From storage tips to new recipes, put your bountiful harvest to good use.
Tomatoes have taken over your countertop. Or maybe your neighbor’s car is locked and you have no place to ditch 10 pounds of zucchini. Don’t panic; there are a number of ways to take advantage of nature’s windfall and not go mad with monotonous meals in the meantime.
Keep It Fresh a Little Longer
Start mapping your meals throughout the week, pacing yourself and eating up whatever will spoil first. Slow the ripening process; paper bags, summer heat, and fruits that give off a lot of the ethylene gas only speed it up. Slow the clock by keeping bananas and apples away from your other veggies, and don’t store onions with your potatoes. If you can’t eat them in time, you can and should refrigerate fully ripe tomatoes in the crisper to keep them a few days longer; just let them warm to room temps before eating for the full flavor. Ripen partly green ones on the counter upside down with the stems pulled.
Eat ‘em Up
If you haven’t already, discover the caprese salad: tomato slices, basil, olive oil, fresh mozzarella, and salt. Be a rebel and add a dash of aged balsamic vinegar. A batch of salsa fresca is also easy and great for chips or taco night.
Throw diced tomatoes in your scrambled eggs or omelets or learn to make Turkish menemen. You can knock off 2 pounds of tomatoes, a large cucumber, and a bell pepper by making a batch of the cold Spanish soup gazpacho. Spaniards drink it by the glass like tomato juice, and the wine or sherry vinegar extends its life in a jar in the fridge.
Greek salad takes more cukes and wedges of vine (or halved cherry) tomatoes with some feta, red onion, and kalamata olives. Keep the dressing and cheese separate until serving and you can have the veggies prepped in a big container in the fridge for a few days.
Besides zucchini bread, try a side of sautéed, grilled or even roasted zucchini slices, seasoned and with shredded parmesan on top.
Dry your herbs for winter. Make up batches of Genovese pesto with your excess basil (or even cilantro), and store it in small jars in the freezer. But Italy’s second most popular pesto is the Sicilian tomato-based pesto alla trapanese. Fresh tomatoes and blanched/peeled almonds with basil, garlic, salt, and EVOO are all ground into a paste with a mortar and pestle and mixed with parmesan. Boil pasta to al dente, drain, and stir the uncooked pesto into the hot noodles.
Throw cherry tomatoes in a pan and sauté them until they burst. Add salt, garlic, and basil and you’ve got a simple, delicious pasta sauce. Play with the ingredients if you prefer: red onions, smoked or other flavored salt, mushrooms, other herbs. Keep a cup of the starchy pasta water, then drain but don’t rinse the noodles. Stir the sauce into the hot noodles until the sauce thickens and coats them. Add a bit more pasta water if necessary and keep it on the heat a bit, stirring the whole time.
Preserving Quick or Not So Quick
Canning and pickling require a bit of effort and preparation, plus if you are canning foods with low-acidity, with a pH of more than 4.6 – which is most vegetables, even some tomatoes – then you need to use a pressure cooker. Otherwise, as in the case of pickles where you are adding vinegar, you can get by with the water-bath method. If you haven’t tried pickled cherry tomatoes, look into it! A flavor explosion in your mouth.
But there is also the quick pickle option. Slices of cucumber, zucchini, cabbage, red onion, jalapeños, radishes, beets and more can be packed in a sterilized jar with a brine (usually 1 part water, 1 part vinegar, with sugar and salt to balance the flavor) for a few hours or a day or two before eating. This is a great option if you don’t have enough of something to merit multiple quart jars and a water bath, and they can be ready by dinner on the same day. Most keep for weeks or even months. I often have a jar of do chua in the fridge, a Vietnamese relish made from julienned carrot and daikon (radish) used for sandwiches and noodle dishes. Another incredible option is the Italian-style melanzane sott’olio – strips of eggplant pickled and soaked in olive oil. It has been known to convert eggplant haters.
And maybe the easiest solution for some tomatoes: freeze them in bags for sauces later. While it is faster than canning, don’t keep them too long or freezer burn will spoil the flavor. Pesto freezes well in little jars or in ice cube trays – grab a cube or two for each serving. In a few months you’ll be happy to pull out that delicious reminder of summer.
Creamy Scrambled Eggs with Tomato and Sautéed Zucchini
1 medium or large tomato
1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced (1/8 inch)
1-2 tbsp cream
Salt and pepper
Diced onion (optional)
Crushed garlic (optional)
Seasonings for the zucchini: soy sauce, cider vinegar, hot sauce, paprika or whatever you fancy
Prep the zucchini. Deseed the tomato and chop it into small cubes. Scramble a couple eggs per person with a tablespoon or more of half and half or heavy cream. If adding onion, sauté this first in a nonstick or well oiled pan over medium heat. Lower to medium-low and stir the eggs and the tomatoes into the pan, using a spatula to gently pull back the setting eggs from the edges into the center. Cover and turn down to low, but keep returning to stir and keep them from drying out while you finish the zucchini.
Meanwhile, have a cast-iron or similar pan heated to medium-high with a tablespoon of oil. Season the zucchini slices with a bit of paprika and sauté them, perhaps with some red onion or crushed garlic, until they start to brown a bit. Try to keep the cooking to about 3 minutes so the slices do not become soggy and still have a bit of snap to them. Finish them with a splash of soy sauce, cider vinegar, and perhaps hot sauce (I am a fan of a citrusy yuzu hot sauce), and then stir quickly, as much of this will reduce quite fast on the hot pan. Sprinkle parmesan and serve immediately alongside the eggs with some toast. And maybe a glass of gazpacho.