Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
July, 2009
Regional Report

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Revel in the glory of summer produce, whether home-grown or from a farmer's market.

Summer's Fast Food

It struck me as amusing when I recently read in a cooking article online that "summer stretches out long and languid." Obviously, this wasn't written by a gardener. Before catching your breath as you finish picking blueberries, the blackberries are ripening. Seemingly only minutes after you've savored that first ripe tomato, you find yourself inundated with them. The water-bath canner has a permanent spot on your stove. From early March well into November, there are endless chores. And weeds certainly never take a vacation.

Don't take me wrong, I love summer, but it flies by quickly and never is it anything approaching languid. The food of summer is a particular delight, however. Nothing compares with freshly picked squash, beans, okra, sweet corn, cucumbers, etc. But when dinnertime approaches and I can barely stand up, the thought of elaborate meal preparation makes me long for pizza delivery. Thankfully, much of summer's bounty is at it's best simply prepared, whether quickly boiled corn or a fast saute of zucchini. Still, it's nice to have some food standing by in the refrigerator that can be set out on a moment's notice to round out a meal. Even better, then, when these "fast foods" utilize vegetables from the garden or farmer's market. Here are some of my easily and quickly prepared summer salad favorites.

Dill and Celery Seed Coleslaw
Although cabbage can be picked from the garden nearly year-round, slaw is indisputably a summer food. This German-inspired slaw keeps for several weeks in the refrigerator and provides cabbage's high vitamin K and vitamin C content plus, like all cruciferous vegetables, contains large proportions of health-promoting sulfur compounds. This slaw is also great for picnics, as it doesn't contain any mayonnaise.

1 pound finely shredded cabbage
1 cup thinly sliced green, red, and/or yellow bell pepper
1 medium sweet onion, cut in half vertically, then thinly sliced
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup apple cider or wine vinegar
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon dill weed (fresh or dried, more or less to taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, layer the cabbage, bell pepper, and onion. In a saucepan, combine oil, sugar, vinegar, celery seed, dill, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil for 2 minutes. Pour the hot dressing over the vegetables. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving. Makes 8 servings.

Marinated Cherry Tomatoes
At the peak of summer, large, beefsteak-size tomatoes, simply sliced, are really enough, but if you want to "gild the lily," as it were, try this recipe. Even just one cherry tomato plant produces abundant amounts, and this is a great way to use them up. My favorite variety, 'Cherry Roma', is actually more of a grape-type tomato. For extra-sweet flavor, try using 'Sungold'. Although refrigerating tomatoes is usually not recommended, as it deteriorates flavor, it isn't a problem here because of all the other wonderful flavors.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme, oregano, marjoram, basil, or rosemary (use what you have in any combination or like best)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
One green onion, thinly sliced
One minced garlic clove
1 pound cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients except tomatoes. Place tomatoes in a bowl and pour in the marinade. Stir, then cover. Marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Refrigerate any leftovers. Makes 6 servings.

Pasta, Potatoes, and Green Beans with Pesto
This recipe may seem like carbohydrate overkill, but not only is the combination a popular home-style, one-pot dish in parts of Italy, but, if made with whole-grain or protein-enriched pasta, the health benefits are balanced out. Eat it while still warm, or chill for leftovers. For many of us, pesto is one of those signature dishes of summer. Be sure to freeze some for use this winter.

8 ounces small red-skinned or fingerling potatoes, quartered
2 teaspoons salt
8 ounces rotini or rigatoni pasta (or whatever small pasta you prefer)
8 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 cup pesto (see recipe below)

Place potatoes in a large pot of water with salt. Cover, put on medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, add the pasta. Leave uncovered and cook for 5 minutes. Add the green beans. Continue cooking until beans are crisp-tender, and the pasta is al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain and put into a bowl. Add pesto and toss. Taste and season with salt and black pepper, as desired. Makes 6 servings.

3 cups (3 ounces) fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts, walnuts, or almonds, toasted
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
One or two garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Combine basil, nuts, cheese, and garlic in a food processor and puree until finely chopped. With the machine running, slowly pour the oil through the feed tube and process until smooth.

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