it’s September and we’re freezing in Montana … and pickling, too.

I hope you’re having as much fun as we are in the garden this year.  It’s been a bumper crop so far.

We’ve already eaten every last of our carrots.  (We’re going to have to plant more next year.)

And broccoli. (Another crop we’ll need to expand next year … good thing we just added two more raised beds!)

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We have too much zucchini that ripened all at the same time (and just as many left on the vine to ripen in the next week).

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A lot of tomatoes …

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 … and again, even more on the vine waiting to ripen.

A few pounds of cucumbers.

More than a few heads of garlic.

A good amount of basil.

And not enough peppers (It’s not easy to grow peppers in a raised bed in Montana … the nights are too cold and the season too short).  But we were able to grow ONE (out of  8 plants).

lone pepper

I’m re-thinking the strategy on peppers for next year.  Does anyone have an easy how-to build a cold frame they’d like to share using old storm windows?

So now that we’ve harvested so much of our bounty, my brain is turning to food storage.  Because we want to take advantage of all this goodness, but know we can’t eat it all before it goes bad and as much as I appreciate our compost bin, I don’t want to see this goodness wind up there.  So what to do to preserve and store?

ZUCCHINI

My hope is to preserve as much of the “freshness” as we can with zucchini.  We’re blanching an freezing most of the what we’ve plucked from the garden this year for use in stews and soups as the weather turns colder.

But blanching veggies that you’re  going to freeze is a little different from blanching veggies you’re going to eat right away. When you’re blanching to freeze, do NOT salt the water.  Salt will break down the cell walls and you’ll end up with mushy vegetables.  And that’s not what we want.  We want a bit of crisp fresh goodness in the midst of our winter.  At least, that’s what want.  Maybe you like mushy zucchini?

Here’s how we’re doing it:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Meanwhile, half-fill a large bowl with cold water and some ice to use as an ice bath.  While the water comes to a boil, chop the zucchini into similar-sized pieces (rounds, squares, wedges … whatever shape you’re hoping to use in the coming months).  For this batch (which is a soup-batch) I chose to chop them into 1-inch bits.  Regardless of their shape, keep the size roughly the same.  It will help ensure even cooking time when you go to use them.

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Once the pot of water is at a rolling boil, carefully add cubed or sliced zucchini (in batches if necessary).  As soon as the skin turns “bright green” and the zucchini is a nice firm al dente texture (just about a minute for smaller bits, one to two minutes for larger chunks) use a slotted spoon to remove and add to the ice bath to stop the cooking.

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From the ice bath, I move the zucchini to tray lined either with paper towel or a flour-sack towel and let drain for just a few minutes before I put them in Ziploc freezer bags that I lay flat to freeze.

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IMG_1022 (NOTE:  I feel funny using plastic for this food storage, but I haven’t found an alternative yet that works for freezing.  And I don’t love what happens to summer squash in canning.  If you have a suggestion, I would LOVE to hear it!)

TOMATO 

Unlike my sister Teri, who gagged when I sent her the photo from above of our tomato-bounty :), I love tomatoes.  (In her defense, she had a tomato soup incident as a 4-year-old that pretty much sealed her never-eat-a-tomato-even-ketcheup fate.  I don’t want to tell you about it because it was gross. Needless to say … she doesn’t eat tomatoes.)

But as I said, I love tomatoes. Fresh, they are bright and sweet and perfect.  Heated, they get even sweeter and warmer and

Our littles love tomatoes.  But even so … there are just too many in the garden this year to be able to eat them all fresh.  I can only eat so many tomato sandwiches, caprese salads and ratatouille in one day.  So what we can’t eat fresh, I’ve decided to turn into three staples we need in the kitchen all year long and then freeze.

I’ve already made 1 1/2 gallons of this Tomato Sauce (which I will use for pizza, pasta, meatballs, soup, etc).  I’ve got enough tomatoes in the kitchen this morning to make another half gallon.  When all is said and done, I’ll have up with three gallons in the freezer.

Taco Sauce.  After we’ve got the tomato sauce stored, I’ll turn to taco sauce and do the same process.  My goal is to have at least half a gallon of taco sauce in pint jars for easy use.

And then Tomato Paste … a recipe I’ll share when I have a chance to get some photos of the process.  I just don’t love that most tomato paste comes in BPA-lined little cans.  Tomatoes are so acidic.  And often, recipes call for just a tablespoon or two of this burst of brightness so then you end up using just a little of the 2 oz can and the rest goes to waste.  SOOOOO … I’m off to Owenhouse Ace Hardware for a 12-pack of 4 oz ball jars to prep for the tomato paste adventure.

CUCUMBER

We used This Recipe to make garlic dill pickles.

BASIL and GARLIC

I’m going to have to plant even more garlic this year because I’m using so much what we harvested right now.  I’ve used several head in the tomato sauce.  I’ll use more in the taco sauce.  I’ve been on a bit of a hummus-jag these days.  And whatever’s left of the garlic will end up combined with whatever’s left of the basil in a pesto.

All this food-stuff … it gets me so excited for next year’s garden!  I’m already making lists and plans.  And we’re only about a month away from having to plant the garlic!

I need to make a seed order … STAT!

xo,

Jeanne

not your grandmother’s Italian meatballs

Jeanne here.

My Jersey-born-Italian brother-in-law Neal will attest … I am not Italian (not that you could tell, what with me being a six foot blonde).

But I’ve got a few Italian-inspired dishes in my repertoire that your grandmother from the Old Country might not love, but our motley crew seem to like well enough.

Like this spicy-basily-delicious tomato sauce.

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Even my tomato-hating sister Teri likes this sauce.

And it takes all of about 15 minutes to make.

And then there are these meatballs.

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These easy slow-cooker meatballs.

That taste good over cooked pasta.

Or in a sandwich.

Or sliced and piled on a homemade pizza.

They’re not very big (about 1 1/2 inches in diameter) … I don’t dig big meatballs.  Every time I’ve tried to make them bigger they end up dried out or undercooked.  This size keeps ’em juicy … and manageable … and that makes this recipe yield about 30-32 meatballs … and feeds us for dinner and sometimes 2 or 3 meals after.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 3/4 cup panko-style breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 cup asiago cheese
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 medium onion (finely chopped)
  • 3 tablespoons Italian parsley (finely chopped)
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • 5 cups tomato sauce

DIRECTIONS:

Combine beef, breadcrumbs, cheese, salt, pepper, garlic, onion, parsley and egg in a lagre bowl. (I take off my rings, wash my hands and get into it … it’s a sure way to make sure the ingredients are good and blended.)

Form into 1 1/2 inch balls and stack gently in the crockpot.

Smother with tomato sauce.  Set on “Low” for 6-8 hours and serve ’em up.

Yum.

spicy tomato soup with chard and quinoa

A few weeks ago I was soaking some quinoa for soup.

But I didn’t follow it up with a post because I was still wrestling with the recipe.

I knew what I wanted: a protein packed, spicy, chunky, flavorful tomato soup with nourishing dark leafy greens.

You see, I had been thinking about making a tomato-quinoa soup for a while … in part because I don’t love traditional “Campbells-like” thin and runny tomato soup.  I think it’s missing texture … and depth of flavor … and when it’s out of a can, it’s full of BPAs that have leached into the tomatoes.  In addition to all the reports about how BPAs affect hormone levels and might be cancer-causing, a new study from Berkeley shows that it affects thyroid function.  And there’s some preliminary evidence in the same article that shows it can affect brain development in newborns.

In light of this information, we don’t eat canned tomatoes … or much canned anything, these days unless it is fresh out of the garden and into the canning jar ;).

Which brings me to this soup that I’d been dreaming about.

So I went ahead and made my first effort.  And I’ll admit this freely: often times, my first attempt offers me a great opportunity to learn something new.  But this time … I loved the soup.

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And so did the Cowboy.

And my niece.

And her boyfriend (fiance, actually … as of about 3 weeks ago!).

And the littles.

But by the time it was clear the recipe was a success, there wasn’t enough soup left to take any photos.

And I wanted to make sure I could recreate the recipe.

And I’m very excited to report that this Saturday, I did it!  And it was JUST as good this second time around!!

serves 6

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa (soaked) – NOTE: once the quinoa soaks, it expands.  1 cup gets cooked with the soup, the rest (which turns out to be a little more than another cup) gets cooked in a pot on the side to add if you want a thicker, more quinoa-y soup
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons to make croutons
  • 1 yellow onion (chopped)
  • 2 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 1 teaspoon cracked red pepper
  • 2 lbs Campari tomatoes (quartered)
  • 4 large Swiss chard leaves (with the large center vein removed and chopped into 1 inch ribbons)
  • 1 quart bone broth (or vegetable broth)
  • sea salt (to taste)
  • 6 thick slices if sourdough bread
  • 1 tablespooon herbs de provence
  • 1/3 cup Manchego cheese (finely shredded)

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DIRECTIONS:

The Night Before (or early in the morning)

Soak the quinoa.  One and a half cups of quinoa in a class or ceramic container, covered with filtered water (with about an inch more water than quinoa), plus one and a half tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice).  Cover with a clean dish towel, paper towel or cheese cloth and set aside in a warm spot in your kitchen.  NOTE: The quinoa will expand to a little more than 2 cups … only add 1 cup to your soup when the time comes, cook the rest in a saucepan on the side so you can add more to each bowl if you want a thicker soup.)

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When you’re ready to start cooking (active cook-time is about 25 minutes)

Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer until the water runs clear.  (Not only soaking break down the phytic acid that binds the nutrients to the grain and makes them difficult to digest, but it also eliminates the “bitter taste” that un-soaked quinoa can have.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (this is for the croutons).

Heat a large saucepan on med-high.  Add olive oil and cracked pepper.  Add garlic and onion.  Sauté until the onions are translucent (about 5 minutes).  Add the tomatoes and let cook down until the tomatoes break down and there’s enough liquid to cover the contents of the pan (about 5 minutes).

Add the bone broth and bring to a boil.

Add 1 cup of the the thoroughly rinsed quinoa.  Simmer for 5 minutes, then cover and lower the heat.  Let it simmer on low for about 15-20 minutes (until the quinoa is thoroughly cooked.  (Use this time to cook the remaining quinoa in a saucepan on the side.  Like rice, quinoa cooks at a ratio of 2:1 … so for example, if there’s a cup of quinoa left, bring 2 cups water and salt to a boil, add the quinoa, lower the heat and cover for 15-20 minutes).

While the soup is simmering, it’s time to make the croutons.

Take the six ½” slices of sourdough bread and brush both sides with olive oil, sprinkle with herbs de provence and salt and pepper.  Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 5-7 minutes.  Turn them over and let cook for another 2-3 minutes.  Remove from the oven and put them in the bottom of your individual serving bowls.

Back to the soup.   Once the quinoa is tender and cooked through, add the Swiss Chard and let it wilt, stirring it into the broth.

Serve the soup over the croutons. In fact, be sure you don’t skip the croutons … the herbs de Provence and the texture of the crunchy bread really make a difference.

Sprinkle with Manchego cheese shavings (to taste … and you don’t have to use Manchego.  Asiago would also be tasty.  Or Parmesan.), and don’t be embarrassed if you want to lick the bowl … or go back for seconds.

NOTE:  The Cowboy likes to add extra cooked quinoa to his bowl, so I generally make an extra cup of quinoa on the side.  It definitely makes the soup more filling.  I like mine “soupier.”

We’re linked up on This Chick Cooks!