It’s harvest season – the tastiest time of year! All of the delicious produce is at your local farm stand, in the stores and, if you’re like me, maybe even in your own backyard. Every year, I plan to have a small garden with a tomato plant and some basil until my husband decides that he wants to try his hand at planting all the things. Some years we are successful and some years we are not. I have noticed that each year something fails and something is bountiful, but it is never the same veggies that yield a bumper crop year-to-year.
This year, I have found myself overrun with tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, zucchini and carrots.
Now I’m not complaining, but trying to figure out what to do with it all can certainly become overwhelming. After several years of experience, I have figured out a few different ways to get the most out of my garden. Here are a few tips I have picked up along the way.
If this is your first year growing a garden and you feel like you can’t keep up with all the veggies, there is no shame in offering them to neighbors, friends, and co-workers. We have actually traded veggies with our neighbor this year as she grew some different things than we did and also found herself with an abundance.
Of course, not everything freezes well, but some things do. I like to make sauces and soups in the Fall and Winter months, so I freeze my tomatoes, carrots, cilantro and basil. For the tomatoes, I simply pick them off the vine when they have just started turning orangey-red and allow them to ripen on the counter. Once ripe, I put them in a freezer bag and into the freezer they go! When ready to use, simply defrost them on the counter and they will slip out of their skins. You can seed, core and chop them up for soups or sauces.
For my carrots, I plan an afternoon of picking, peeling and chopping. Once they are all chopped up, I put them into a freezer bag and into the freezer, and they are ready to go when I need them for soups all winter.
My herbs, like cilantro and basil, require a little more care and effort. I chop them up finely and put them in ice cube trays. I then pour some olive oil into the ice cube tray to cover the herbs and freeze. Once the cubes are frozen, I pop them out of the ice cube tray and put them into a labeled freezer bag. The herbs are now ready to flavor soups and stews when I need them. I just put the frozen cube into my hot soup or stew and let it melt before serving.
Of course you can eat your produce all sorts of ways – raw, grilled, sauteed, baked. The possibilities are endless once you do a quick Pinterest search. One of my favorite recipes this time of year is a ratatouille stew. It is delicious – if you like the taste of veggies (which my husband does not, and thus why I feel like I need to add that statement). And, it is really versatile. It can be served on top of rice or pasta for a dinner or it can be served with an over-easy egg on top and a slice of toast for breakfast.
To make this easy stew, you’ll need: tomatoes (canned or fresh), zucchini, eggplant, onion, garlic, basil (dried or fresh), 2 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper. In addition, you can use whatever other garden veggies you have on-hand. Peppers and squash are good substitutes or add-ins.
Now, when I say easy, I mean easy. First, there are no measurements (except for the olive oil) as you are using what you have on-hand in whatever quantity you have it. Second, the only work you have to do is chop all the veggies up into bite-sized pieces. And third, you can dump almost everything in the pot at once and walk away. But, you should probably come back at some point to make sure nothing burns. You’ll find the recipe below.
Do you have any recipes that you love making with your harvest or farmers market finds? Drop them in the comments!
Ratatouille Stew Recipe
Olive oil, 2 Tbsp
Garlic, 3-4 cloves peeled and minced
Onion, peeled and chopped (in whatever quantity you have)
Tomatoes, fresh or canned (in whatever quantity you have)
Zucchini, chopped (in whatever quantity you have)
Eggplant, chopped (in whatever quantity you have)
Basil, fresh or dried
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil in a stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the onion, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, salt and pepper. If using dried basil, add a few teaspoons now. Stir to combine. Let the veggies cook down until they are softened and liquid is released, stirring occasionally, about 30-45 minutes. If using fresh basil, add a handful now and stir to combine. Serve either by itself or over rice or pasta with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Enjoy! If you have leftovers, you can store them in the fridge for up to five days. This dish freezes well.