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.
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!
Have you ever made a dish from a recipe you pulled off the internet, convinced it sounded absolutely delicious, only to find that it was insipid? I did that last night – a casserole using lots of fresh grilled vegetables, eggs, cheese and sourdough bread. What could go wrong?
First of all, I cut the recipe in half and it still made enough for at least five people. It had multitudes of steps, taking me a couple of hours to complete. When it finally rolled out of the oven (heating up the kitchen pretty intensely since it cooked for an hour), it looked good. Bubbly and cheesy. And it tasted like kissing someone through a screen door. Not much flavor, not even rich enough to qualify as comfort food.
I know better. I just don’t cook that way. I get a little crazy this time of year wit the abundance of vegetables and fruits coming in, but it is fun to come up with interesting ways to use them.
Simplicity is best
Most importantly, I need to remember to keep things as simple as possible. A chopped tomato mixed with olive oil, minced fresh garlic, salt and fresh basil is a perfect sauce to toss with hot pasta. Or simply sauteed greens and onions over pasta. No time, not much prep and absolutely fresh and delicious.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a cook, you can learn to prepare fresh wholesome meals without a lot of prep time or a lengthy list of ingredients. And cooking can become an interesting part of your life instead of a chore. It truly is artistry and if you look at it that way, you are an artist!
A simple dessert – fresh fruit galette
I bought a box of produce from a local farmer this week and it came with plums, raspberries and grapes. I made a plum and raspberry galette. Sounds like it may be complicated, but it’s not. And any of the fruits can be swapped for whatever is coming in at the time. Once your fruits are prepared, it takes less than an hour to make including baking time. You could have a different flavor every night of the week. And the possibilities to use vegetables and cheeses make it an endless supply of opportunities.
A galette is simply a rustic pastry. You can make it a dessert or a savory main dish for brunch or dinner.
You can certainly make your own pastry, but puff pastry or pie dough from the freezer is easy and almost always works perfectly. Feel free to experiment with all different types of crust. Use the more delicate crusts with fruits and heartier crusts with vegetables.
3-4 cups fruit – raspberries, strawberries, plums, peaches, grapes, blueberries in any combination 1 pkg. puff pastry or pie crust thawed 6 T. apricot or currant jam (or whatever jam you have in the fridge) 1 egg 1 t. water ½ c. coarse sugar
Roll dough until about 12 inches in diameter. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate dough for 5-10 minutes.
Prepare fruit – you can peel peaches and plums if desired. Slice. If the fruit is particularly juicy, you can toss with 2 T. cornstarch to thicken the juices somewhat. If the fruit is tart, add up to half a cup of sugar.
Heat jam; spread jam in the center of the circle, leaving ¼ inch border around the edge of the dough. Place prepared fruit on top, leaving a 1 ½ -inch border around the edge of the dough.
Fold dough up onto fruit uniformly, pleating and pressing gently so it adheres slightly. Fruit should be exposed in the center. Mix egg and water and lightly brush dough and crimped seams with egg wash. Sprinkle with sugar and bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Add enough water to the remaining jam to produce spreadable consistency; brush jam over fruit for a shiny glaze. Serve warm or at room temperature the same day.
Riffs: asparagus with goat cheese; roasted peppers and roasted eggplant with feta; tomatoes with basil and mozzarella cheese. Season with herbs of choice.
I’m growing Turkish orange, white and Japanese long purple eggplants this year and they are producing like crazy. They are beautiful additions to the garden, with their shiny bright fruits. But now what do I do with them?
Eggplants essentially take on any flavors you combine them with. Their creamy sweet flesh brings a lovely complement to summer meals. And they perform beautifully on the grill so you can keep the heat out of the kitchen. The smokiness from the grill enhances the flavor.
Types of eggplants
Check out the farmers market for interesting varieties. The traditional Italian eggplant is a large dark purple orb, but there are many different types available, particularly at the market. Italian eggplants are generally larger and round or oblong, in shades of purple, white and striped. Asian eggplants are long and slender and come in purple, white, pale purple and pink. And of course, there is my orange eggplant.
Eggplants are fairly delicate so need to be harvested carefully. They have spines on the stems, so take a pair of clippers with you. When harvesting or choosing from the farmers market, select eggplants with shiny, smooth skin. The more they lose their shine, the more bitter they become. Some cooks recommend slicing, salting and letting them sit for a half hour to remove some bitterness, but I’ve found this unnecessary. They sweeten elegantly when they cook.
For the simplest preparation of the large eggplants, simply put the whole fruit on the grill and roll it around until the skin is beautifully charred. This may take an hour – it should be soft and shrunken. Let it cool and peel off the skin. Then you can mash the pulp for baba ganoush or caponata.
Smaller eggplants also perform well on the grill. Put the whole eggplants on a medium-hot grill and close the lid. Turn a few times and remove them to a plate to cool. Once they are cool, slice carefully and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. They pair especially well with the flavor of thyme and feta. Serve as a side to grilled meats or a large fresh salad.
Farmers market strata
Eggplant is a natural companion to tomatoes and summer squash or zucchini, especially since everything is coming in at the same time. Throw together a layered strata with mozzarella and you have a beautiful main dish. Roast the vegetables first for an especially delicious take. Pair it with crusty Italian bread and a fresh salad for a wonderful summer meal.
Eggplants also freeze quite well when cooked although the flesh will not be firm when defrosted. Slice them in half, roast cut side down at 375 for 15-20 minutes depending on the size. Scoop out the flesh and freeze in freezer bags. When thawed, add breadcrumbs, garlic, feta and other seasonings to your taste for a delicious quick dip for fresh vegetables or pita chips.
Eggplant dip (Baba ganoush)
1 medium eggplant
½ medium onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, diced
1 medium red bell pepper
½ c. toasted bread crumbs
¼ c. tahini
¼ t. cumin
1 large tomato, diced
1 T. vinegar
Salt to taste
Cut eggplant in half and roast cut side down on an oiled cookie sheet at 375 about half an hour until soft. Cut the pepper in half and discard seeds and membranes. Flatten with your palm so there is more surface exposed. Roast about half an hour until the skin blackens. Scoop into a bowl and cover with a plate to let the peppers steam further. When cool, remove the peppers and peel off the skin. Scoop out the pulp and discard the skins.
Saute onion and garlic in 2 T. olive oil until soft. Either puree the vegetables in a food processor until smooth or simply mix and leave chunky.
Stir in rest of ingredients, salt to taste and serve at room temperature with pita chips.
Peel and cube a large eggplant. Toss the cubes with olive oil and roast in a 375-degree oven for about half an hour, until tender. Remove from oven and toss while warm with a vinaigrette of your choice. Refrigerate two hours. When ready to serve, toss with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet peppers. Add crumbled feta, chopped fresh basil and more dressing if necessary.
I had a dream about planting lettuce last night. Yup, it’s time to start thinking about the garden.
I love planning the garden, especially since I’m growing my own transplants this year. Planning is such a spirit lifter and the enthusiasm sometimes makes it hard to keep plant numbers in check.
Too Many Tomatoes
I spoke with a gardening friend who said she grew 25 varieties of heirloom tomatoes last year. So, I asked why – could she really use that many tomatoes? Nope – she just wanted to see if she could do it. I get it. I don’t need 25 tomato plants, but there are so many great varieties I want to try. How can I just start one or two of each?
I’m trying really hard to keep my slow gardening mantra in mind. Slow gardening doesn’t mean lazy gardening although it can certainly apply to those of us who don’t want to spend every waking moment worrying about and tending to the garden. But it’s also a way to evaluate what I really want and what I can actually use.
Starting more than I need is okay as long as I have somewhere to place them. I mean with friends. It’s also insurance against losses, should the inevitable happen.
So seeds have been ordered and my calendar is up to date. It’s actually time in my area to start broccoli, eggplant, chard and pac choi next week. Lettuce, spinach and peas have been planted outdoors.
Cook Your Lettuce
And did you know you can cook lettuce? Grilled romaine is delectable and leaf lettuces can be sauteed just like any other greens. Who knew?
Grilled Lettuce Salad
smoky on the outside, cool and crunchy on the inside
1 small head of romaine other tight-headed lettuce
1 T. bleu, feta or goat cheese
Preheat grill or grill pan. Slice lettuce into halves, keeping the core intact to hold the leaves together. Drizzle lettuce halves with olive oil and grill approximately 2-3 minutes a side, just long enough to begin wilting and starting to char. You can serve immediately with more olive oil, balsamic vinegar and cheese or you can chill the lettuce and then chop and serve later with a caesar dressing.