Top Ten Ways to Use Up the Glut of Summer Vegetables
By Allison Goodings
My grandmother had a vegetable patch the size of our entire city backyard, maybe even bigger in my exaggerated child memory. My grandparents lived in rural Manitoba, where cutting 10 acres of grass each week was standard, and having an enormous vegetable garden was completely the norm. As both Baba & Guido came from Ukrainian immigrant families and grew up in the depression of the 30s, there was no such thing as glut in their minds – only not enough. Even as times moved on and Baba was able to enjoy a more comfortable retirement with my grandfather, it became apparent to me that her vegetable “patch” would always remain enormous. One year she told me she was cutting back – “only two rows of potatoes this year” she promised. But as each row was 30 feet long, it still seemed like an awful lot to me! I did enjoy pulling carrots out of the ground, rinsing them in the rainwater bucket and munching on them whole. I also loved the “cold room” in the basement, filled in the winter with potatoes, three different kinds of onions, garlic, and Baba’s homemade raspberry wine, not to mention the chest freezer filled with wild mushrooms, blueberry pies and the rows and rows of canned tomatoes on the shelves. For her this wasn’t glut, this was plenty.
Sadly, most of us don’t have enormous vegetable gardens or cold cellars to store things during the winter – if you do, you’re lucky! But many of us have instances when the gods of plenty bless us with more tomatoes/zucchinis/pears then we know what to do with. Whether your backyard garden over-floweth, or you got coerced into buying a bushel of peppers by the charming man at the farmers market, hopefully you can find some help for using up and preserving your summer vegetables in the tips below. Love the glut!
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- Tomatoes – Tomatoes are sneaky. While they start out as such adorable tiny plants at the nursery, many of us never seem to remember how large and fruitful they can become in August. And then BOOM – you’ve got too many tomatoes, all ripe at once! While there’s nothing lovelier than a simple toasted tomato sandwich on a summer afternoon (fresh bread, a little mayo, a little S&P…), a big bushel of toms needs a much bigger plan of attack. Simply canning the tomatoes as a basic sauce is one way of ensuring that you’ll be able to get creative with them later – plain tomato sauce can be pumped up into something garlicky and Italian or spicy and Mexican very easily during the winter months. If you fancy making a hearty vegetable-laden sauce, you’re probably better off freezing the sauce in portions, as proper canning requires the contents to be at a certain acidity level and too many onions, garlic and peppers in your sauce will throw off that balance. Alternatively, you can try your hand at some zesty salsa or spicy chilli sauce, which will definitely bring some sunshine to your kitchen in the cold dark months of winter!
- Zucchini/Courgettes – After five years of living in the UK, I have finally managed to get the word zucchini out of my vocabulary! The British prefer the French word for this fantastic vegetable, while North Americans tend to stick with the Italian term. But anyway you call it, these green squashes tend to take over in August/September and finding something to do with this harvest can be daunting. Courgettes are so versatile, I could eat them every week – and sometimes we have no choice! Courgette carbonara with penne is a favorite in our house, as is courgette parmigiana. Fiori di Zucca (deep-fried courgette flowers) are a special memory of trips to Rome in years past. In my family, Aunt June’s zucchini soufflé is always a favorite – soak 3 lbs of sliced zucchini in salted water for 30 minutes, then simmer for 15, drain and cool before adding to buttered casserole dish with 4 beaten eggs, 125 ml milk, 1 lb grated mozzarella, 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp baking powder, 4 Tbsp flour, then cover with ½ cup breadcrumbs and dot with butter before baking in 350F oven for 35-45 minutes – delish! And if you can’t eat them all in the summer months, then zucchini relish and pickles will preserve these tender squashes for wintertime enjoyment!
- Berries – Berries are the ultimate jam-making fruit, and a fantastic way to preserve the bounty of summertime. But if you’re in a hurry and don’t have time for the jamming process, berries are perfectly happy to be frozen. Place your blueberries, blackberries or raspberries on a baking sheet and pop into the freezer. Once they have frozen through, transfer to a freezer bag or container. And when you have a craving for fresh blueberry pancakes on a cold Sunday morning in January, you’ll be ready to roll!
- Beans come in many shapes and sizes, so finding many things to do with them shouldn’t be too difficult! How about some perky pickled beans? They are lovely as a garnish in a Bloody Mary or a Bloody Caesar. In our house we love Trofie Pasta Liguria, a short pasta tossed with new potatoes, green beans and basil pesto, and a great way to use up many vegetables that are prevalent in the summer months. And of course you can always blanche and freeze your green beans for future use. They would be great later in the autumn for this update of the Thanksgiving classic green bean casserole.
- Cherries – When cherries are in season, they don’t last very long in my house. But if you do find yourself with a few extra this summer, why not try something completely different? Grappa-soaked cherries were something I had tried before, made by a friend’s Italian father, and boy do they pack a punch! Give ‘em a go!
- Cucumbers – When it comes to preserving cucumbers for use in the winter months, there is really only one option in our house – pickles! From your basic bread & butter variety to a super-garlicky dill, you can be assured that your cukes will have plenty of options. All pickles will keep in the fridge (and some even in the freezer) for a while, although they will lose their crunch as the months move on. Canning pickles is another good option, provided the recipe has a high enough vinegar/sugar content to kill off any nasties. My personal favorite is the garlic/dill refrigerator pickle, which can be made in any glass jar or plastic container you like. Because these aren’t a long-term pickle (you can eat them after a couple of weeks), they don’t have the super sourness that many dills do – instead the garlic and dill flavors really shine through. Simply trim the ends off your small cukes, pack them into a container with a lid, fill the crevices with a few peeled cloves of garlic and tons of dill (stalks, stems and flowers preferred), then cover in a brine of just boiled water (5 cups), coarse salt (2 tbsp) and white vinegar (1 tbsp). Let sit covered on the counter overnight (cukes may turn yellowish, which is ok) before refrigerating for a few weeks.
- Beets – Beets are a vegetable with a large loyal following, but also with many enemies. If you’ve ever tried to get a purple beetroot stain out of a favorite article of clothing, you’ll know what I mean! While I enjoy plain boiled or roasted beets with a Sunday roast, and a zesty pickled beet to spice up a summer picnic, it is borscht, a mainstay of many eastern European countries, that is my favorite use for the humble beetroot. A perfect recipe to use up a variety of summer vegetables, this soup is lovely served warm in the cooler months (we usually double the recipe and freeze half of it), or even cold on a hot day. A dollop of sour cream, a slice of rye bread and a chunk of kielbasa (garlic sausage) would absolutely round out this soup into a proper summertime meal!
- Pears – I know so many people with fruit trees that never know what to do with all the fruit. And in fairness, a dozen bushels of pears is a lot for anyone to deal with! In my hometown of Toronto, there is a great organization that helps make sure that fruit from urban trees is not going to waste – Not Far From the Tree organizes volunteers to pick the fruit which is divided between the volunteers, the tree owner and many needy food banks. If you do find yourself with a bushel of pears this year, there are quite a few great canning recipes that will help you to enjoy their sweetness all year long! How about brandied pears, fantastic spooned over ice cream as a simple dessert? A batch of pear and lemon jam will also hit the spot in the cooler months on a piece of toast in the morning. If you’re feeling like baking, there’s nothing like a chocolate and pear tart to satisfy your sweet tooth!
- Peppers – Well Peter Piper’s got nothing on me! With so many options for your “peck of peppers” other than pickling, where does one begin? A lovely red pepper and garlic jelly would make an excellent gift to the host of a dinner party. In our house, roasted peppers with halloumi and pesto is a favorite starter or light lunch. And if you must pickle your peck of peppers, why not go for marinated roasted red peppers that will last for months and add some peppery pep to your recipes?
- Garlic – Garlic isn’t technically something that needs to be preserved, as it tends to be available all year round. But if you’re a garlic fiend, or trying to keep the vampires away, these two recipes might be right up your alley. Pickled garlic would spice up any antipasti platter, while roasted garlic jelly would make an excellent base for a glaze on roasted meat. Take that, Dracula!
Allison Goodings lives in London, England, and is the recipe writer for the Archer, a local community newspaper in East Finchley. When not feeding her friends and family, planning what to cook for her next meal, or daydreaming about asparagus, she works for the Canadian High Commission.