That moment you've been waiting for all summer is finally here.
After weeks of weeding, watering and waiting, the garden is finally overflowing with tomatoes, cucumbers, string beans and squash. That's the good part. The bad part is that everything is ready all at once, so you either have to use it or lose it.
I don't have a garden, but I do belong to a farm share, so the past few weeks have been a bit overwhelming. Every Tuesday, I get a seemingly bottomless box of vegetables that I struggle (albeit happily) to keep up with. I know that, although I may be up to my eyeballs in eggplant right now, in another month or two I'll be longing for some freshly made baba ganoush or eggplant parmesan.
Making the most of the harvest is all about having a plan.
Some vegetables never present a problem. For example, greens. Whether they're salad greens, like arugula and romaine, or bitter greens, like dandelion or turnip, they're the first to disappear in my house. Kale usually gets juiced or baked into chips. Collards get sauteed with bacon and onions.
Other vegetables are a bit more difficult to manage. To me, tomatoes have always been a challenge, because I was never able to cook a good sauce. Traditionally, it always came out too bitter and acidic.
But this year, I decided to give it one more try, with a recipe I found on the Internet. The tomatoes are roasted, rather than boiled, thereby giving them a natural sweetness to begin with.
The recipe couldn't be easier and the sauce came out perfectly balanced. Since the initial batch, I've tweaked the recipe to my liking, varying the spices and the vegetables.
Perhaps my favorite thing to make with tomatoes is grilled cheese sandwiches. I perfected my technique two summers ago and now not a week goes by during the summer without at least one dinner of "fancy" grilled cheese and salad.
Here's how I do it: I use a yeasty, spongy ciabatta bread, slathered with butter.
For cheese, my favorites are sharp cheddar, muenster or goat cheese. Then I add a swipe of pesto or caramelized onion jam, maybe some bacon or ham, and a thick slice of fresh tomato.
I grill them until they're golden and toasty and serve with a side salad. One of my favorites is a simple mixture of peppery arugula and diced tomatoes, tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette.
Peppers are another vegetable that roll in by the bushel. One day they're just little flowers; the next day, you've got baskets of shiny green, red, orange, yellow and purple peppers.
I have to admit, peppers aren't my favorite vegetable, but there is one recipe that I love and make huge batches of. That recipe is sausage and peppers.
But not just any sausage and peppers. This recipe is from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything," and is (in my opinion) the best and only sausage and pepper recipe you'll ever need. The meat and vegetables are cooked in just a little bit of olive oil and the juices are created by sweating out the onions and peppers.
When I make it, I slice the vegetables super thin, so they almost meld together. The recipe freezes beautifully, making it the perfect way to utilize all your peppers.
Of course, it goes without saying that canning and preserving are among the best methods for making the most of your garden's bounty. I was always intimidated by the mere thought of canning. It seemed too technical and complicated for me. But then I met Easton writer Sherri Brooks Vinton, who wrote two amazing books, "Put 'Em Up!" and "Put 'Em Up! Fruit." With clear and simple instructions, Vinton takes the mystery out of preserving fruits and vegetables and actually makes the process fun. This fall, I plan on making her recipe for apple and pear sauce.
And speaking of fall, a whole new crop of vegetables is getting ready to be harvested. Patti Popp, owner of Sport Hill Farm in Easton, said that so far, the winter squashes (acorn and butternut) are doing well.
"Also, the delicious salad greens have been loving this weather," she said. "The season ends as it begins, with all the greens." Patti Woods is a freelance writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ROASTED TOMATO SAUCE
(From "A Sweet Pea Chef," www.asweetpeachef.com)
2 lbs. Roma tomatoes, cut in half
5 cloves garlic, smashed
1 medium yellow onion, quartered
1 carrot, unpeeled and chopped into large pieces
2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 tsp. ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 tbsp. olive oil
3-4 basil leaves
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line a baking sheet (with sides at least 1-inch deep) with parchment paper. Lay out the tomato halves (skin-side down), onion, garlic and carrot and sprinkle with salt, pepper and thyme. Try to make this only one layer to allow for maximum roasting. Drizzle olive oil all over.
Bake for 60-75 minutes, or until the edges of the tomatoes and onions begin to turn black. Carefully transfer the roasted contents to a food processor or blender (or a large mixing bowl, if using a stick blender), add the basil leaves and pulse until smooth.
Transfer the pureed contents to a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add thyme, unsalted butter, sugar and more salt or pepper, to taste.
ITALIAN SAUSAGE WITH PEPPERS AND ONIONS
(From Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything")
2 cups sliced onion
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 bell peppers, any color or combo of colors, cored and sliced into strips
Salt and pepper
1 pound spicy or sweet Italian sausage links, sliced diagonally, about 1/2 inch thick
Bring a large skillet to medium heat. Add the onion, cover and cook undisturbed for about 5 minutes, until the onion is dry and almost sticking to the pan. Remove the cover, add the oil, stir and cook for another minute or two. Add the peppers, season with salt and pepper and cook until the vegetables are tender and soft, stirring often, about 10-12 more minutes. Remove the vegetables from the pan and reserve in a bowl.
In the same pan, add the sausage in a single layer and cook over medium heat until nicely browned, about 4 minutes. Flip the sausage slices over and continue cooking until both sides are evenly browned, about another 3-4 minutes. Cut into a piece to determine if the sausage is fully cooked -- it's done when there is barely a pink color in the middle.
Scoop out the sausage with a slotted spoon, reserve, and drain any fat remaining in the pan. Add the sausage, onions and peppers back to the pan, toss together, and cook over medium heat for 1-2 more minutes before serving.
APPLE AND PEAR SAUCE
(From "Put `Em Up! Fruit" by Sherri Brooks Vinton)
½ cup water
¼ cup bottled lemon juice
2 pounds apples
2 pounds pears
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
½ teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
1. Pour the water and lemon juice into a large nonreactive stockpot. Roughly chop the apples and pears, adding them to the pot with the lemon water as you work to prevent browning. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and then simmer, covered, until the fruit is tender, 10 to 20 minutes.
2. Pass the mixture through a food mill to remove the seeds and skins. Return the sauce to the pot and add the sugar and spices, if using. Simmer, stirring, until the mixture is thickened and a dollop of sauce on a plate doesn't weep liquid, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Cool, cover and refrigerate for up to five days. To freeze, cool, then transfer to freezer containers, cover and freeze up to six months.