Feasting on the late harvest of veggies

From carrots to zucchini, there are so many fresh choices for making delicious dishes

September 21, 2005|By Elinor Klivans | Elinor Klivans,Special to the Sun

It begins with a spring trickle -- a few peas, some spinach and those first tender green beans. Then it picks up speed like a raging river. Summer progresses, squash and cucumber vines become laden and tomato plants sag with the weight of their red globes.

Then we move into the first fall days when it is time to snip broccoli and the last of the fresh herbs. Carrots, onions, leeks, garlic and parsnips are ready to be pulled from the ground. It is a veritable vegetable avalanche and happens just when one feels ready to turn on the oven again and take advantage of all of this bounty.

Whether you pick your vegetables at farm stands, farmers' markets or in your own backyard garden, even the most stalwart meat-and-potatoes person wants to take advantage of the late harvest.

With vegetables this fresh, finding good quality is easy. The hardest decision is choosing what to buy and what to do with it. Much of it needs little adornment. A colorful mixture of ripe cherry and sliced tomatoes splashed with olive oil and sprinkled with fresh dill, basil or thyme, or layered with thinly sliced onions and chives makes a colorful salad.

Grated carrots, parsnips or both, mixed with parsley, a bit of curry powder and some mayonnaise make a refreshing change from coleslaw. But even your favorite coleslaw recipe could be spruced up with radishes, sweet peppers and fresh herbs to add some color and crunch.

Some vegetables, such as eggplant and zucchini, are best cooked. The large picked-long-ago winter eggplants are often bitter, but the recently harvested young eggplants that are abundant now are seldom bitter.

I usually take a small bite of a slice of raw eggplant, and if it has even a trace of bitterness, I salt the slices and let them sit for 30 minutes. After I rinse off the salt and pat the eggplant dry, it is ready to cook.

Versatile zucchini can be grated, sliced or cut into wedges and baked or sauteed. Good zucchini ideas are to bake it with cheese or tomatoes or to saute it with chopped nuts.

Tomatoes that will be cooked are usually peeled. This is as easy as plunging whole tomatoes into boiling water for about 30 seconds, then cooling them quickly in ice water and slipping the skins off as soon as they are cool enough to handle.

Those first cool days put one right in the mood for the comfort of a vegetable pudding. Fresh corn kernels, whole and ground, plus cornmeal give a triple burst of corn flavor to a Corn and Sweet Red Pepper Pudding.

A spicy eggplant spread can be made up to two days ahead and be ready to fill sandwiches for the lunchbox, serve as an appetizer or pair with cheese and bread for a light supper. For a larger crowd, double or triple the ingredients.

It takes less than two cups of leftover rice to make Broccoli-and-Garlic Rice Cakes. Brussels sprouts, zucchini, chopped carrots, parsnips or a combination that suits you can be substituted for the broccoli.

It would be a shame to let fresh vegetables linger too long in the refrigerator. After a couple of days of storage, even the freshest vegetable begins to deteriorate. So, let the vegetable river flow with recipes that help you savor the harvest to the last zucchini.

Elinor Klivans' newest book is Cupcakes! (Chronicle Books, 2005, $16.95).

Broccoli-and-Garlic Rice Cakes

9 cakes

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

3 cups (about 8 ounces) finely chopped broccoli

1 cup chopped onion (1 medium)

3 cloves peeled, finely chopped garlic

1 1/2 cups cooked rice, medium or short-grain preferred

2 tablespoons flour

2 eggs

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

corn or canola oil

lemon wedges for serving

In a large fry pan, preferably nonstick, melt the butter over medium heat. Cook the broccoli and onion until soft, about 10 minutes, stirring often. Stir in the garlic, cooking for 1 minute.

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the rice and flour. Mix in the eggs, cream, salt and black pepper to combine them. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes to firm the mixture.

Heat an inch of vegetable oil in a heavy fry pan to 325 degrees. Using about 1/3 cup for each cake, drop large spoonfuls of the broccoli mixture into the hot oil. Use the back of the spoon to flatten the cakes slightly. Cook until the bottom is golden brown.

Using a spatula, carefully turn over each broccoli cake and cook until evenly golden, about 4 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels. Arrange the broccoli cakes on a platter and squeeze lemon juice over them.

Sprinkle lightly with salt and serve hot.

Per serving: 101 calories; 3 grams protein; 4 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 14 grams carbohydrate; 1 gram fiber; 55 milligrams cholesterol; 150 milligrams sodium

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