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Last Taste of Summer

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The last long hot days of summer's end are special but always hectic. For the gardening cook, the results of all our labors are ready for daily harvesting, and often the abundance of fresh ripe vegetables and leafy herbs can threaten to overwhelm our kitchen counters and pantries. It's the season for jokes about giant zucchinis, and the thoughts that would have been just dreams in April or May (like too many tomatoes or an overabundance of ripe melons) are now a reality!

By this time of year, most of us are all getting fairly tired of our standard repertoire of preparing garden vegetables. It's a perfect time to try some new recipe ideas for meals to utilize the last big flush of the summer garden's rich rewards.

Center place in most American gardens goes to tomatoes picked perfectly ripe from the vine because nothing can top their juicy texture, full sweet flavor and beautiful jewel-toned colors. Harvest fruits when their color is even and glossy and texture is soft but resilient. Tomatoes ripen from the bottom or "blossom end" to their tops or "shoulders" where they are attached to the stem. Don't store ripe tomatoes in the refrigerator, as cold temperatures mute and dampen their flavor and sweetness. Piled in a basket, the beauty and color of your tomato harvest will provide just as much satisfaction as any bouquet.

If your tomato harvest threatens to overwhelm you, but days seem just too busy and sultry to make and put up sauce in jars, consider freezing your tomatoes. Just rinse and dry them and put into heavy zip-lock freezer bags. When defrosted, they'll have lost their shape, but not their flavor, and it will be easy to slip off their skins. Sauce will be fresh tasting, cook down quickly, and the kitchen will smell like August again!

By the end of the season, you'll still have lots of green as well as red tomatoes on the vines and probably not enough time to ripen them all up before cold weather sets in and puts an end to plant production. Enjoy your green tomatoes in our delicious Green Tomato and Apple Pie, not too sweet and fragrant with spices.

Or make our Green and Red Tomato Sauce – the tart but full-flavored green tomatoes balance and complement the sweetness of the red tomatoes. You can also slice, batter and fry up thick slices of green tomatoes, or pickle them. To use green tomatoes in cooking, choose those that are closest to coloring up, as they'll have more useable flesh than small, hard, unripe fruits. 

View a sampling of recipes from Renee's cookbooks

Green Tomato and Apple Pie
Arugula and Nectarine Salad
Cantaloupe Salsa
Green and Red Tomato Sauce

Most people know arugula as a piquant salad green. It's a treat to use its robust spicy taste as a flavor foil for sweet ripe fruits as we've done in our Arugula and Nectarine Salad. You can also substitute peaches or plums to good effect. Add cooked turkey, smoked fish or leftover BBQ chicken to make a whole meal salad. The combination of slightly tangy arugula and honey-sweet fruits will really perk up jaded palates.

Grilling vegetables is one of my favorite ways to prepare them in the summer. I just cut the veggies into thick slices and brush with olive oil and grill until softened and a little charred, then sprinkle with salt and fresh chopped herbs. Besides being easy and healthy, the results are savory and delicious. Slow grilling allows vegetables' natural sugars to caramelize from the aromatic heat of the BBQ. Onions and eggplants and peppers are especially rich flavored when cooked this way.

Freshly made fruit salsas are a delicious way to compliment and enliven the flavors of fish, poultry and meat. Our Cantaloupe Salsa combines sun-kissed melon flavor with citrus, mint, cilantro and chile for a colorful bright tasting fresh salsa that is also wonderful with rice or beans. Salsas add color, taste and just plain eating fun to everyday meals and their spicy pizzazz makes everything on the table seem different and better. Salsas should be prepared close to mealtime so their fresh ingredients are at their peak and the mixture doesn't get too watery or limp in texture. These spicy fresh combinations are wonderful to spark up everyone's appetite when the heat is on.

If zucchinis seem to be getting away from you in size or quantity, solve the problem by literally nipping it in the bud and eat the flowers before they can form fruit! This old Italian custom yields some very tasty morsels. Pick male blossoms, (the ones without tiny fruit shapes at their bases) and pluck out the pollen-bearing anthers inside. Fill with your favorite ravioli stuffing and brush with butter or oil. Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes. Serve with Green and Red Tomato Sauce. Or, in southern Italian style, simply dip the blossoms in well-beaten egg, then flour and saute in hot olive oil until golden brown. Season with garlic salt and fresh chopped parsley.

If your tomato harvest threatens to overwhelm you, but days seem just too busy and sultry to make and put up sauce in jars, consider freezing your tomatoes. Just rinse and dry them and put into heavy zip-lock freezer bags. When defrosted, they'll have lost their shape, but not their flavor, and it will be easy to slip off their skins. Sauce will be fresh tasting, cook down quickly, and the kitchen will smell like August again!

By the end of the season, you'll still have lots of green as well as red tomatoes on the vines and probably not enough time to ripen them all up before cold weather sets in and puts an end to plant production. Enjoy your green tomatoes in our delicious Green Tomato and Apple Pie, not too sweet and fragrant with spices.

Or make our Green and Red Tomato Sauce – the tart but full-flavored green tomatoes balance and complement the sweetness of the red tomatoes. You can also slice, batter and fry up thick slices of green tomatoes, or pickle them. To use green tomatoes in cooking, choose those that are closest to coloring up, as they'll have more useable flesh than small, hard, unripe fruits. 

View a sampling of recipes from Renee's cookbooks

Green Tomato and Apple Pie
Arugula and Nectarine Salad
Cantaloupe Salsa
Green and Red Tomato Sauce

Most people know arugula as a piquant salad green. It's a treat to use its robust spicy taste as a flavor foil for sweet ripe fruits as we've done in our Arugula and Nectarine Salad. You can also substitute peaches or plums to good effect. Add cooked turkey, smoked fish or leftover BBQ chicken to make a whole meal salad. The combination of slightly tangy arugula and honey-sweet fruits will really perk up jaded palates.

Grilling vegetables is one of my favorite ways to prepare them in the summer. I just cut the veggies into thick slices and brush with olive oil and grill until softened and a little charred, then sprinkle with salt and fresh chopped herbs. Besides being easy and healthy, the results are savory and delicious. Slow grilling allows vegetables' natural sugars to caramelize from the aromatic heat of the BBQ. Onions and eggplants and peppers are especially rich flavored when cooked this way.

Freshly made fruit salsas are a delicious way to compliment and enliven the flavors of fish, poultry and meat. Our Cantaloupe Salsa combines sun-kissed melon flavor with citrus, mint, cilantro and chile for a colorful bright tasting fresh salsa that is also wonderful with rice or beans. Salsas add color, taste and just plain eating fun to everyday meals and their spicy pizzazz makes everything on the table seem different and better. Salsas should be prepared close to mealtime so their fresh ingredients are at their peak and the mixture doesn't get too watery or limp in texture. These spicy fresh combinations are wonderful to spark up everyone's appetite when the heat is on.

If zucchinis seem to be getting away from you in size or quantity, solve the problem by literally nipping it in the bud and eat the flowers before they can form fruit! This old Italian custom yields some very tasty morsels. Pick male blossoms, (the ones without tiny fruit shapes at their bases) and pluck out the pollen-bearing anthers inside. Fill with your favorite ravioli stuffing and brush with butter or oil. Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes. Serve with Green and Red Tomato Sauce. Or, in southern Italian style, simply dip the blossoms in well-beaten egg, then flour and saute in hot olive oil until golden brown. Season with garlic salt and fresh chopped parsley.