It’s the middle of August and the gardens are overflowing. Finally, after months of watering, weeding, pruning, and whispering sweet nothings into their little plant ears, we have buckets of produce coming from the gardens.
But what do we do with all of it?
I love a cheeseburger and a salad as much as the next person, but I can’t eat them for every meal to keep up with all the tomatoes I’ve got. And truthfully, by now, I’m completely over cucumbers. Who even likes them? I don’t anymore. Get them away from me.
August is when I’ve got enough of everything to start prepping for winter. I love eating fresh from the garden in the summer, but there’s something deeply satisfying about preparing food you’ll eat later when the days are short and we’re wearing sweatshirts.
I think it’s important to mention I don’t can things. Everything I prep for winter can be frozen or is shelf-stable for a few months before we eat it. I don’t have the desire to can food that will last for years. I grow what we can eat this year (summer and winter), and then I grow it again next year. I don’t want to dedicate tons of shelf space to 2019’s tomatoes or 2017’s jalapenos. Plus, I like to give a lot of what I grow away. Thinking I have to keep everything to prep for years to come limits the amount of food I can share with friends, family, and strangers. I don’t want to keep creating things that only benefit me and my family.
Okay, so here’s what I consistently do with our garden produce. I’ll add things to this list as I try them or find new favorites. Some things are recipes I’ve created or tweaked, some are things I’ll link to from others, and some are just super simple that don’t really need directions. Also! There are lots of great things to do with this food that I might be missing, this is not a comprehensive list. It’s more of a starting place that teaches you some of the yummy things you can do with your veggies. And finally: you don’t even need a garden to make all of this stuff. Can’t garden? Don’t want to garden? No big deal, just grab your produce from a local farmer’s market or grocery store. There’s no shame in not wanting to grow your own food. We all love delicious things to eat and that’s the point here.
I grow grape and cherry tomatoes then some variety of big ones. This year they’re big boys, last year they were beefsteak. I don’t really think you can go wrong with whatever you pick. I like the small ones because you can put them on salads and pizza really easily. I halve them and add them to any pasta or tomato dish I’m making. I LOVE to halve them, lightly salt them, and then slow roast them in the oven at 250. It takes 2-3 hours, but they get super sweet and delicious. Some years, I’ll store them in a jar with olive oil and garlic cloves (the oil preserves them). Right now, I’m keeping a container in the fridge to eat with eggs or so I can just pop a few on my plate with every meal. They literally taste like candy, no lie.
I use the pizza sauce recipe found in Homegrown and Handmade by Deborah Niemann for tomato sauce and pizza sauce. I don’t normally have 45 lbs of tomatoes at one time, I just don’t plant that many, but I halve or quarter the recipe and it’s amazing. I just let it simmer a little less if I want pasta sauce and a little longer if I want pizza sauce. You can’t really mess it up; I do like to throw in more crushed red peppers sometimes to make spicy pizza sauce. It’s so good I could eat it with a spoon.
I started making a tomato soup recipe last summer from a recipe I found on Instagram. I’ve tweaked it slightly and it’s great because you can basically throw in any vegetable you have and it works:
14 oz. tomatoes (canned or fresh)
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper
1 celery stalk, diced
1 small carrot, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, diced
1 cup chicken broth (use vegetable stock if you don’t want animal products)
1 bay leaf
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup basil
-Preheat oven to 450 degrees
-Spread halved tomatoes on a baking sheet, add salt & pepper, and 1/4 cup EVOO
-roast for 25 minutes
-heat remaining oil in saucepan and add celery, onion, carrot, and garlic (zucchini is good here too! basically any vegetable can be thrown in)
-cook veggies until soft, about 10 minutes
-add roasted tomatoes and juice, broth, bay leaf, and butter
-simmer for 15-20 minutes until tender
-puree with an immersion blender or let it cool slightly and use a food processor in small batches
I store this in quarters in the freezer and we eat delicious, homemade tomato soup all winter long. If you’re feeling fancy, you can add some heavy cream to the soup when you reheat it.
I feel like it would be illegal to skip the suggestion to make salsa, so here it is. I don’t have a specific recipe to suggest. Just chop up lots of tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, garlic, and green peppers. Add cilantro, lime juice, and more salt than you feel is healthy. Then let it sit in the fridge overnight or eat it immediately. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
Every summer, I have way more cucumbers than necessary and I promise next summer I’ll plant less. So then I plant less and the plants just produce more. It’s like a curse. Besides just eating them fresh, I love these two recipes: Thai cucumber salad and Shannan Martin’s 10-minute refrigerator pickles.
Thai cucumber salad from my aunt
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. salt
-combine the above ingredients in a bowl and set aside
Combine in a second bowl:
2 large cucumbers, peeled and sliced
3 green onions
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
-pour dressing over cucumber mixture, stir, and enjoy (this is good to eat immediately or after a few hours in the fridge; it doesn’t stay crunchy if you let it sit a day or two)
For Shannan’s DELICIOUS cucumbers, you’ll need to go to her Instagram account. Watch her quick video and then screenshot the recipe. I could explain it here, but you need to get all her tips that I don’t have. I feel pretty strongly about this recipe. I’ve tried countless pickle recipes over the years and nothing has been that great. Ellie is obsessed with pickles and eats a few jars a week. I’ve never been able to make homemade pickles she’ll eat until now. Also, I don’t even like pickles that much, but now I’m eating these for breakfast and lunch with sharp cheddar and some roasted tomatoes. It feels like the most decadent treat.
This is my go-to pickled jalapeños recipe. The first time I made them, I realized how gross store-bought jalapeños were and vowed to never ever buy them again. We ran out this summer before the jalapeños were ready and buying a jar at the grocery store physically hurt.
I don’t have a specific jalapeños poppers recipe, but that’s another way I use up a lot of our peppers. We had poppers and Spanish rice for dinner just this week. I let some peppers grow bigger on the vein so they hold a good amount of the meat mixture. I also slice and freeze bigger ones for winter. I make sure we always have a batch for the Super Bowl in February and we’ll eat them about once a month as well.
Then the normal suspects: in salsa, on meat in the crockpot, in soup, on eggs, etc.
This is my first year growing butternut squash. I go out at least once a day to stare at the 15-ish squash ripening on my arches and get so happy. I’m specifically growing all these for this spicy Thai butternut squash soup recipe. I could eat it every day topped with a little Everything But the Bagel seasoning and die a happy woman. I am very dedicated to this soup and have a hard time sharing it with my family, because they don’t appreciate it like they should.
(I’m also growing acorn squash this year. Last year, I grew delicata sqaush. I always try random recipes online when they’re ready to eat, but I consistently come back to slicing them, drizzling sesame seed oil on them, and then roasting them. I could eat them straight off the pan. Okay, not “could,” I DO eat them straight off the pan.)
Zucchini & Yellow Squash
I throw zucchini and yellow squash in everything I make in the summer. Stir fry? Check. Soup? Check. Rice? Check. Omelet? Check. Also, just sautéing it with some onions and EVOO is a delicious side. I make this zucchini bread and freeze it for the winter. (There’s a really good chocolate zucchini bread recipe on that link if you’re into cake for breakfast like I am.)
I enjoy making this southern squash casserole every summer even though my family hates it. I don’t have a favorite recipe, but making squash fritters is always a hit with yellow squash. I can’t seem to ever grow a variety that has soft skin, so I end up peeling mine before using them, but it doesn’t seem to mess up any recipes.
I grow tomatillos specifically for this roasted tomatillo salsa recipe. It is to die for. I make batches to freeze and then in the winter, if I show up at your house with a container, you know you’re special because this stuff doesn’t just come out for anyone. I ration it all winter so we can never be without. It’s also good to put on chicken and sit in the crockpot all day. Roasted tomatillo salsa chicken is a delicious and easy winter meal.
Truthfully, there are other uses for tomatillos but why even bother? I’ve tried soups before and they were good, but I just can’t quit that salsa. No apologies.
Random Other Stuff
-I grow lots of basil to make pesto. I make it without pine nuts then freeze it in ice cube trays. Once they’re frozen, I store them in freeze bags and pull out a few for dinner when we need it. Pesto pasta is a staple in our house throughout the winter. But it can also be thawed for a charcuterie board, to dip with bread, to put on pizza, etc.
-I grow green peppers every year; mostly I use them for fajitas or soup or salsa, but we also stuff them with rice and meat for dinner or freeze them for later.
-I grow peppermint and spearmint every year, rarely use it, then let it go to seed. This is annoying, and I probably won’t stop doing it.
-This year I grew cubanello peppers for the first time. Just four small plants in pots next to the garden beds. They’re good to throw in with any meat you have in the crockpot. It added a little kick without being super spicy.
-Chris requested banana peppers for the first time this year. I planted four plants and that’s way more than we need. Banana pepper plants are crazy. I’ve just been pickling them for winter, using them for salads, sandwiches, and pizzas now. Also, if we’re friends in real life, I’ve probably tried to give you 3-5 lbs of these recently. I’m so sorry, it’s just that they’re taking over our lives.
This post would seem to indicate we eat a lot of pizza. While I’m not sure that’s completely accurate, I’m very happy to show up on the internet and pretend we eat pizza every day.
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