Garden to Kitchen: Cooking Up Your Crop

My garden jewelry box has been flung open this month. Amethyst eggplant, golden summer squash, emerald bell peppers, and dripping ruby clusters of ripe cherry tomatoes. The late-summer northwest garden is a treat for the eyes and the tastebuds.

Stuck at home during the pandemic, many of us have embraced our vegetable patches with more gusto than in years past. My husband and I have cultivated every slice of sun-graced earth and even some shady areas, too. At last count, we had a total of 15 tomato plants, a good number of them volunteers. There are also wax beans, hot peppers, ruffly kale, lettuce, pumpkin, and green zucchini, an easy novice-gardener win.

The result of all this tilling, weeding, and sowing is a bounty that has made me reach for my cookbooks, and the internet, wondering what I’m supposed to do with this many cherry tomatoes. If you have found yourself in a similar situation, with loads of veggies and neighbors who walk the other way when they see you approaching with boxes of summer squash, then read on. The meditative self-soothing you enjoyed while planting and tending your garden can now be relived while cooking up your crop.

You say tomato, I say salsa

But seriously, what am I supposed to do with fruit from 15 tomato plants? One August evening, I plucked three still-warm heirloom tomatoes and made a simple salad with basil, olive oil, salt, cucs, and shallot. Another day for lunch, I sliced thick brandywine tomatoes and layered them between equally beefy slices of buffalo-milk mozzarella, and then drizzled Fini Modena vinegar across the whole plate for a Caprese salad that took me right back to Southern Italy.

And what is nicer than a bubbly beverage and a bowl of salty tortilla chips on a humid summer evening? Go on and pair those chips with homemade pico de gallo from your own tomatoes. Really, it’s just onion, salt, cumin, garlic, lime, cilantro, some oil, some vinegar…and voilà, you’re in chip-dippin’ heaven. Or, if you have corn in your garden, opt for corn-tomato-avacado salsa.

Where did all these eggplants come from?

I am surprised by my prolific eggplants because I didn’t think it was hot enough in the Northwest for them to do much. But, they have been providing slick-skin offerings quickly, too small for stuffed eggplant, but just right for eggplant enchiladas. The Moosewood Cookbook is an oldie but a goodie. If you’re cutting back on your meat consumption or embracing a Meatless-Monday schedule, then this recipe trove should be in our kitchen library.

Moosewood author Mollie Katzen’s recipe for eggplant-almond enchiladas calls for two medium eggplants, jack cheese, and toasted almonds among other things. The nuts give the dish a smoky crunch that will make your family want a second helping. I also love a baked dish like this because I can make extra and have dinner planned for another night—just heat, add a dollop of sour cream, and enjoy.

Zucchini overload

Gone are the days of bringing in all your extra produce—especially enormous green zucchinis—to the office break room and leaving them there for your colleagues to pick over and take home. Now more than ever, no one wants your extra squash. But people do want bread. Add those zucchinis into a soft loaf of cinnamon-spiced and lemon-zested goodness, and watch your family and friends gobble them up.

Zucchini bread can also be frozen for three months. Make it now and then enjoy it in late November with a cup of hot tea when your summer garden is a distant memory. EatingWell offers a tasty version created by Mable Clarke that includes ground pecans.

Save your larger zucchinis for zuccanoes, or stuffed zucchini, another hit from the Moosewood Cookbook. Piled with rice, minced onion, almonds, mushrooms, and a bit of cheese and spices, these zuccanoes make for a filling dinner alongside a simple salad in a light vinaigrette.

Savor and share

If your crop is more than you will ever be able to eat and your freezer is full, then consider doing some stress-busting baking and then signing up to share the bounty with a local charity. In Seattle, YouthCare needs volunteers to cook meals for vulnerable teens. You could also share with your community via Nextdoor or the Buy Nothing Facebook group for your area.

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Regina Winkle-Bryan

Regina Winkle-Bryan is back home in the Northwest after a decade in Spain where she wrote mostly about food, travel, and design. Originally from Portland, she now calls Seattle home and spends her weekends exploring the endless beauty of the Puget Sound. Learn more about her at https://reginawinklebryan.contently.com/



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