Someone, somewhere has certainly declared “the more flowers, the better”. This is a sentiment I share with that someone, somewhere. I have two assignments for you if you’d like to quickly and easily set yourself up to have more flowers in your garden next year.
Your first assignment is to go stand in the part of your garden that has wildflower-y plants. You’ll notice two things. The first thing is that there are lots of spent flowers and seed heads that need to be deadheaded. Everything from rudbeckia to dill to penstemon has mature seed heads. You can always collect these seeds and put them in little envelopes to save for spring or you can take my lazy way out and snip off the seed head and fling it in the general direction you’d like it to grow next year. Flowering plants always seem to migrate to the edge of the garden bed and need some encouragement to move to the middle and back of the bed. Keep flinging seeds knowing that some of them will germinate right in the place they fall…so fling merrily.
Your second assignment is to find a spring or early summer bloomer and stand in front of it. A Columbine or Penstemon, Agastache and Echinacea are good possibilities. Often right at the feet of these now finished beauties are dozens of little plants or even seedlings that have germinated in the past month and are growing next year’s plants. I take my hori-hori knife and gently dig or carve out (we have lots of clay soil) a nice plug of soil that keeps the baby plants roots intact and plant it where I’d like more plants. If the plant is young and you didn’t disturb the roots much, there won’t be transplant shock…just a new perennial that will bloom next year.
Whether you are flinging seeds or digging up plant plugs, you’ve saved yourself a lot of time and fussing with seed starting trays under lights and you’ve tricked Mother Nature into letting those perennials bloom next year. New plants, more flowers – easy, quick and free. That’s my kind of gardening.
https://bbbseed.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/BBB-Seed-logo-with-tagline.png00konabirdhttps://bbbseed.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/BBB-Seed-logo-with-tagline.pngkonabird2022-08-25 06:00:002022-11-21 22:05:292 Easy Ways to Have More Flowers Next Year
It is good to understand the importance of beneficial insects in the garden — both pollinators and predators. We try to encourage the good guys into our gardens and celebrate their appearance.
Except…how can you be sure that the less-than-cuddly-looking four-legged creatures walking amongst your blossoms are the right ones? After all, heroes aren’t necessarily handsome (although we always assume they must be). No, your knights-in-shining-armor may have a face only a mother could love — or a gardener.
You might be surprised at how many good guys you don’t recognize. For instance, most people are very familiar with ladybugs and recognize them as part of the cavalry. The Volkswagen-shaped beetles will consume about 50 aphids a day, munching on plant mites and scales while they’re at it. They are definitely beneficial insects!
Yet I wonder how many ladybug children are killed simply because they don’t have Brad Pitt’s good looks. If you didn’t shudder when I mentioned the little darlings, then you probably haven’t met them. If you can picture a cross between an alligator and a lobster wearing black and orange/red leather biker pants — only creepier — then you’re on the right track. As far as looks go, ladybug larvae have nothing in common with their charming parents.
Ladybugs overwinter as adults, hiding under leaf debris. They do a quasi-hibernation called “diapause” and wake up when the days start getting longer or warmer. When they wake up they are hungry and look for pollen and insect eggs (like aphid or mite eggs).
There are over 300 types of Ladybugs just in North America
Ladybugs come in many colors besides red: pink, yellow, white, orange, and black.
The hard shell covering the adult ladybug protects the fragile wings and is called the elytra. It is so thin you can see through it and is used to make the ladybug look dangerous to predators. They actually secrete a foul-tasting, orange fluid from the joints in their legs. Ladybugs will even play dead if threatened.
Another bug I met this week is what insect scientists call a “true bug” whose common name is “Assassin Bug”! All of the creatures we call “beneficial insects” are beneficial because they eat bugs we don’t like in our gardens. We love the predators that eat thrips and whiteflies or all the beetle eggs on squash. We’re so happy to see the insects we like eating the babies of the insects we don’t like. But sometimes the top predators aren’t too picky and they eat bees and ladybugs and butterfly caterpillars too. Fortunately, they assassinate many more bad bugs than good bugs.
The bugs at the top of the food pyramid have some great names like assassin bugs or pirate bugs. They are still beneficial in our book because they are eating lots of the bad guys. Of course, they happily eat cute ladybugs and even their own siblings when they’re ravenous after hatching. Keep an eye out in your garden for some of these more interesting creatures.
Predatory Stink Bugs
Big Eyed Bugs
Damsel Bugs (Another example of a less-than-lovely beneficial insect. As the old saying goes; she’s plainer than a mud fence”.)
There is a look-alike bug to the stink bug called the Spined Soldier Bug who is a bug superhero! This bug eats two of the most damaging villains in our gardens: the Mexican bean beetle and the Colorado potato beetle. It also eats the eggs of its look-a-like, the Brown Marmorated stink bug. Learn to tell the difference between this beneficial insect and the annoying stink bug. The Soldier Bug has sharp spiny shoulders and is more likely to be alone and not as afraid of you. My rule for pulling weeds is always, “Don’t pull anything unless you know its name.” My rule for killing bugs is now the same, “Don’t kill anything unless you know its name for sure!” No guessing!
Crickets live in our gardens and yards all year and we mostly don’t even notice them until they begin their singing melodies announcing that the end of summer is coming. Crickets play a large role in our garden ecosystem. Crickets are Detritivores and Omnivores. They love their meat like small insects, egg pupae, scale, and aphids. Some feed primarily on plant material. Others balance their diet with pollen and nectar. They are known to eat a lot of weed seeds and mostly they eat decaying plant material and fungi. They live in and feed on the decaying leaf litter of the garden and yard. They leave behind tiny little cricket manures that help fertilize the soil. Another great beneficial insect.
Crickets are an important part of the food chain. (Another good reason not to use insecticides.) The list of who eats crickets is long: birds, mice, shrews, bats, rats, toads, frogs, small snakes, and salamanders. Other predators of crickets are lizards, mantids, spiders, wasps, ground beetles and ants, and of course, humans!
These leggy creatures are our friends! I’m not suggesting that you invite black widow spiders into your house, but spiders in the garden are hugely beneficial. Daddy Long Legs, otherwise known as “Harvestmen” eat bugs, especially aphids. Once again, we discover that we have yet other friends helping us produce food and flowers. They also eat other bugs and mites, dead insects, and bird droppings. Daddy Long Legs are related to the spider family but have no venom sac and no fangs.
The most important thing you can do in your garden and yard for all of the beneficial insects is not to clean up very well. You can pick up lots of leaves, but leave some of them scattered throughout the garden and in out-of-sight areas to give them a safe place to overwinter or lay eggs and forage. In the fall it’s best to try to not tidy up too much. Leave standing flower seed heads, leave leaf litter, and leave some hollow stems of plants and shrubs if you want your yard to be natural habitat. Most songbirds switch from eating seeds to insects during nesting season, then turn back to seeds for fall and winter. Lacewings, Ladybugs, and solitary bees hide in tiny nests under grasses and at the feet of willows or in debris under the shrubs. Leaving your garden and yard a more natural habitat will provide seeds for birds and give beneficial insects a place to nest all winter.
So, you can see how vital insect recognition can be if only so you don’t squash the same critters that are there to save the day! The best place to start is by learning about the insects local to your area. I like having a bug identification page called Mac’s Field Guide and they’re available for different regions. This large, laminated card has good garden bugs on one side and bad ones on the flip side. The one I have for California has images of the kids next to the adults, too. It also tells you where to look for both good beneficial insects and bad bugs and which plant whets their appetites.
If a particular insect really piques your interest, catch it in a jar. Bring it down to your local nursery or your local Cooperative Extension Office (Master Gardeners) for proper identification. You were probably going down there to see what new vegetable starts they brought in this week anyway.
https://bbbseed.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/BBB-Seed-logo-with-tagline.png00Mike Wadehttps://bbbseed.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/BBB-Seed-logo-with-tagline.pngMike Wade2022-08-17 08:00:572022-11-21 21:04:59Learn to Recognize Your Beneficial Insects
“The first ear of corn, eaten like a typewriter, means summer to me—intense, but fleeting.” ― Michael Anthony
There are two flavors of summer that I will unapologetically eat until bursting with absolutely no apologies because they haunt my food memories in the dead of winter. One is tomatoes fresh from the garden and the other is sweet corn.
Sweet corn is a vegetable that originated in the Americas and has spread worldwide. Originally referred to as maize the cultivation of corn was introduced in South America from Mexico in two waves: the first, more than 6000 years ago, spread through the Andes. Evidence of cultivation in Peru has been found dating to about 6700 years ago. The second wave, about 2000 years ago, spread corn through the lowlands of South America. Around 4,500 B.C., maize began to spread to the north; it was first cultivated in what is now the United States at several sites in New Mexico and Arizona, about 4,100 B.C.
During the first millennium AD, maize cultivation spread more widely in the areas north. In particular, the large-scale adoption of maize agriculture and consumption in eastern North America took place about A.D. 900. Native Americans cleared large forest and grassland areas for the new crop.
Corn is used in many foods including grits (in the South), polenta (in Italy), cornstarch, chowder, cornbread, cornflake cereal, hominy, popcorn, corn dogs, tamales and tortillas. But fresh sweet corn on the cob has to be the most popular and is a sure sign of summer.
Be sure to visit a farm stand that picks their corn daily and cook and eat it on the same day it was picked. The intensity of flavor will be at its peak and you won’t want to go back to the supermarket for corn ever again. Resist the urge to open the ears as that can cause the ears to dry out. Just feel for firm kernels and fill up your bag to overflowing with fresh, delicious sweet corn.
Last year a friend shared her secret to cooking corn easily and I now use this method exclusively. Instead of boiling a pot of water, shucking the corn and trying to remove all of the silk, use your microwave. Just pop un-shucked corn into the microwave for 4 minutes per ear, up to four ears at a time (16 minutes). Let cool slightly and then see how easily the shucks and silk come off the cooked ears. From there you can do all sorts of things with it. It’s easy to scrape off the kernels with a sharp knife and stash them in the freezer to bring back a taste of summer when you need it the most.
Here is one of my favorite ways to combine my two summer favorites – corn and tomatoes. It is delicious and you will want to make it as often as possible while these two summer vegetables are at their peak.
CORN AND TOMATO SALAD
Slice one pint of cherry tomatoes and salt generously (at least 1 teaspoon)
4 ears of corn, prepared as above and scraped from the cob
6-7 leaves of fresh basil, chiffonade
The key to this mixture is to set the salted tomatoes to the side for at least 30 minutes so that the tomatoes give up some of their juice and become slightly jammy. Add cooled corn and basil and enjoy. It keeps well and is one of the best things you will ever eat.
There are many add-ons you can do for this salad. It’s great with a few squeezes of lime juice, a drizzle of olive oil, or you can add chopped sweet onions, drained and rinsed black beans and cotija cheese for a great vegetarian taco or salsa fresca for fish tacos, a dip or topping on grilled fish or chicken. You can also substitute the cilantro, chopped parsley or thyme for the basil.
“A light wind swept over the corn, and all nature laughed in the sunshine. “Anne Bronte
https://bbbseed.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/BBB-Seed-logo-with-tagline.png00Engrid Winslowhttps://bbbseed.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/BBB-Seed-logo-with-tagline.pngEngrid Winslow2019-08-27 05:00:482021-03-17 16:42:02Sweet Corn – the Best Part of Summer
“If you can mock a leek, you can eat a leek!” ― William Shakespeare, Henry V
Since you planted leeks in the spring, now is the time to pat yourself on the back and enjoy the harvest. One of the simplest ways to enjoy leeks is to sauté them in butter and olive oil with mild peppers. It is also a good idea to slice them thinly and freeze them for adding to soups and stews during the winter.
Leeks are related to onions as they are both in the Allium family) but have a much more mild flavor. The Hebrew Bible talks of leeks, and reports it as abundant in Egypt. Dried specimens have been discovered at archaeological sites in ancient Egypt along with wall carvings and drawings, which indicate that the leek was a part of the Egyptian diet from at least the second millennium BCE. Texts also show that it was grown in Mesopotamia from the beginning of the second millennium BCE. The leek was a favorite vegetable of the Roman Emperor Nero, who consumed it in soup or in oil, believing it beneficial to the quality of his voice.
Some of the most common uses of Leek are as an ingredient of cock-a-leekie soup, leek and potato soup, and vichyssoise, as well as plain leek soup. But here are a couple of other ways for you to enjoy your harvest of leeks:
LEEKS AND CHICKEN
4 TBL extra-virgin olive oil 4 medium leeks, white and tender green parts, thinly sliced
Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a skillet and add leeks, sauté for a few minutes until they begin to wilt, then add 1/3 cup of water and cover. Let the leeks steam for up to7 minutes until very soft and melted, stirring every minute. Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Empty leeks and mushrooms into a separate bowl or plate.
Season chicken with salt and pepper and toss in ¼ cup of flour. Heat remaining oil in skillet and brown chicken until golden brown, add stock and thyme and simmer until chicken is just cooked through (about 1 more minute). Transfer chicken to bowl with vegetables.
Simmer the stock over moderate heat until reduced by half, 4-5 minutes. If the sauce is not thick enough, mix 1 tablespoon flour into vegetables and chicken. If too thick, add additional stock. Return vegetables and chicken to skillet and simmer until warmed through, about one minute. Blend yogurt and mustard together and stir into the stew. Season with salt and pepper, if needed and serve over rice.
https://bbbseed.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/BBB-Seed-logo-with-tagline.png00Engrid Winslowhttps://bbbseed.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/BBB-Seed-logo-with-tagline.pngEngrid Winslow2019-08-22 05:00:252021-03-17 18:10:35For The Love of Leeks
Mid- August to Mid- September is the prime time to start planning and planting your fall vegetable garden and your cool season vegetables. Even though it’s still hot outside, the nights are getting cooler and the days shorter. Now is the time to get those quick-growing, cool-season vegetables in the ground. For bountiful late-season harvests here are a few guidelines to follow.
-Know which crops to plant and when. Here’s a list of our favorite cool-season vegetables and their days to maturity.
Kale should be planted 85 – 90 days before the first frost. The leaves can handle a few light touches of frost and become sweeter each time.
Carrots can be planted 80-85 days before frost. They can be harvested when young and tender. Even after the cold temperatures shrivel the tops, they can be dug, sweet and juicy, from the ground throughout the fall.
Beets can do double duty with green tops for salads and tasty roots as well. Plant seeds about 65-70 days before frost, depending on the type you choose.
Leafy greens such as spinach and leaf lettuces, arugula, mustard greens and Swiss chard all do best in the cooler temperatures of fall. Plant seeds about 50-60 days before frost depending on the type of green chosen. These can be harvested when young and immature for delicious baby greens.
Photo courtesy of pexels by kaboompics 5809
Radishes are always great to spice up salads. These are fast-growing and can be planted 30-35 days before the first frost. Pull them when young and tender.
-Keep moist. The garden will dry out more quickly in the warm days of late summer than it did in the spring. Keep a close eye on new plantings to make sure those seeds or seedlings stay well-watered. A light covering of grass clippings or straw can serve as mulch, helping to retain moisture. Using a light row cover over newly planted areas can also help retain moisture, provide shade and protect against light frosts further down the road.
Fertilize once a week with an organic fertilizer with nitrogen and enjoy delicious salads and veggies all fall long.
https://bbbseed.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/BBB-Seed-logo-with-tagline.png00Heather Stonehttps://bbbseed.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/BBB-Seed-logo-with-tagline.pngHeather Stone2019-08-20 05:06:182021-02-08 10:42:29Plant Your Cool Season Vegetables Now
We are deep into August. Here are a few tips and reminders about where should we be focusing our time and efforts in the garden this month to make the most impact.
For many, August in the garden is an explosion of flowers, fruit and vegetables. Keep on top of harvesting! A daily inspection of zucchini plants ensures none escape your eye and turn into what more resembles a baseball bat than a vegetable. Check tomatoes for blossom end rot and adjust watering if needed.
Start gathering recipes for the crops you have in abundance. Hit up some of your favorite websites or blogs for recipe ideas. Check out our reader shared recipes here.
2. Harvest herbs for either fresh use or to save for later. Here are some tips for preserving herbs by freezing, drying or in vinegar.
3. As crops are harvested and bare space appears in the garden another August garden chore is to protect your soil by covering it with mulch or planting a cover crop.
4. Side-dress your warm-season crops with a little compost to give them a boost to finish out the growing season.
5. Now is the time to plant another sowing of cool-season vegetables like lettuces, chard, kale, radish, spinach, arugula, beets, carrots and peas. This doesn’t have to take long and you’ll thank yourself later when you have fresh salad greens throughout the fall. Plant another row of bush beans too for a fall harvest.
Photo courtesy of pixabay – couleur 3702999_1280
6. Keep weeds under control in both the perennial and vegetable gardens. Weeds rob moisture, nutrients and light from our desired plantings.
7. Keep perennials deadheaded and cleaned up. Tuck a pair of pruners in your pocket while walking through and enjoying your garden. I little clean up here and there helps keep pests at bay and saves on time later.
8. Continue to care for your plants in pots by deadheading, removing dead and diseased foliage and regularly fertilizing.
9. Take notes and/or pictures of what worked and what didn’t in your garden. These reminders will help next spring when it’s time to plant again.
What’s bugging your garden? Mysterious holes in the leaves of your favorite rose? Earwigs buried deep in the leaves of your lettuce? Flea beetles mangling your perennials and vegetables? Most people are averse to creepy crawlies in their gardens but, please, BEFORE you reach for the chemicals to blast them into the stratosphere, consider that all of the insects are essential to having a healthy garden and planet. So here are a few suggestions for less toxic remedies of getting rid of garden pests to try in your garden.
Slugs – small saucers of beer tucked under leaves will attract them and they will fall in and drown. Slugs aren’t picky so don’t waste a craft brew on them – Coors works just fine.
Earwigs – There are a couple of things you can try for these and one is a small saucer of soy sauce with a little bit of vegetable oil and you’ll get the same results as with the slugs, above. You can also roll up several sheets of newspaper and get them fairly wet. Slide them under your plants in the evening and throw them away in the morning.
Aphids – These are a very weak, soft-bodied insect that feed on tender new foliage and buds. You can bet that if you have aphids, you will soon have a host of ladybugs feasting on them. If you can’t wait, then use soapy water with a few drops of oil and spray or dab on the foliage. You can also use garlic spray.
Photo courtesy of pixabay.
Flea and other beetles – Diatomaceous earth is a mineral composed of the skeletal remains of tiny sea creatures. It has edges that are sharp and will pierce the bodies of beetles and cause them to dry out. It will harm beneficial insects and earthworms, so use sparingly. Also, don’t breathe it into your lungs.
Other insects – Use a lightweight row cover to protect young plants and the ones that are being chomped on the most.
There are other products available at most garden centers now that gardeners are more aware of the consequences of the use of most pesticides to insects, animals, fish and even people. Some of the best tools in your arsenal are: (1) creating biodiversity and selecting plants that attract pollinators and (2) nurturing the soil by using products such as compost and nettle teas. Recognize that most pests run their course if you are patient and wait for their predators to show up.
https://bbbseed.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Whats-Bugging-Your-Garden.jpg300300Engrid Winslowhttps://bbbseed.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/BBB-Seed-logo-with-tagline.pngEngrid Winslow2019-07-09 14:26:402021-05-18 19:41:56What’s Bugging Your Garden
Many of us have tried our hands at the new Victory Gardens and are getting back to our roots in our community’s Grow Local movements. With the flow of garden produce increasing each minute, we have donated excess to the local Community Food Share programs and, we are beginning to be mildly panicked at the thought of all of that fresh produce going to waste solely because we can’t use it fast enough.
With our neighbors slamming their doors when they see us heading their way with an armload of our best organically grown zucchinis we find ourselves wishing the bounty could be spread out over the year and last well beyond the late summer flush. More and more people are turning to home food preservation as a way to keep the bounty of their hard-earned, organic, heirloom, non-genetically modified gardens coming.
Now is the time to start your research, before the tidal wave of tomatoes sweeps you away. The number of food preservation methods is exciting and a bit daunting. Drying foods is one of the oldest methods of preserving foods. Also, canning, freezing, pickling, curing and smoking, and fermenting are ways to keep your pantry full during the winter.
What could be more fulfilling than pulling out a sparkling jar of homemade salsa when the snowflakes are flying to bring back warm memories of those beautiful heirloom tomatoes growing on the vine? CSU Extension has a couple of great publications on how to dry vegetables and fruits with all that you need to know about nutritional values, methods and safety precautions.
With all of our efforts to ensure that we each have gotten the most nutritious value from our fresh produce, it would be prudent to search for the newest scientific research into home food preservation methods. We want to eat healthy fruits and vegetables even when they are not in season. The USDA encourages us to use safe canning methods. Scientific developments have changed recommendations over time. Always use up-to-date methods and do not just rely on the practices of past generations. A great place to start is by exploring the National Center for Home Food Preservation website from the University of Georgia.
Publications and resources are available at the center’s website with useful tips for proper preservation techniques. Also, not to be missed is an awesome, free, online self-study course called;
Preserving homegrown food can be an economical and fulfilling way to enjoy quality, nutritional food from your garden all year long. So when your heirloom tomatoes, squash, onions, peppers, beans, garlic, beets, and turnips cover every surface in your home and garage and the refrigerator is brimming with more fragile produce, you will be fortified with the knowledge necessary to safely preserve the bounty for the time when the snowflakes will inevitably fly.
Today I’ve been thinking about how the garden tools I use have made me a better gardener. I have spent a lot of money over the years on tools that break or tools that seemed clever but end up unused. I garden at least twenty hours a week for other people, so my tools need to be effective and efficient as well as durable.
(Keep these in mind if you are trying to figure out a good holiday or birthday gift for a gardener friend or relative! One of these and a great gift card for seeds is sure to be useful and welcome!)
My Must-Have Garden Tools include:
Good Hand Pruners naturally. Felco pruners are great if you can afford them. A sharp edge is the more important feature of hand pruners and you need a high-end pruner that does have cheapo soft metal that dulls the first time you use it. I like Felcos, but Corona and Fiskars both have high-end pruners that are good. For my use, I need a replaceable blade because no matter how much you sharpen, at some point you need a fresh blade. I have hand pruners in two sizes…a smaller pair for perennial maintenance because they are lighter weight and a larger pair for shrubs, roses and trees. Last year Costco had a great deal on a generic version of Felcos in a two-pack.
A Soil Knife. The original name of this tool was a hori-hori knife and my first one came right from Japan. Now I like the bright orange soil knife from AM Leonard. The plastic resin handle holds up better than wood and the bright orange is easier to find when I lose it. You have to be careful of the extremely sharp edges (one side serrated and one side flat) but this is my combo trowel, weed digger, shovel, a garden tool for dividing perennials, etc. Fiskars Power Gear Bypass Lopper 15 or 18 inches. I love the Fiskars PowerGear line. They really do give you more power per effort than any other lopper. I use the smaller loppers the most because they are lightweight and because they fit more easily between dense branches.
Black and Decker cordless (18V) sweeper. They don’t call this a vac because it’s not strong enough for big piles of leaves…but it’s the perfect quick cleanup at the end of working in the garden whether you’re “sweeping” a path or blowing debris lightly off of rock mulch. I also use it to sweep my kitchen floor.
Milwaukee Sawzall pruning blade. This vicious jagged blade is one of the secret weapons that let me do the work of your average 20-year-old male landscaper. Perfect for cutting trees or cutting right in the soil through old roots.
Mini Shovel and Mini Mattock Pickaxe. OK, laugh if you want, my friends do….but then they go out and get these mini tools when they see how much work they let me do. They are the same tools the aforementioned 20-year olds use in full-sized versions, but lightweight enough for me to use without ruining my rotator cuff, a common gardening injury. I use both while kneeling in the soil up close and personal to my job. Don’t get a wimpy camping pick or a garden pick made of thin metal…get the real thing in the hardware store.
Those tools and a colorful TubTrug or two, (those bendable colorful garden buckets that are worth every nickel) and you’ll find yourself able to work faster and stronger in the garden without trying too hard.
https://bbbseed.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/BBB-Seed-logo-with-tagline.png00Sandy Swegelhttps://bbbseed.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/BBB-Seed-logo-with-tagline.pngSandy Swegel2018-11-13 05:00:362021-02-09 11:16:53Tools to be a Better Gardener
Ratatouille screams to me of summer and there are dozens of ways to make it. The only real essentials are tomatoes, onion, eggplant and zucchini cooked down into a stew and seasoned with salt and pepper. It is delicious as a vegetarian main dish and can be served hot, room temperature, or even cold. You can also top it with cheese, add chunks of chicken and serve it over rice, or roll it up in a lettuce leaves or a tortilla. It can be cooked in a crockpot, baked or stewed. Here is a “classic” preparation followed by a few variations for you to play with. You can learn more about the history of this dish here.
Serves 5 to 6
3 TBL olive oil 3 medium tomatoes, chopped or 14 oz. canned
2 medium onions, chopped 2 large crushed cloves of garlic
1 medium eggplant, cubed in 1” chunks 1 medium green bell pepper, in 1” chunks
5-6 medium zucchini, sliced 1 medium red bell pepper, in 1” chunks
½ cup chopped fresh parsley ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
½ tsp salt 2 TBL tomato paste
¼ tsp pepper 1 cup shredded gruyere cheese (optional)
In a 4-5 Quart pot, heat olive oil and add garlic, eggplant, peppers and onions. Cook over medium heat, stirring often until onions are crisp-tender (about 5 minutes). Stir in zucchini, tomatoes, parsley and basil. Heat to boiling, then reduce to medium, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Remove cover, season with salt and pepper and stir in tomato paste. Continue cooking, uncovered, for another 10 minutes. Serve as is or over hot cooked rice. Top with a sprinkling of cheese.
Make it Middle Eastern by omitting the basil and cheese and stirring in the following spices when you add the zucchini and tomatoes:
½ tsp ground cumin ½ tsp turmeric ¼ tsp coriander
Change up the vegetables in the classic recipe or just add more. Some favorites are corn, peas and beans, or other summer squash such as patty pan.
Make it Italian: Melt a couple of anchovies into the oil along with the garlic and tomatoes. This adds a layer of umami flavors that is quite good. Then add a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar just before serving.
Consider serving it with a different grain besides rice. Quinoa, farro, couscous and others are a delicious and very healthy twist.
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