Marian Morash’s August Abundance -August 2007
The chef and author's adventures in gardening
by: Marian Morash
photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger
June 24, and another rainy day in a season of them. Undaunted, I muck my way through our soggy island vegetable garden...My husband, Russ, is arriving on the 11:30 boat in time for lunch and all he ever wants, after arriving from America, is a meal gathered from his garden.
The prospects are not good. There are a dozen heads of loose-leaf lettuce called Marvel of Four Seasons which look pretty good and some immature leaves of Swiss chard growing under a white fabric he says keeps the bugs away. A Swiss chard frittata and a green salad will have to do.
What a difference two months can make. By the end of August the garden has exploded and I have trouble keeping up with the harvest. Russ, of course, could not be happier as he gathers one vegetable after another announcing what’s ready today and what the menu should be. By the time Labor Day arrives, the high tide of the garden season, family members show signs of green under their tans, a sure sign they’ve eaten one too many of his vegetables.
The good news is that after squandering the weekly paycheck on Bartlett’s tomatoes, ours are finally ready and now we realize we planted too many and not all the right types. We have way too many cherry and plum varieties and not enough beefsteaks for the grandchildren. They devour them like apples. Jack’s favorite is thick sliced Supersonic topped with Mozzarella cheese, strips of basil and laced with Balsamic vinegar. He’ll have that for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I work away at the crop of Sweet Million cherry and Roma plum tomatoes with one of my favorite recipes — Warm Tomato Salad with Grilled Bread and Goat Cheese — and use them whenever possible in salads, stews and fragrant fish chowders. With difficulty, I hoard some tomatoes from the family in order to make a fresh tomato sauce for the freezer. That will remind me, in the darkest days of winter, of the summer garden. The eggplants, those that survived the wilt, call out to be picked and must be lest they turn from shiny to dull, indicating they have gone over the harvest hill. I can use them all because there are so many wonderful ways to use eggplant, especially when you are cooking for a crowd. I’ve been making Eggplant Parmesan for 45 years and we never seem to tire of it.
My all-time favorite eggplant dish is ratatouille — it’s the quintessential late-summer seasonal dish. It uses eggplant, tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini, peppers, onions, garlic and fresh basil — everything lush and ripe and ready that tastes great the first day and even better as it ages.
The Zephyr zucchinis continue to produce baskets of fruit, which cannot be given away to even the hungriest-looking visitor. We have sautéed them, baked them, stuffed them, grilled them, even pickled them, but nothing erodes the pile that materializes every day on the back porch. I julienne them for soups and slice them as “crackers” for hummus and then I give up and make more ratatouille.
The peppers are turning from green to red or gold, a sure sign they are reaching the apex of their sweetness. I have no trouble getting the grandkids to eat the stir-fried Laparie variety that Russ loves to grow, perhaps because it so resembles an Arabian slipper. I often cut red peppers into chunky pieces, toss them with olive oil and roast them along with sweet onion chunks. I like to serve them with grilled sausage just as I’ve seen them do in the North End of Boston on Italian fiesta days. Another great dish is Red Pepper and Tomato Soup that uses plenty of ripe red peppers and tomatoes — the flavor is the essence of summer.
The Fortex green pole beans we prefer to grow are ready and remind us they too must be picked or they will go over. The threat to pole beans is wind, for which there is no defense except to harvest every last one and invite a crowd over for Salad Nicoise (a personal favorite) or Bean Soup with Pistou. If that doesn’t do it, there’s always three-bean salad or pickled dilly beans.
With the concern about gaining weight always present, the cucumber is the perfect element of the summer diet. A delicious vegetable that won’t add a pound, they are scooped up by our family without guilt. It doesn’t matter how many we have in the garden — there are never enough. And better still, the preparation is a cinch. I like a cucumber salad that incorporates some of our endless stream of zucchini as well as tomatoes, parsley and mint or basil. I do add a few calories to the cucumber when I make a Cucumber Dill Sauce (with sour cream) that is a perfect accompaniment to grilled striper or swordfish.
Since early summer we’ve been grabbing Red-Gold potatoes before they are fully mature — small potatoes perfect for serving boiled with a poached fish or as “salt” potatoes. Those remaining are getting bigger and bigger and can be left in the ground until the ground freezes or lifted for storage. I dig them up as needed and often make my mom’s warm potato salad.
The onions we grow are not intended for long-term storage — the variety Ailsa Craig is a giant sweet onion with limited shelf life. It’s use ’em or lose ’em. We grill them, roast them, fry them, slice and dice them and, as evenings get cooler, with a homemade onion soup there’s no problem using them up.
No two years are ever the same in the garden and by now, after gardening and cooking from it for over 30 years, you’d think we’d have all the answers to whatever nature throws at us, but that doesn’t ever happen. Next year we’ll probably plant too many beefsteaks and throttle back the zucchinis so much we’ll be buying them for the “rat,” but the unexpected successes and good healthy eating will make the effort all worthwhile. Now, where did I put that recipe for Fall Cauliflower Soup?
Marian Morash is a longtime seasonal resident, former chef at Straight Wharf Restaurant and author of several cookbooks including the “Victory Garden Cookbook.”
The perfect time to make ratatouille is when the summer garden is lush. Eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, and red peppers star in this vegetable medley, all bound together by vine-ripened tomatoes. Should your family deplete the tomato supply feel free to use half fresh tomatoes and half canned; I like the Muir Glen Organic brand.
I always make a big batch because this dish is like a fine wine; it just gets better with age. Ratatouille is good served hot, at room temperature, or cold. It can be served as an appetizer with a garnish of Mediterranean olives, as a main course with a topping of grilled fish, as a side vegetable, as a filling for a quiche, or try it stirred into pasta. Halve or double the ingredients as you please. What versatility!
- 2-2 1/2 lb eggplant
- 2 lb zucchini and/or summer squash
- 2 large red peppers, about 1 lb
- 1 large sweet onion, about 1 lb
- 1 cup plus 2 Tb extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 Tb chopped garlic
- 5 - 6 cups peeled, seeded and roughly chopped tomatoes
- 1 cup sliced basil
- 1 Tb fresh thyme
- Freshly ground pepper
Peel the eggplant, cut it crosswise into 1-inch thick slices, then cut the slices into 1-inch cubes. Place in a colander, toss lightly with salt and let sit for 30 minutes. Meanwhile wash and dry the zucchini and/or summer squash, remove the stems, and cut into 1-inch pieces.
Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and remove the stems, seeds and white membranes. Cut the pepper halves into 1-inch wide strips and then cut the strips into 1-inch wide pieces. Peel the onion and cut into 1-inch chunks.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large, high-sided, nonaluminum-lined pot. Stir in the garlic, add the tomatoes, bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to a gentle boil, cover, and cook for 5 minutes; then uncover, stir in the basil, and cook for another 15-20 minutes, depending on the amount of juices in the pan, to reduce the tomato liquid and thicken the mixture. Season with salt to taste. You will have about 3-3 1/2 cups.
While the tomato sauce is cooking, pat the eggplant dry. Heat 4 tablespoons of the oil in a large sauté pan, add half of the eggplant, and brown lightly on all sides and cook to soften. Remove the eggplant to a colander set over a pan which will collect the oil draining off the eggplant. Add 4 more tablespoons of oil to the pan and sauté the remaining eggplant, removing it to the colander when it is browned and softened.
Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan and add the half of the zucchini and/or summer squash and cook until lightly browned and tender, remove to the colander with the eggplant; repeat with the second batch.
Add two tablespoons of oil to the pan, add the peppers and cook until lightly browned and tender; add the peppers to the colander. Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan, add the onions, and brown and soften; add the onions to the colander.
Add the sautéed vegetables and the thyme to the tomatoes, fold all together and cook gently, covered, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes or until the vegetables are quite tender. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. (Makes 14-15 cups)
*** With roasted vegetables: If you prefer, instead of sautéing the vegetables, you can toss the prepared vegetables with olive oil and roast them on sheet trays in a 500 degree oven to brown and soften.
Bean Soup with Pistou
This is a healthy, hearty minestrone-style soup that utilizes spinach, zucchini and both fresh snap beans and shell beans. The addition of pistou, a garlic-basil sauce, adds a rich pungent flavor. This is a thick soup; add more liquid if you like.
For the soup
- 1/4 lb spinach
- 1 medium zucchini, about 1/2 lb
- 3 Tb extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups chopped carrots
- 1 1/2 cups chopped leeks, or onions, or combination
- 1 Tb finely chopped garlic
- 1 cup diced potatoes
- 2 1/2 quarts low sodium chicken broth, or water, or combination
- 1 1/2 cups fresh shell beans or rinsed, canned white beans
- 3/4 lb green snap beans cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup pasta such as small elbow macaroni, ditalini, or orzo
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
Wash and finely slice the spinach; set aside. Wash and grate the zucchini; set aside. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the carrots, leeks or onions or combination and sauté for 5-10 minutes until wilted. Stir in the garlic; add the potatoes and the fresh shell beans, if you are using them. Add the broth, water, or combination, bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook gently, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
Add the spinach, zucchini, the snap beans, the rinsed and drained canned white beans, if you are using them, and the pasta. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat, and cook gently until the vegetables and pasta are tender, 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Either stir the pistou into the soup or serve it on the side and let diners add it to taste. (Makes 12 cups)
For the pistou
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 packed cup fresh basil
- 1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded, patted dry and diced
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
While the soup is cooking make the pistou. With a mortar, or with a knife, mash the garlic with 1 teaspoon salt until pureed. Finely chop the basil, add to the garlic puree and mash together. Add the diced tomato, alternating with the cheese, until the basil mixture is totally pureed. Gradually beat in the olive oil. Cover and set aside. (Makes 1 cup)
*** To make the pistou in a food processor: Using the back of a knife, mash the garlic with 1 teaspoon salt until pureed. Roughly chop the basil and put the pureed garlic and the basil in a food processor and pulse to a fine chop. Add the diced tomatoes, alternating with the cheese, until the basil mixture is pureed. Scrape down the sides as you process the mixture. Gradually beat in the olive oil.