Making the Most of Summer Produce

Sandra L. Oliver shares her best tips and recipes for combatting fresh-veggie fatigue.

Photo 1 ©Tomas Marek |

One more green bean lands on your kitchen counter and you are ready to scream. Summer squashes grow limp in the vegetable drawer, and even though you thought the tomatoes would never ripen, now you have a bushel and you wonder what you’ll do with them. If, like me, you have ever found yourself longing for frost to end the vegetable deluge, you need some strategies for coping with abundance. And a hot stove with a canner full of bubbling-hot water — and a kitchen strewn with canning jars — is not always a desirable option. Here are six simpler ways to use up your Maine veggies and preserve them for months to come.

Wilt them 

Vegetables are mostly water, so you can cut them down to size, intensify their flavor, and use a lot of them, especially greens, by sautéing a little onion, garlic, or shallot in a pan and adding spinach, kale, beet greens, chard, and Asian greens of all sorts, and then wilting them. Serve right away, or sprinkle some cooked couscous, quinoa, rice, or small pasta among them, give it a stir, and serve it up. Even veg-resistant types are beguiled by the grains.

Roast them 
Almost anything is very good roasted individually or in combinations. Dribble olive oil among broccoli, green beans, diced potatoes, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, turnips, radishes (yes, even radishes), winter squash, and good old Brussels sprouts, with some garlic, onion, leeks, or shallots, and your favorite herbs tossed in. Spread on a baking sheet and roast at 450 degrees for fifteen to twenty minutes. This method makes for infinitely flexible dishes that utilize tons of extra vegetables. (Note: When roasted, yellow squash and zucchini shrink, and flavors brighten. Sprinkle them with your favorite herb blend, curry, or cumin, and give them fifteen minutes at 400 degrees. Ditto for tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers.)

Grill them 

This is the same principle as roasting, only you use the grill. Don’t forget to cut the vegetables larger so they don’t fall through the grill racks. You can even grill a whole head of romaine lettuce. Trim the leafy end (save it for salad), brush the outside leaves with olive oil mixed with a little red wine vinegar, with or without herbs, and grill it whole, turning every couple of minutes until the outside is evenly cooked. Serve in chunks or slice it up into a salad.

Drink them
Juicing is another gambit to reduce tomatoes, carrots, beets, and all to a drinkable state. For this process, it helps to have special equipment. It’s a little challenging, but you can puree green vegetables like kale, spinach, chard, Asian greens, lettuces, and cucumbers, with many different kinds of soft fruit, including bananas, strawberries, grapes, peaches, mangoes, cranberries, kiwis, and avocados. Thin out with coconut milk, water, or fruit juices to make smoothies chock full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Freeze them 
When my back is against the wall, I heave chopped rhubarb, whole strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, chopped peppers, barely blanched green beans or peas, and shelled beans into the freezer. I can always take the tomatoes out later (even months later) and make them into sauce. To freeze the other vegetables, after a minute’s blanching, spread loosely on cookie sheets to cool, then knock them off into zip-closing freezer bags and stack them flat on freezer shelves.

Cut corn off the cob and spoon it into freezer bags, flatten it, squeeze out the air, zip it closed, and freeze them flat, too. Grate zucchini or yellow squash and freeze in one-cup amounts to use in zucchini cake or muffins, or to add to soup, spaghetti sauce, or otherwise sneak into dishes to up your family’s vegetable ante. Scoop roasted or grilled vegetables like summer squash, green beans, peppers, and others into zip-closing bags, flatten, squeeze out air, zip closed, and freeze flat. To use them, merely microwave or warm briefly in a sauté pan. Double up on any dish like ratatouille or wilted greens and freeze what you don’t eat for use some other time. This principle works for chili, spaghetti sauce, soups, and stews. Double your batches and freeze some for a fast supper later.

Pickle them
There are lots of recipes out there for refrigerator pickles, usually a simple brine of water, vinegar, and/or salt and sugar, heated up and poured over raw vegetables in a jar, which are stored in the fridge until wanted. I’ll bet there’s one in your favorite all-purpose cookbook, and you can certainly find them online. Stick a gallon jar of the brine in the fridge and add spare cucumbers, green beans, little onions, zucchini, cauliflower — you name it — and leave until they have acquired the pickled flavor you like best. Try this simple recipe for a quart of brine: two cups each of cider vinegar and water, heated with one and a half tablespoons each of salt and sugar in it until dissolved. Pour over vegetables, add a clove or two of garlic and a sprig of tarragon.