Some recipe ideas for those home-grown vegetables
In August, my home garden is bursting with vegetables. Finally, all the hard work that began in April or May is paying off. There’s so much that can be done with all the produce. Canning and freezing for use over the winter months is always a good idea, but you can also master a few good and simple recipes for each of the vegetables growing in the garden so you can enjoy some wonderful, fresh and flavorful food on the table each summer night.
We grow onions and herbs in addition to the tomatoes, peppers, squashes, carrots, chard and other greens and root vegetables. The onions and herbs lend more complex flavors to the vegetables no matter how you choose to prepare them. It’s always fun to plan a dinner using only ingredients that came from the garden.
Right now we are inundated with tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers and peppers.
When I was a kid my grandmother made a big ceremony out of the first tomato from my grandfather’s garden. He always grew “Big Boy” tomatoes so each slice was a 5-inch circle of dripping, red flavor. My grandmother’s tomato sandwich recipe is a study in minimalism, but I haven’t changed it because some things just can’t be improved upon. To savor a perfect slicing tomato, spread two slices of goodquality white bread—French baguettes or an Italian loaf (not toasted) are best—with mayonnaise. Top with two or three slices of ripe tomato that has just been picked and is still warm from the sun. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. That’s it. My husband and I made sandwiches from our heirloom pineapple tomatoes a few days ago and agreed that it was one of the best sandwiches we had ever eaten.
For a more creative use for too many tomatoes, make a tomato tart!
To speed things up, buy some ready made pie crusts—the kind
that you unroll and fill. Put the crust in a pie plate and spread the bottom of the crust with a thin layer of goat cheese. Take 3 or 4 tomatoes and cut them in quarters. Squeeze out the extra juice with your hands, then chop the tomatoes into bite-sized chunks. Sprinkle the top with a few pinches of salt and dot the top with another couple of ounces of goat cheese. Julienne some basil and strip some thyme leaves off the stems and distribute evenly over the top of the
tomatoes. Drizzle with a tablespoon of good olive oil. Fold the edges of the pie crust toward the center of the plate so the tomatoes show through in the middle of the tart. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes and cool to room temperature before serving as a side dish.
From a relatively small garden we get ridiculous amounts of green beans and I am able to freeze enough for most of the winter. However, during July and August we also eat green beans at least five times a week just to keep up with them.
My favorite go-to recipe for green beans is this: Steam two pounds of beans for about 8 minutes until they have softened. Drain. In a bowl, put in about 20 cherry tomatoes, cut in half, a handful each of basil and parsley, chopped, a pinch of salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, if desired. Add 1/2 cup of good-quality olive oil and about 1/4 cup of vinegar— I like rice wine vinegar for its smooth, low-acid taste. Add the hot beans to the tomato/herb mix and stir until combined. Let sit for an hour before serving at room temperature.
My second favorite way with green beans is a great side dish for grilled teriyaki-style meat or fish.
Start the recipe the same way as for the previous beans and drain. In a bowl, mix 1/4 cup peanut oil, 3-4 tablespoons of sesame oil and 1/4 cup of low sodium soy sauce. Add just a splash of rice vinegar and a pinch of salt. Meanwhile toast 2-3 tablespoons of sesame seeds with a small amount of oil in a sauté pan. When seeds are golden brown, toss into soy sauce mixture and add hot beans. Stir to combine and serve hot or at room temperature.
When we have more cucumbers than we can handle I make fresh pickles that can be eaten right away, but the flavor improves over the course of a couple of days.
Just get a large mason jar—I like the kind with the wire bales and I keep several sizes around for projects like this. Slice up cucumbers into 1/4-inch slices and fill jar to top. Add several sprigs of mint and fill the jar halfway with vinegar—again I like rice wine. Fill the rest of the jar with very cold water and add 1 teaspoon each of salt and sugar. Put on the lid and shake several times. Start eating in about an hour. These pickles keep for about a week in the refrigerator. The fresh mint is a surprisingly good alternative to dill and the usual pickling spices.
Finally, we grow the Italiantype of frying peppers. They are long and slender and a great addition to any meal. We freeze many of them by just chopping them into one-inch chunks and sealing in a “Seal-a-meal” device. The fresh ones are best grilled. I like to use my grill pan with raised ridges on the stovetop. Take as many peppers as you’d like to grill and cut them in half the long way. Remove the seeds and pound flat with the side of your hand. Brush the pepper halves lightly with olive oil on both sides and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Grill on both sides until some brown appears. Put on a flat plate and drizzle with a little more olive oil, some pepper and more salt, if desired. Let sit for a few hours before serving at room temperature.