system you’ll find all sorts of research showing how different types can boost your immune system, lower cholesterol, decrease anxiety and depression, improve sleep and clear brain fog. We’re not talking magic mushrooms here – just the culinary ones that are readily available.

Roasted mushrooms lend an even deeper flavor

Mushroom varieties

The standard white mushroom is perfectly acceptable, but you can give the soup added flavor with portobellos, shiitakes, or any other wild mushrooms. The only one recipe doesn’t work well with is the puffball – they are simply too mushy when cooked this way. Serve with whole grain crusty bread and a fresh salad for a complete, easy meal.

Sliced portobello mushrooms

Creamy Mushroom Soup

3 oz. mushrooms sliced
½ medium onion diced
1 clove garlic minced
2 T. butter
2 c. chicken stock
¼ c. white wine
1 medium russet diced
½ c. heavy cream
Salt and pepper

Sauté mushrooms in 1 T. butter; set aside. Sauté onion and garlic in remaining butter until soft. Add stock, potatoes and wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are soft, 20-25 minutes. Add half the mushrooms to the pan and puree with a stick blender. Add remaining mushrooms and cream. Warm but don’t boil. Serves 2.

Vegan option:

Replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock. Replace the heavy cream with coconut milk. Saute in olive oil.

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. 

Pumpkins and squash

All things pumpkin!

The nip of frost in the air and the smell of wood smoke outdoors are sublime companions to the scents of cinnamon baked apples and nutmeg-laced butternut squash in the kitchen. This is the perfect time to raid the last of the farmers’ markets and pumpkin farms to pick up the end-of-season bargain squash in every hue and flavor. Load the car with pie pumpkins, buttercups, Turk’s turbans, blue hubbards and kubochas.

Storing squash and pumpkins

Winter squash and pumpkins can be stored for months in a cool basement if you wash them with soapy water and dry them well. Store on wire racks in a cold room. A basement that stays in the 50’s is just about the right temperature.

Pumpkins are king

Red Pumpkin

Pumpkins are the kings of winter squash. Pumpkin pie made from fresh pumpkin is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted, and pumpkin is also delicious when baked and mashed like potatoes. Look for small pie pumpkins, cheddar pumpkin, Cinderella pumpkin and pink or green pumpkins.

Easy to bake

Butternut squash ready for baking

Although often daunting because of the size, all it takes to bake most winter squashes is to cut them in half and invert them on a rimmed cookie sheet. You can remove the seeds before baking, especially if you want to toast the seeds, or you can bake with the seeds intact and remove them after baking. They come out more easily this way.

Bake for an hour or so at 350 degrees, depending on the size of the squash. Serve with butter, brown sugar, maple syrup or stuffed with whatever sounds luscious. All winter squashed are cooked the same way, and can be interchanged in almost any recipe.

Freeze it

The cooked flesh freezes well, and if you measure it into freezer bags in one cup batches, it’s ready to pull out for use whenever the mood hits to make muffins or squash bread. Or soup!

Spaghetti squash

Spaghetti squash and pie pumpkins

Spaghetti squash is a little different in that when it is cooked, you can separate the flesh into strands that really do resemble spaghetti. The “spaghetti” is delicious with a little butter and parmesan or even spaghetti sauce. And it doesn’t have the high calories of pasta.

My favorite recipe of the season is squash or pumpkin soup, flavored in any number of ways.

Easy Squash Soup

small butternut squash, pumpkin or other winter squash
1 c. chopped onion
2 t. oil
5 c. chicken or vegetable broth
2 T. molasses
1 t. curry powder or 2 T. red curry paste
¾ t. salt
1/8 t. cayenne or more to taste
⅔ c. half and half or coconut milk
Sliced red sweet or chili peppers for garnish

Mix onions with oil and spread on pan around squash. Roast at 425 45 minutes or until tender. Scoop out pulp, measure about three cups, and add with rest of ingredients to heavy pot. Bring to boil and simmer 5 minutes. Puree in blender and return to pan. Add half and half or coconut milk and warm until heated.

Serve with a drizzle of Sriracha or coconut milk, sliced red chilis, crumbled crisp bacon if you have meat eaters in the house, or chopped parsley or cilantro if desired.

                                                                                ©Kate Jerome 2019