Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tomatoes and Squash to Share?

More vegetables than you know how to use?

The first fresh tomato of the season (which turned into the most delicious tomato sandwich I'd eaten since last year--on fresh white bread with Dukes Mayonnaise, salt and pepper) is long past. It's now August, the dreaded month when the summer heat beats the living daylights out of everything green, and it never rains as much as we want. The gardens are coming in, and that includes every single tomato and squash we all planted back in May, or even earlier.

I remember the gardens my Mother- and Father-in-law planted each year. They were beautiful: as perfect as a garden could be. Planted with precision, groomed almost daily, staked and strung like a picture in Progressive Farmer. Papa started the tomato plants from seeds he saved from the very best tomatoes of the year before. He planted each one in a little peat pot and grew them to adolescence in a cold frame he made from old windows.

I'm always so anxious to begin planting in early spring, and usually have to replant at least once. Papa never planted his teenage tomato plants until the middle of May, and then hoped for fresh tomatoes by July 4th. By August the plants had grown tall and strong, with lots and lots of tomatoes tugging on their stems, ready to be picked. Yes, several rows, yielding hundreds of tomatoes, turning their perfect red, pink or yellow, and begging to be sanctified all at the same time.

It was hard work from beginning to end. At the time, I didn't fully understand the numbers. There were always little baskets of tomatoes and squash sitting in the carport for gifting or delivery. No one could leave the house without tomatoes or squash. My mother-in-law canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato juice—even made tomato jam—that we enjoyed all year long. There were squash casseroles, zucchini breads, squash pickles—you name it, we had all things tomato and squash! It was very hard work, but they loved it, and they loved sharing the fruits of their labor.

So, when someone offers a basket of tomatoes or a sack of squash in the next few weeks, take a moment to be grateful for the work that went into the offering. Then try these great recipes using lots of tomatoes and squash!

Stuffed Pittypat Squash

4 medium sized Pittypat squash (or other squash such as zucchini)

1 tsp. Extra virgin olive oil

4 slices thick smoked bacon (for vegetarian dish, perfectly OK without bacon), diced

1 large sweet onion, diced

3 medium tomatoes, excess seeds and juice removed, diced

1 tsp. Salt

One-half tsp. Pepper

Dash of crushed dried red peppers

1 cup shredded mixed cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese

1 cup roughly chopped rustic bread pieces

Preheat oven to 325°.

Remove thin slice on stem side of pittypat squash so squash will sit flat.

With a small paring knife, slice around perimeter of other side, removing 'cap'.

Scoop our pulp from squash with a small spoon, roughly chop and reserve.

Bring pot of salted water to boil. Boil squash 'containers' and lids just until tender, about 3-4 minutes, then drain on paper towels and reserve.

Brown bacon in skillet over medium heat. Remove when crisp and reserve. Add onion to pan and saute until onion softens, then add squash pulp and tomatoes. Cook until it all comes together and squash and tomatoes begin to lose their shape. Add salt, pepper and crushed red pepper.

Spoon squash mixture into mixing bowl. Add bread and cheese and stir to combine. Finally add bacon and toss.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbling.

Summer Vegetable Gratin

(For this casserole, I use all the vegetables I have on hand that need to be cooked, plus some onions and garlic for extra flavor. The amounts can vary according to what you have.) I also 'roast' in layers while preparing the vegetables. And, I line the pan with foil for easier cleanup.)

Preheat oven to 450°. Place oven rack in top third of oven.

2 lbs. (or more) squash, zucchini, eggplant, (or a mixture) sliced into quarter inch rounds (if using a hard squash variety, cut open, remove seeds, peel and cut into pieces close to the size of the other squash)

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper

Mixed fresh or dried herbs

2 lbs. Onions, sliced or cut into pieces similar to squash and potatoes

6 garlic cloves, sliced

2 lbs. Potatoes, sliced into similar sized rounds

2 lbs. Tomatoes, sliced and placed on paper towels to remove excess moisture (if using cherry sized tomatoes, just cut in half)

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (or melting cheese of choice)

1 stick butter

2 cups roughly chopped bread crumbs

1 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Add bread crumbs and stir until they begin to brown. Remove from heat, add to a bowl, and combine with parmesan cheese. Set aside.

Line a roasting pan with foil (for easier cleanup).

Toss squash mixture with half the onions and garlic. Add 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, one-half teaspoon salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of herbs. Toss to coat vegetables, and spoon into roasting pan. Place in oven while you prepare the next layer. Roast for about fifteen minutes or until beginning to brown, stirring once.

Toss potatoes and remaining onions and garlic with another 2 tablespoons olive oil, half teaspoon of salt and pepper and sprinkling of herbs. Spoon onto squash layer. Place in oven and roast another fifteen minutes or until potatoes begin to brown.

Next, add cheddar cheese. Then layer tomatoes on top of cheese. Sprinkle with a little salt, pepper and herbs.

Top with bread crumb mixture.

Place in oven, reduce temperature to 400°, and bake until cheeses are melted and all vegetables are fork tender, about 30 minutes.