Monday, September 17, 2007

The Late Summer Garden Harvest

The garden has quieted down from its vegetable chaos of mid-summer. Vines are drying up and production is now limited to tomatoes, basil, peppers, brussel sprouts and kale. We had a lovely cucumber year and put up lots of refrigerator pickles. Our favorite cucumber variety is Suyo Long, purchased from Johnny's Seeds. It is an Asian variety with thin, but spiky skin that curls into long tendrils if you stake them. These anthropomorphic cucurbits have very small seeds and once you rinse them and slake off the spines with your hand, you don't need to peel them for eating. We enjoy them cut up with tomatoes, onions and basil for a summer salad most nights or sliced thinly and dressed with rice vinegar, a splash of sesame oil and some snipped chives. They are very prolific and thrived even during our hot and dry summer this year.

We had a lot of zucchini from our Costata Romanesco zucchini plant, but as mentioned in a previous post, probably won't grow this beautiful, ridged zucchini variety again as it picks up a lot of dirt in the ridges and has a moist blossom end that rots quickly and is frankly gross to pick. We did enjoy these zukes in a lot of sautes with our plum tomatoes, garlic and basil. We also had some volunteer yellow pattypan squashes sprung from our compost pile that went into these dinners.

I attempted a line of leeks which I had gotten as seedlings from our local garden store and they were growing nicely in their trench. I added compost each week to cover the roots as they swelled and grew, but then I started to notice that individual leeks would suddenly get yellow and dry up. I plucked them out to discover that their roots had been chomped by what I suspect are our resident lawn mole population, so I pulled the remainders out early and sauteed them up with onions and garlic and added them to various omelets and steamed vegetables. The same thing happened when I grew tulips one year; I got lovely blossoms, and then the tulips would shrink back down into the ground several inches. When tugged, they slipped right out, rootless and gnawed. Ah well, I guess I can't grow leeks in these parts.

Our tomatoes have been very abundant this year and we have eaten lots fresh, given a lot away and had lots of delightful tomato salads with and without fresh mozzarella balls (they even have tiny little mozzarellitos in our grocery store!), but always drizzled with some extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, sliced basil, chopped fresh garlic and a sprinkling of kosher salt. Another way we store tomatoes for the winter is to roast them in the oven and then freeze them. Here's what you do:

Oven Roasted Tomatoes

Cut up a whole batch of plum tomatoes by slicing them in half, chopping off the ends and then squeezing out as much of the seeds as you can. Dump in a pot with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss tomatoes to coat them.

Place in glass baking dishes, cut side down, as close together as possible. Roast in a 200 degree oven for 5-6 hours. Tomatoes will be soft and caramelized. When cooled, you can just slip off the skins.

Pack in freezer containers with olive oil and fresh basil leaves.

When you pull these bags out on a frosty day, the fragrant smell of summer will knock you down. Use these tomatoes on pizzas, in vegetable sautes, in omelets, or whir them up with some ricotta cheese for a nice dip.

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