Enjoying the Summer Harvest

The end of summer is the best time for getting great-tasting vegetables from backyard gardens or farmers’ markets. Baskets overflow with peppers, tomatoes, squash, eggplant—anything you can imagine. All this fresh produce coincides with my latest idea of inaugurating healthy “meatless Mondays” at our house and motivates me to try new as well as tried-and-true vegetarian options.

This week at a small farm stand on Route 155, I spotted a fresh-picked eggplant—complete with thorns on its stem—which immediately inspired me to make ratatouille. I have Julia Child’s version of the classic French dish, but decided to explore online to see what others had to offer. The best one, in my opinion, came from a well-known recipe site in France: www.marmiton.org. Ratatouille is not hard to make, though the amount of chopping involved is time-consuming. According to this recipe, you first cook a chopped onion and any color of bell pepper in oil. You then add in about three medium-sized fresh tomatoes, quartered, two to three chopped garlic cloves, some fresh thyme, and two bay leaves. Salt and pepper the combination and cook it on medium low heat for about thirty minutes. Partially peel the eggplant (so that it looks striped), chop it into cubes, salt it, and let it sit on paper towels for about a half-hour. Then transfer the cubed eggplant and two halved and sliced zucchinis to the tomato mixture. (The recipe actually recommends cooking the eggplant and zucchini in oil before adding to the other vegetables, but I skipped this step; recipes are only a suggestion after all.) Cook until done, probably about 20-30 minutes more. And voilà! There you have a lovely, colorful, wholesome dinner. We had it accompanied by a tomato and onion salad, French bread, and gruyère cheese.

Something else the crop of fresh summer vegetables seems to demand is stuffed tomatoes. Here, I offer two different Greek versions of the dish. One that I’ve tried before comes from Eva Zane's cookbook Greek Cooking for the Gods. For this dish you cut the tops off five tomatoes, scooping out the pulp, which you chop and reserve. (Keep the tops of the tomatoes as well.) Sauté onion in oil, adding in the tomato pulp, fresh parsley, garlic, dill, oregano, a half cup of raw rice, and a quarter cup of pine nuts. Put in about a tablespoon of tomato paste, a quarter cup of white wine, salt, pepper, and a dash of sugar. Simmer for about twenty minutes. Then stuff the tomatoes with the mixture, covering with the tops. Pour some olive oil over the tomatoes and add about ½ cup of water to the pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. A recipe I just found today is similar but calls for orzo instead of rice and some chopped fresh spinach and feta. I might just have to try that one!

Last, but not least, is cauliflower-potato gratin, a recipe we make throughout the fall and winter. I usually partially cook the whole head of cauliflower in a pot of boiling water for about 20 minutes. Slice three or four large potatoes, keeping them in cool water until they’re ready to be used. Butter a baking dish and start layering the potato slices (which you have dried off on paper towels) and about half the cauliflower cut into pieces. (Save the rest for another use, like cauliflower soup.) Sprinkle every two layers with grated gruyère and pour a white sauce made of butter, flour, milk, and grated nutmeg over the entire casserole. Top with more cheese and bake till done in a 375 degree oven, about 45 minutes.

Feel free to share your favorite vegetarian (or otherwise) recipes with me! I'm always looking for fresh, tasty ideas for meals.

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