Garden Glut

In August, we reap -- and reap -- those vegetables we planted in spring. Here's how to use up too much of a good thing

August 23, 2006|By ROB KASPER

You know it is garden-glut season when free zucchini sit untouched outside the garden gate; when bags of tomatoes appear in the office; and when summer squash shows up at every potluck supper.

This is the season of plentitude, of bounty, of overkill. It is in full bloom in August but its roots go back to the enthusiasms of April. That is when we gardeners succumbed to the notion of planting extra rows of vegetables.

Now those once-timid seedlings have morphed into towers of hairy vegetation, pushing out produce faster than the assembly line at the old Broening Highway plant used to push out Chevys. Moreover, once the vegetables start ripening, a race begins between critters and gardeners to reap the crop. Often the critters - bugs, rabbits, birds and sometimes woodchucks - seem to be a day or two ahead of the humans in sensing when it is harvest time.

As a victim of garden glut, I know that a good way to cope with it is to come up with a dish that turns ripe vegetables into something delectable, something that makes all your toil in the fields seem almost worthwhile.

With that in mind, I have pulled together a handful of recipes designed to grapple with garden excess. They address the usual offenders of oversupply: zucchini, tomatoes, beets and squash. (If you planted too many peppers or cucumbers, you are on your own.)

The recipes vary in complexity. There is an extremely simple tomato sandwich, a recipe I got a few years ago from Luigi Ferrucci, a geriatrician conducting research for the National Institute on Aging at Harbor Hospital. He told me that during the years he was a medical student in Italy, the sandwich sustained him. Deborah Madison's tomato sauce, on the other hand, requires a couple of hours of honest kitchen labor.

The recipes for squash quiche, Beet-and-Potato Salad and Chocolate-Zucchini Cake are prizewinners. They garnered honors in this year's City Farms cooking contest, a casual affair sponsored by the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks. Contestants fixed dishes that contained at least one vegetable grown in their city gardens. The results were judged by John Shields - author of several cookbooks, proprietor of Gertrude's restaurant and host of public television's Coastal Cooking show - and by me. Our favorites were the quiche from Elwin Guild, the salad from Carlotta Chappelle and the cake from Christina Myers.

Myers said she started putting zucchini in a chocolate cake last year, while desperately looking for ways to use the excess produced by the half-dozen zucchini plants in her family's garden plot in Druid Hill Park. She also made "crab cakes" by substituting zucchini for crab meat, and experimented with various pasta and zucchini combinations. After enduring last summer's zucchini blitz, this year her family limited its zucchini-growing effort to two plants, she said.

Chappelle, who grows vegetables at the East Side Gardens in Washington Hill, said beets are a fixture on her supper table. She got the recipe for the beet salad from her manicurist, Bella Samson, a native of the Eastern European Republic of Moldova and a fellow fan of beets. A vegetarian, Chappelle laughed as she was told of the prize her dish garnered: a hamburger cookbook.

Guild, another Druid Hill gardener, described the shortening crust used in his squash quiche as "surefire." He makes a big batch of dough - it yields five crusts. But overproduction, after all, is what garden glut is all about.

rob.kasper@baltsun.com

Podcasts featuring Rob Kasper are available at baltimoresun.com/kasper.

Chocolate-Zucchini Cake

Serves 12

2 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 stick unsalted butter

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 cups grated, unpeeled zucchini

16-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 13-inch-by- 9-inch-by-2-inch baking pan. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt into medium bowl. Beat sugar, butter and oil in a large bowl until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract.

Mix in dry ingredients, alternating with buttermilk, in 3 additions. Mix in zucchini. Pour batter in prepared pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. Bake for 50 minutes or until tester comes out clean.

Courtesy of Christina Myers

Per serving: 606 calories, 8 grams protein, 35 grams fat, 13 grams saturated fat, 75 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber, 56 milligrams cholesterol, 328 milligrams sodium

BEET-AND-POTATO SALAD

Serves 6

4 cups beets

4 cups white potatoes

2 whole cloves garlic

1/2 onion

5 tablespoons fat-free yogurt

1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard

2 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise

1 tablespoon red wine

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons minced garlic

Cook beets in boiling water until tender. Peel and cube.

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