A few days ago, Rachel and I came home after a shopping excursion and found a welcomed gift by our back door. Someone left a sack with five gorgeous acorn squash and a plethora of cherry tomatoes. As we carried our treasure to the kitchen, Rachel stated that she thought harvest season was truly the most wonderful time of the year.
That got us thinking about how harvest season is a lot like Christmas. First of all, die-hard gardeners are just as busy as any one preparing for the holidays – there just isn’t enough time to get it all done. Secondly, gifts from generous gardeners capture the spirit of giving that is so much a part of the celebration of Christmas. Thirdly, the element of surprise at an unexpected gift is just as sweet in September as it is in December.
The fourth resemblance to the holidays is the amount of time we spend in the kitchen preparing the fruits of the harvest for those we love and the delight we take in serving something spectacular to family and friends.
This column is an opportunity for me to say thanks to all those who have so generously shared the fruits of their labors with me this summer. I so appreciated the beets and greens from Devern and Nyla, the above-mentioned acorn squash, tomatoes and zucchini from Bob and Barb, the apples and corn from Jean, Lucy’s eggplant, the cucumber and butternut squash from Jim and Pat and the cucumbers and constant sampling of salt-brined pickles from an old-fashioned crock from Karla. There were also those who left zucchini on my front porch anonymously and my thanks go out to them as well.
I have had a wonderful time preparing all of these foods and here are several recipes that I used for these gifts. Each of them is a wonderful way to get healthful fresh produce into the bodies of the ones you love.
3/4 to 1 pound beet greens
3 strips bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced or chopped very finely
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
Wash the greens in a sink filled with cold water. Drain greens and wash a second time. Drain and cut stems and leaves into bite-sized pieces. In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium-low heat being very careful to cook it slowly so you don’t burn it. Add the onions and cook for 5 to 7 minutes until onions start to brown. Stir in garlic. Add water to the pan, stirring to loosen any bacon bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in sugar and red pepper flakes. Bring mixture to a boil. Add the beet greens and gently toss in the liquid so the greens are well-coated. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until greens are tender. Stir in the vinegar. Recipe Note: The amount of time it takes to cook the greens is dependent on how young the beets are. You can also use this recipe for kale or collards. Just remember to cut away any tough stems and steam at least 30 minutes to tenderize the greens. One of the reasons I like beet greens so much is that they are very tender and do not have the strong flavor associated with kale or collards.
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The whole beets that were attached to those greens were washed thoroughly and wrapped in foil and roasted in the oven for about 45 minutes until they were tender. Beets can vary in the amount of time it takes to bake them, so just insert a knife into the beet in the same way you check to see if a baked potato is done. If the knife easily penetrates the flesh, they are done. After they cooled a bit, I just rubbed the skin off of the beets with my fingers. Yes, my hands were stained red but most of the color washed right off. I know some folks use a kitchen towel for this task but I just hate staining a good towel red and my hands wash easily.
Use It Up Vegetable Soup
1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 zucchini, peeled, seeded and cubed
2 apples, peeled and cubed
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 quart vegetable or chicken stock
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Put all of your ingredients into a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover the pot and simmer until vegetables are very tender. Puree soup using a blender or immersion blender until it is smooth and thick. Adjust seasoning and if it is too thick for your taste, feel free to add a bit of water or broth.
Cherry Tomatoes and Pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pints cherry tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced
One third cup cream
12 ounces spaghetti
Gently heat olive oil in a large sauté pan. Lightly sauté garlic and then add the tomatoes to the pan. Sauté until the tomatoes start to break down and the juices start to thicken. Season with a bit of sugar and salt to taste. Add cream and toss with spaghetti cooked according to package directions.
Quote of the Week
There is nothing I like more than picking fresh vegetables and then putting them in the dinner you make that night. -- Patrick Duffy