Saturday, July 3, 2010

Summer Garden Surplus

It’s summer and the livin’ is…overwhelming

It’s that time of year—you know—when gardeners start desperately searching for people to dump produce on. If you were unwise enough to plant squash, you’re now starting to dread looking under those leaves of your plants because you know you’ll find another basket-full of squash you have to pick. Then, you actually have to use it somehow, when your family is giving you dirty looks when you say in a spritely voice, “We’re having squash tonight!”
Believe it or not, this picture includes a giant cucumber (foreground) that I forgot to pick when it was a sweet young thing. Perhaps I’ll have to make pickles out of it.

One of the nicest things about growing your own produce is that you can grow odd varieties that you just don’t find in the store.

Around here, people get downright sneaky. Neighbors will visit for no reason at all, armed with a plastic shopping bag stuffed full of squash, tomatoes and peppers. Even if you spot them through the door curtains and refuse to answer, they’ll leave those little gifts for you. And of course, a day or two later, they’ll be dodging you as you visit them with armfuls of produce you think they might just need because, after all, they probably gave you all the ones they had that week.

Or, you may just find that squash, tomatoes and peppers are a lot cheaper at the store this time of year.

No matter…this blog is devoted to what the heck you can do with all that produce.

Sure, you can wash it, slice it up and freeze it. Or can it.

Or, you can make your family eat it, even if they’re heartily sick of it.

The nice thing about squash is that it has a mild flavor and can be disguised in almost anything your family will eat. So I thought I’d share a few of our favorite ways to use the produce that is so prevalent now.


Spaghetti is the single most effective way to force veggies down the collective throats of your family without too much of a struggle. If they tend to like veggies, then no worries, you just leave them in recognizable condition. If your family hates veggies, then you can pull out the Salad Shooter to grate them so your kids (and husband) will never know the difference when you add them to soups, meatloaf, and sauces.

So here is one of our favorites at this time of year.

Take any squash, peppers, onions, eggplant—basically, whatever you have on hand, and slice it up. I tend to slice it into thin slices as if I was making pickles, and then cut those into quarters. Sauté in olive oil, then add some crushed/chopped garlic. Cook a couple of minutes over med-high, just until everything is tender.

Add a can of fire-roasted tomatoes (or any fresh tomatoes you have, diced) and a can of diced, Italian tomatoes. Then add about 2 Tbsp of tomato paste. If your family likes their sauce sweet, then grate some carrots finely and add those. Cook for about two-three minutes on med. Add about a teaspoon of Italian herbs and maybe a fistful of fresh basil chopped up.

If you like meatballs or meat in your sauce, add the meatballs or place the cooked veggies in a bowl, cook the meat, then add the veggies again. When I’m in a hurry, I use frozen meatballs and it takes about 10-15 min of cooking in the sauce for them to warm up. If I’m ambitious, I bake meatballs ahead of time and freeze them, so I just need to grab a bag.

You can also substitute tofu for a vegetarian twist, or no meat at all.

While the sauce cooks, cook your spaghetti.

This is a terrific way to use all of that produce and get a few more helpings of veggies into your life. When veggies are in season, I’ve been known to just use fresh tomatoes in place of the canned. And, you can also freeze this to use in the winter months when veggies are more expensive. I just fill one of those quart freezer bags and freeze it—no problem.

It also makes a great sauce to use for lasagna or any other Italian meal.

Zucchini Pancakes

I also love zucchini pancakes. On Saturday morning, I go out and pick a few baby zucchini and yellow squash and then grind them up. I add some grated onion (I like Vidalia), a few spoonfuls of flour and a beaten egg. I stir that together (add more flour if necessary) until it has the consistency of pancake mix. Then I fry it like a pancake and top with a bit of butter when serving.

The recipe depends upon how much zucchini/squash you grind up. I do about a cup, add 1 beaten egg, and about 2 Tbsp of grated Vidalia, along with about 2 Tbsp of flour more or less to get the right consistency. This is a rough estimate because I don’t measure it—I just grate up whatever baby squash I have and then add whatever I need to make something similar to pancake batter.

It’s a great breakfast or side dish for dinner. You can serve it whenever you would normally serve potato pancakes.

Some folks find they want the grated squash softer. If that is the case, after you grate it, simply nuke it in the microwave for one or two minutes before you mix it into the rest of the ingredients.

It’s simple and delicious.

And...I just walked around our garden and discovered...MORE PLUMS! I've already made 24 pints of plum jam. Sheesh. Guess I'll have to think of some creative ways to use plums now, in addition to the squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Maybe it's time to learn how to make wine...
Have a happy and productive summer!

Amy Corwin, author and overwhelmed gardner


Sheila Tenold said...

Amy, what a fun post! I wish I had space for a garden--even with the downsides you mentioned. On the upside, we have one gigantic Haas avocado tree which produces tons of fruit. And, yes, we give bags to our neighbors before they overripen. This tree IS our back yard so that's my reason for no vegetable garden.

CJ Parker said...

I had a heart attack no long ago and gardening has been scratched off my exercise list for now.
I wish I were your neighbor. My hubby could make short work of some of those plums. And I love squash. Actually, I love veggies of all kinds.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

I had to chuckle because you brought back memories of the summer my Mother had so much zucchini that she made it into soup said it tasted like splitpea NOT, bread, casseroles, cake (instead of carrots), fried, baked, deep fried. You name it, she fixed it. I think my Dad started dreading supper. I know we avoided family supper after a while. Now we live in the mountains and the deer or squirrels enjoy the zuccini. We still valiantly attempt to save the tomatoes and cucumbers from the squirrels and deet. Hubby hangs those growing baskets on wrought iron hangers and puts them where it is near impossible for the wildlife to eat.

Looks like you have a great garden. Enjoy!!!

Terry Spear said...

Wow, great looking garden! I have put a lot of money into tomato plants in the past, love the home grown ones, but I tend to get tons of flowers (even with blossom set) no tomatoes, are terrific leaves. :) I still love them!

Josie said...

I'm smiling as I type this. For the first time ever, I've planted a garden. It reminds me of "Little Shop of Horrors" as I've never seen nor harvested this much squash! I spent this afternoon researching recipes. Now comes the hard part---cooking!