For as long as I can remember, my dad has always planted a big garden. Childhood chores in the summertime typically involved the garden, either picking something or snapping beans or shelling peas. While don’t live close enough to my parents to help with the chores anymore, that doesn’t mean I don’t get to share in their garden bounty.
My folks came up on Sunday to visit and brought me a big bunch of garden veggies. They always bring too much for us to eat, so I meal planned before they came and sorted out what I thought we could eat and took the extras to a friend.
I bought a watermelon from the grocery store to go with the blueberries. I made a watermelon-blueberry smoothie, a watermelon-blueberry salad with feta, balsamic, olive oil, and basil. I also made this monkey bread using only blueberries instead of mixed berries. We loved this and it is so easy to make since it relies on cans of orange rolls as the base. (And thanks to my mom who brought me her bundt pan to borrow for awhile.)
For lunch, I made a version of this shrimp salad. I mostly kept to the recipe, but included whatever veggies I had on hand. I didn’t mix up a whole big salad all at once, but instead when for individual servings since I knew I would be the only person to eat it. I made a full recipe of the dressing (I don’t have a Magic Bullet, I just whisked it together with a fork) and used what I needed and kept the rest in the fridge for the next day. The dressing reminded me of the cucumber salad dressing my mom used to make (I always loved that dressing, which I think has Miracle Whip, vinegar, sugar and pepper.) but a healthier, lighter version. Once I subbed tofu (leftover from last week’s spring rolls) for the shrimp. Still delicious.
I cooked a lot of dinners this week. Here is a run-down:
I made a version of this Caprese Garlic Bread many times over the course of the week. I didn’t bother reducing the balsamic because I didn’t want to wash another pot, but it still worked fine for me. Even the base “garlic bread” recipe is good. My husband ate it without the tomatoes and one time my step-daughter just ate the garlic bread topped with sauteed summer veggies (zucchini, green pepper, onion, tomatoes). That was genius level dinner mix-and-matching. By the end of the week, I was using shredded mozzarella instead of fresh — it’s still good. And thankfully, by little basil plant kept up with the demand all week.
Homemade Hamburger Helper is the perfect vehicle for using up summer squashes and green peppers. Lots of veggies would be good in this recipe actually. It’s not very elegant, but it is easy and comforting and takes me back to my childhood when I loved picking out a Hamburger Helper for my mom to make (wagon wheel, always). We didn’t have it very often so it felt like a treat. This version is just as quick and easy to make as the store-bought kind and doesn’t have any weird orange colored cheese power, which makes me feel a little better about it.
My favorite way to use up eggplants is a Baked Eggplant recipe that I found in a recipe book my dad gave me for Christmas many moons ago. This book is so thick (It’s titled 1000 Classic Recipes for Every Cook) it’s a wonder that I found and tried the eggplant recipe. Nothing in this book calls for a shortcut so the first time I made this recipe (August 20, 2003–I wrote it in the book), I made tomato sauce and Bechamel from scratch. After that first time, I take the easy way out. Here’s the version of the recipe I use today: pour a little jarred red sauce in the bottom of a greased 9×13 casserole. Top with a layer of eggplant. (The recipe calls for you to cook them in hot water for 5 minutes first. I just salt them to draw out the bitterness and pat them dry.) Top with a drizzle of olive oil, chopped prosciutto (I’ve used prosciutto, cooked bacon, no meat, salami, do whatever you want.), mozzarella (fresh or shredded), salt and pepper and herbs. (The recipe calls from fresh marjoram and fresh basil, chopped. Use whatever Italian herbs you want, fresh or dried.) Repeat the layers. Top with a layer of white sauce (You can make Bechamel from scratch or use a jarred alfredo sauce. I’ve even used Caesar dressing with a mix of nutmeg and cloves–surprisingly it works.) and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. I also made these Roasted Eggplant Caprese Salad, which were good but to my taste not worth the effort. I’ll stick to Baked Eggplant or Eggplant Parm.
I rounded out the week with a couple of l’arte d’arrangiarsi recipes. It seems silly but sometimes I almost need a reminder that when you have a bunch of summer veggies, the best thing to do with them is just saute and serve. Why do I always try to tart them up in some fancy recipe when they don’t need it? I had a package of brats that I picked up on sale at the grocery store. I cooked them and served them with cheesy garlic bread and a sauteed medley of onions (sauteed first and kept separate because onions upset my husband’s stomach), zucchini, green pepper and tomatoes. This is the best kind of meal for my family because all the components are there and you get to decide how you eat them. I chopped up my brat and ate it mixed with the sauteed veggies. My step-daughter (as referenced above) ate her brat hot-dog style and topped her cheesy garlic bread with the veggies.
The second l’arte d’arrangiarsi recipe is more of an actual recipe than the simple reminder. This recipe comes from my mom and she affectionately refers to it as “Zucchini Mess.” Anyone who grows zucchini or is from a small town with lots of gardeners knows how bountiful zucchini can be. This recipe gives people a new way to tear through the loads of zucchini that come out of your garden (or get left on your doorstep anonymously).
Cook a pound of Italian sausage until just underdone. Drain and add chopped garlic, onions, zucchini, yellow squash, and green pepper. (You can add or leave out any of these. For example, I don’t ever use onions. I opt instead for a petite diced tomato blend that includes aromatics because it is easier on my husband’s stomach. My recipe this time included just zucchini and green pepper.) Cook until veggies and sausage are done. Add a can of diced tomatoes and heat through. At this point you have even more options! You can stop and serve like this. It’s good. Here is what I did this time. Instead of just dumping in the tomatoes, I drained them into a 2-cup measuring cup. I added the tomatoes and then added a mixture of veggie broth and water to bring the liquid to 2 cups. I added a cup of brown rice and the liquid and to the skillet and let the rice cook until tender. I serve it hot with shredded cheese so my family can decide if they want to eat it plain or add a little cheese into their zucchini mess. You could could the rice separate, but I didn’t want to dirty up another pot since my dishwasher is temporarily out of commission! No matter how you decide to make your zucchini mess, this is a good base recipe that you can play with.