Garden Variety

by Mark R. Vogel

            Like many chefs, I enjoy growing my own herbs and vegetables.  It’s one of the many activities that I love about spring and summer.  My garden consists of certain staples, a cast of regulars that I would not due without, as well as a few potluck items.  The standard players always include tomatoes and hot peppers, as well as the herbs thyme, parsley, basil, oregano, rosemary, and cilantro.  The guest stars vary from season to season and include summer squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, eggplant, and bell peppers.  I like having an abundance of herbs available.  There’s always a fresh supply on hand and it’s a significant cost savings.  Rather than having to shell out a couple bucks every time I need basil or cilantro, only to end up throwing out half of it, I pick only what I need.  Moreover, herbs like rosemary and thyme, if planted in pots, can be brought in for the winter and continue from year to year.  Place them on a sunny windowsill and they should stay vital until the next spring.

            Here are some summer recipes that I make from my garden’s bounty.

           

 

TOMATO & ZUCCHINI GRATIN

 

3 lbs. tomatoes

3 lbs zucchini

Half cup breadcrumbs

Quarter cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon thyme, chopped

1 tablespoon oregano, chopped

Olive oil, as needed

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Slice the tomatoes and zucchini into quarter inch slices.  Overlap them on an oiled sheet tray.  Mix all of the remaining ingredients except the oil and sprinkle over the vegetables.  Drizzle with olive oil and then bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. 

 

GAZPACHO

 

Gazpacho is a cold summer soup that originated in Spain.  It has many different variations both in terms of ingredients and fabrication methods.  Basic ingredients will always include tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, onions, garlic, and some kind of acid, (lemon juice, lime juice, vinegar, or some combination thereof).  From there, other additives include olive oil, tomato juice, tomatillos, croutons, and various types of herbs. 

 

6 medium tomatoes, peeled

1 medium to large Spanish onion

1 cucumber, peeled and seeded

1 poblano pepper, seeds and stem removed

2 jalapenos (optional).

2 cloves garlic

1 small batch of cilantro, stems included, chopped

Juice of 2 limes

Salt and pepper to taste

 

            Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds and then immerse in ice water.  Remove the skins.  Roughly chop the tomatoes, onion, cucumber, peppers, and garlic and puree them in a food processor until the desired consistency is achieved.  You are not seeking to pulverize the vegetables.  I aim for a mildly coarse texture.  Chop the cilantro separately, (it tastes better chopped by hand), then add it, the lime juice and salt and pepper to the soup.  Chill the soup and serve.  If you can chill it overnight so much the better since the flavors will deepen and improve with time.            

Some cooks peel their tomatoes and some do not.  I think peeling them allows for a smoother soup.  Others also seed the tomatoes but this can result in the loss of much of their juice, a vital liquid base for the soup.  If you must seed the tomatoes, do so over a sieve above a bowl so you can capture the juice.  Another option is the addition of canned tomato juice.   I assume some people add this to make the soup more fluid.  But canned tomato juice completely undermines the spirit of this soup, which in my mind is capturing the essence of fresh, unprocessed vegetables. Water and/or ice cubes are also sometimes used as thinners but they will dilute the flavors somewhat. 

If you desire a soup with a finer texture there are better alternatives to canned tomato juice or water.  The first is to increase the time the ingredients spend in the food processor.  If this is not smooth enough, you can then push the soup through a fine sieve. 

Depending on the heat level you desire, you can eliminate or increase the jalapenos, or switch to an even hotter pepper such as serranos.  Poblanos, which contribute negligible heat, can be replaced by bell pepper if you like.

 

FRIED ZUCCHINI

 

2 zucchini, cut into quarter inch slices

Flour, as needed

2 eggs, beaten

Bread crumbs, as needed

Vegetable oil, as needed

Salt and pepper to taste.

 

            Fill a large pot two thirds of the way with oil and heat it to 350 degrees.  Dredge the zucchini in flour and shake off the excess.  Dip in the beaten eggs and then the bread crumbs.  Place in the hot oil until golden brown.  Drain on a rack or paper toweling and season with salt and pepper.   If you prefer not to deep fry you can pan-fry them in a skillet.  Place them in hot oil in a skillet without overcrowding them, and flip when the first side is golden brown. 

 

 

 

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