By Carol Brock
Fall is a lovely turning point. With summer behind and winter ahead, our gardens are getting ready to tuck themselves in for their winter snooze. But what do you do with all those fruits and vegetables that are done ripening on the vine?
You get busy! Here are some quick, easy ways to turn fall’s bounty into delicious feasts you can eat now or freeze for later.
Too many tomatoes are never a problem. Between fresh salsa and pasta sauce, you’ll be lucky to have any leftovers! But if you do, here’s another thing to try: Make a quick and easy soup by blending 4 fresh tomatoes, 1 peeled cucumber, 1 small red onion, 1 medium green bell pepper, 1 celery stalk, 4 small garlic cloves, and 2 tablespoons each of olive oil and red wine vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill at least two hours before serving. Garnish with fresh basil (recipe courtesy Living Well with Heart Disease).
Too many cucumbers but not enough lettuce? Make a cucumber concoction instead. Slice the cucumbers into spears and toss with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, sea salt and Tabasco for a light and zippy finger food!
For a green winter treat, harvest your basil in fall and put it in a food processor or blender along with fresh garlic, olive oil and your choice of walnuts or pine nuts. (Omit the Parmesan, which you can add in fresh once you use your pesto.)
Blend and transfer the pesto to ice cube trays. Cover the trays with plastic newspaper bags or plastic wrap and put them in the freezer. Add the cubes to stir-fries, or defrost and spoon over chicken, fish or pasta. You can also use pesto for pizza sauce.
If you don’t have an apple tree, buy apples late in fall when prices drop at a farmers’ market or local farm. Purchase storage apples (Jonathan, Fuji, Rome, Granny Smith, Melrose or Winesap) and wrap them separately in newspaper (in a section with only black ink, not colored ink). Put them in a cardboard box lined with shredded paper or hay or straw and place the box in a garage or basement. Be sure the apples don’t touch.
Non-storage apples (Gala, Honeycrisp, Red and Golden Delicious) can become a delicious snack that will last at least a month or so in the refrigerator. Slice the apples into wedges, put the wedges on a cookie tray lined with parchment paper, and generously sprinkle with cinnamon. Place the tray in a 200-degree oven for two hours, or until the apples are sufficiently dried. After the apples cool, store them in a glass jar in the refrigerator.
If you’re luckier than me, your bell peppers yielded more than a single pepper this season. My bells were a bust, but my Big Jim chiles were plentiful. If you have a bunch of larger chiles, like Big Jims or poblanos, roast them on the grill or in a toaster oven. When the skins blister and char, put the peppers in a plastic or paper bag for an hour to cool. When you remove the peppers, the skins will easily peel off.
Discard the skins (or save them for stock), and put the peppers in gallon freezer bags. Lay the bags flat, leaving a little space between the peppers so you can remove only as many as you need once they freeze. Use frozen peppers in soups, stews, casseroles, eggs and other dishes.
Butternut squash is a sure sign of fall. This versatile vegetable is good in many dishes, but we like it as soup. Sauté 4 large shallots, 2 large minced garlic cloves and 3 teaspoons high-quality curry powder in 4 tablespoons olive oil or butter (or a combination) over medium-low heat.
Add 2½ pounds peeled diced squash (butternut, delicata, pumpkin, or a mixture). Cover and cook over low heat until the squash is tender, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Add 4 cups unsalted chicken broth, cover and simmer for 10 minutes more, or until tender.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to a food processor or blender and puree in batches. Thin with additional stock, if necessary. To serve, top each bowl with a dollop of plain yogurt or roasted red pepper sauce. Sprinkle soup with minced fresh mint and garnish with whole mint leaves. This soup can be served warm or chilled, and it also freezes well.
If you have tomatillos (and you should, yum!), pick them when the tomatillos are firm and the papery husks have started to split. Remove the husks and place 6 tomatillos in a pan of water, along with 2 fresh garlic cloves and ½ to 1 deseeded jalapeño (depending on preferred spiciness).
Boil the water until the tomatillos are fork tender (don’t overboil). Drain and place the tomatillos, jalapeños and garlic in a food processor or blender, along with a quarter of a fresh onion, fresh cilantro to taste, fresh lime juice from a quarter of a lime, a teaspoon of ground cumin and a dash of chili powder. Process and spoon the salsa on fish, fish tacos, enchiladas and burritos. Tomatillo salsa freezes nicely for later use.
Veggie packets to use in pastas, stir-fries and casseroles are a nice treat come winter, and a quick meal. Some fall veggies for packets include carrots, snow peas, green beans, zucchini, broccoli, peppers and cauliflower. Slice the veggies and blanch each variety of vegetable separately in boiling water (don’t boil longer than one to two minutes, tops).
Plunge the veggies into an ice bath to cool and stop the cooking process, and to retain their color. Only keep veggies in the ice bath long enough to cool, two to three minutes. Drain and dry quickly, then pack assorted veggies into freezer bags. Keep the bags flat—don’t stack the veggies—and place them in the coldest part of the freezer for fastest freezing.
Cherry tomatoes are the quintessential sweet summer treat that you can snack on well into winter if you cut them in half and place them, cut side up, in a shallow baking dish lined with parchment paper. Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with minced fresh garlic and fresh thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary or marjoram. Season with salt and pepper and place the tomatoes in a 225-degree oven for three hours, or until the tomatoes shrivel and are half their size.
Use roasted tomatoes as pizza toppers, toss them with fresh greens, or put them in pasta with fresh herbs. To store roasted tomatoes through winter, place them in freezer bags or clean lidded glass jars and store in the freezer for up to six months. Use the leftover olive oil for salad dressing or sautéing.
With winter coming on, soup’s always a favorite. Freeze all vegetable peelings to toss into homemade stock later on.