It all started with a recent visit to my BFF. She retired to the wine country and because we see no one else, we are safe to visit when I can get away. The weather was fine, the sun shining and the drive for once, easy going. I was in a grand mood when I arrived. What I didn’t bargain for was her end of summer garden bounty. As I drove up, I could even see tall corn stalks, silken golden tassels glinting in the sun, reaching high over her already tall security fence. Do corn stalks really get that tall? I was enchanted.
My BFF, however was over it. As someone blessed with a super taster food sense, she also is rare in that she gets bored by the same food rather easily. Most people eat 20 to 30 foods all the time but not my BFF, she has a much more varied diet. So, to put it bluntly, she was sick of the veggies she had grown so when I saw her garden up close, vegetables were literally falling off the vine. A good number of butternut squash littered the ground; cherry tomatoes were rotting , there were random squash everywhere.
The day I returned home, we visited the garden again. “Please take what you want,” she urged, piling my arms full with produce. Clearly my BFF was ready to plant fall produce and clear out what was lagging behind. So, we harvested. A lot. It only looked like a couple of grocery bags full but it was a LOT when I unpacked the bounty. Seven, maybe eight butternut squash, a half dozen ample zucchini, tons of tomatoes, some yellow round vegetables I thought were tomatoes but turned out to be another kind of squash…I kept unpacking and wondering just what the heck I’d gotten myself into.
Not one to turn my nose up at FREE, I dug in. I started with the butternut squash which is time consuming and takes knife skills to break down properly. I cubed up four butternut squash and froze the bunch. Done. I then took at least half a dozen tomatoes, sliced them thin, placed them on cookie sheets and drizzled with good olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. I placed them in a barely warm oven for four hours and let them dry out. Finally, I packed them all in clean glass jars and filled them with more olive oil. A free equivalent of sun dried tomatoes which are pricy even when on sale.
I pureed all the squash and froze it, flat pack style, in zip style freezer bags. I plan to use it for baking muffins, breads and my great zucchini rum cake. All great fall treats. I processed the rest of the butternut squash in various sized cubes; tiny for a future cheesy pasta bake and a little larger for a future grain and squash salad. The rest I roasted off the rest to make butternut squash soup, another fall favorite.
Finally, I took the bounty of the tiny cherry tomatoes and used them in my favorite pasta dish, recipe below. It’s a bit freestyle as recipes go but perfect for a weekday night when you have extra produce you need to use up.
The moral of this produce adventure is to prep, prep and then prep some more when you are gifted with a multiple crop windfall the way I was. You won’t be able to use the vast majority of it right away so prep everything you can, freezing most. And get creative. Most people would not have looked at all those tomatoes and thought, oven dried but it made sense because sun dried are so expensive and we personally love the intense flavor and chewy texture. Oven drying tomatoes or other veggies is also not time consuming or particularly labor intensive, especially if you compare it to the time and effort it takes to neatly break down hardy butternut squash. And you can also sheet roast what you expect to use up in the next few days. Oven roasted veggies make great additions to soups, salads, pastas, casseroles and more. And most squashes make excellent additions to a wide variety of sweet baked goods from basic muffins to cakes. And since pureed veggies tend to freeze well, you can zap them in the blender or food processor and use them at your leisure, no waste, no fuss.
Free Style Pasta
1 pound spaghetti
2 or so cups of cherry tomatoes or other tomatoes
1 carrot, thinly sliced into one inch long narrow matchsticks
1/2 to 1 whole onion, finely diced
3 or four garlic cloves, sliced, not minced
1 sweet red, yellow or orange bell pepper, sliced thin
1 cup finely shredded parmeaseam cheese
1 and a half cups heavy cream
Olive oil, salt and pepper
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Method: Cook the pasta according to directions on the package. Meanwhile, sauté the carrot first in about a tablespoon of olive oil for about two minutes before adding in the other veggies. Cook over medium heat until the tomatoes start to burst and give up their juices seven to ten minutes. Set veggies aside. Warm the heavy cream in a pan and add in the cheese, stirring until melted, pour over veggies and season with salt and pepper. You won’t need much salt, if at all, because of the cheese. You can sprinkle in red pepper flakes here if you like some heat. Toss with the cooked pasta and serve immediately.