Are you someone who gardens with no plan to can and prefers to live life fresh-veggie-to-fresh-veggie?
But, at this point in the summer, maybe you are running out of ways to keep it, well, fresh. Don’t let your bounty perish on the vine. There are plenty of ways to keep putting your garden on the dinner plate.
Before you reinvent the wheel, know that lots of meals your family already enjoys can be spruced up with your garden prizes if you get creative.
To start, a great vessel for veggies is the already likeable pizza. Whether you like alfredo or marinara sauce, prefer to make yours from scratch or take a short cut with a pre-made pizza, your pizza can be powered up with some fresh pickings. When assembling, remember that some vegetables take longer to cook than your pizza might, so if that is the case, either slice vegetables thinly or saute them in a pan before adding them to the pie.
Another play on pizza is the appetizer style you may see at a potluck or party, using roll out dough and a cream cheese base layer. Combined with raw veggies, it’s fun for an actual party or a daily party of hungry kids, plus it’s a simple recipe they can lend a hand to make.
Likewise, pasta is another candidate to mix and match flavors with. Anything you happen to have ripening up can get tossed in with noodles of your choice, from peas, tomatoes, peppers and corn for a cold pasta salad or squash, zucchini and red pasta or alfredo sauce warmed up. Cold pasta salad often gets served as a side dish at gatherings but for a simple summer dinner, add in some protein meat or seafood and it’s all you need.
If you have chickens along with a garden, omelettes and quiches can help you solve the too-many-eggs-and-too-many-veggies problem. Adding a local cheese can make a savory and decadent dish for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Another well-rounded meal idea actually comes in a rectangle form. That’s right, sheet pan dinners. After a long day, throw on chicken, fish or shrimp as your protein, toss some fresh veggies in olive oil, season and slide into the oven.
Of course, when you think of summer cooking, nothing beats the grill. Much like a sheet pan meal is in the oven, a mix of vegetables, protein, and a bit of seasoning sealed together with heavy duty foil makes a fun option. If you have a few minutes more for prep, chop a chunks of corn, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, etc and let your family build their own skewers.
On the hottest of hot summer days, you likely don’t want to cook and you might not be all that hungry either. Smoothie bowls, one of the gems to emerge from social media these days, are great candidates for berries and even watermelon for a light dinner on such a night. Make sure your berries or pitted peaches have frozen at least overnight, blend them in with milk or your choice, as well as banana or avocado to thicken. Serve in a bowl so you can dive in to eat with a spoon. To make it even more filling add in some nuts, nut butter or seeds.
Of course, while we are talking about lazy summer days, remember you can not only eat what you get from your garden — you can drink it too. While lots of drinks call for berries and the sweeter stuff, cucumbers have been known to appear in refreshing mojitos, gin fizzes and more. Combine with some herbs from your garden and you have one fancy beverage to cheers to your successful garden.
Aside from what specific dishes you can make, think of your favorite flavors. Tossing your veggies in parmesan and garlic or creating an Asian or teriyaki flavor profile are great ways to break out of a salt and pepper rut. Start with what you like and go from there. And don’t forget, some veggies are fun to just cut and snack on, such as bell peppers or cucumbers, especially when your favorite dip is around.
For more ideas, start with the produce that’s the easiest to incorporate in dishes to get your juices flowing. Corn is so versatile, whether off or on the cob. If you’ll be serving it on the cob, play with different seasonings — there is life beyond butter.
From cheese and chives to spicy buffalo sauce and blue cheese, there’s endless combos for your cob! You can also let the inspiration come to you by boiling a batch at the beginning of the week and shaving it off onto salads, tacos, casseroles, summer soup — wherever your cooking happens to take you.
Another multiple trick pony of the garden is zucchini, as mothers for decades have been sneaking it into dishes.
Grated or shaved up, it can make a good binder in lots of different foods, whether it’s traditional ways in muffins, breads or baked good or mixed in with meats for meatballs, meatloaf or even burgers, to make one of those newfangled “blended” burgers.
Being starchy with a bit of moisture makes it versatile, you can even make it into it’s own noodle. (Hint: have time but no spiralizer? Create some “zoodles” with your potato peeler!)
Peppers work in lots of dishes, whether raw or cooked. Or, hollow it out and make it it’s own meal as poppers or boats loaded down with ground meat and more veggies.
On the other side of the flavor spectrum are berries, which lend themselves nicely to any sweet dish, whether in them or topped on them. It’s a food group that can carry you through the day; muffins, pancakes, waffles, quick breads in the morning to brownies, cakes, cheesecakes or any other batter you are mixing in the afternoon and evening. Chances are, berries sprinkled in can only enhance it. You can even put them on your usual green salad or mix into your salad dressing amp up summer style. Stash some in your freezer to help cool oatmeal or add chill to a smoothie.
With so many delicious ways to put some green on your plate, make it easy on yourself. For a garden really going gangbusters, as you chop zucchini for a casserole or peppers for a nacho dish, prepare double the amount and freeze a portion. Your cutting board and knife already need to be washed, so why not take a few seconds to stash some produce away?
As the days get sunny and produce starts to ripen fast, you might not have a few days while you wait for your weekly shopping trip. If you plan on having specific meals requiring ingredients you don’t usually keep on hand, make sure you stock your pantry so you are ready to roll! Remember to cut back on what you usually purchase if you are a creature of habit. No need to buy grapes or bananas when you have blueberries out of your ears at home!
Summer time is time for living in and eating on things grown in the sunshine. Don’t be afraid to toss in vegetables and experiment with new combinations of your garden’s bounty.
Sure, there might be a few misses but your husband will keep his mouth shut and eat his vegetables if he knows what is good for him.