We have it all right now,
But how do we save it?
It is the moment you’ve waited for all year. Your garden and local farm stands offer an overflow of tomatoes, squashes, peppers, corn, onions, carrots, and greens. For a short time, it seems every fruit and vegetable is there at your fingertips.
You know it is fleeting, but what can you do with all this before it disappears? Images of our grandmothers canning over hot stoves for hours don’t often translate into the modern home cook’s life, but there are many easy steps you can take to enjoy and save some of the food treasures of right now.
Homemade tomato sauce freezes beautifully, but many people don’t realize they can just tuck whole tomatoes in containers in the freezer for use later in the winter in soups and stews and casseroles. There is a change of texture of course, but summer flavor abounds, and nothing could be simpler if you are stressed for time. The peelings on some varieties of tomatoes may toughen, so you may want to peel them before freezing.
Frozen corn retains most of its flavor. Buy extra when it is a its best at this time of year. Cut the kernels off the cob and freeze flat on a cookie sheet. Pop them in a freezer container or zip-lock bag for use all winter, removing only what you need. The kernels stay separate. This is a great technique for berries and fresh herb leaves as well.
You can find massive bouquets of fragrant basil right now, as well as the potent new garlic. Put them together with olive oil, pine nuts, and Parmesan, and you have a delicious pesto for the freezer. Nothing tastes more like summer than this.
Time for Ratatouille
When the peppers finally turn red, and orange, and yellow, that’s my cue to start making ratatouille. It’s my favorite way to preserve the surplus, and it freezes beautifully for use all year.
Ratatouille is a French country stew that was originally created at this bountiful time of year, and part of its ease is that it is all about what’s available, the ratio is not that important. In fact, I omit eggplant because I’m allergic to it. Use what’s on hand, even potatoes or diced greens, but always include those peppers, tomatoes, squash, and garlic, and use a blend of dried or fresh herbes de Provence that includes lavender and fennel.
Still a peasant dish, no matter how it is dressed
I’ve had this dish in high-end restaurants where the vegetables were precisely prepared in tiny quarter-inch dice. I’ve also had it where they were sliced on a mandolin and arranged artfully in a casserole dish. I know my patience will dwindle toward the end of a chopping session, so I prefer the rustic approach of a rough dice. It is, after all, a peasant dish that resists getting too dressed up!
Use as a side to just about anything, or top it with a piece of lightly sautéed fish, chicken, or tofu. It makes a great pasta sauce, soup base, or filling for a tortilla or crepe, even a pizza topping. You can eat it hot, room temperature, or cold. The dish also pairs well with eggs in omelets or frittatas. Eggs poached in the stew are delicious served any meal of the day.
While the vegetables for this dish are usually sautéed, my own spin on this classic was to roast most of the vegetables first to bring out even more flavor. It really makes a difference. I added sweet roasted garlic as well, and let the whole thing simmer to let the flavors marry.
However, after a recent, large family gathering, I had a truckload of grilled veggies left over – lots of different peppers from sweet to hot, zucchini, summer squash, onions, and a large mound of grilled cherry tomatoes. I made them into a lovely ratatouille, and it was the best ever. This will be my technique from this point forward, weather permitting!