The Conscious Cook: Preserving summer’s sensational flavors
“By all these lovely tokens
September Days are here,
With summer’s best of weather,
And Autumn’s best of cheer.”
-Helen Hunt Jackson
September often graces us with a last wave of beautiful, warm weather. What a glorious time to take advantage of gorgeous days and sensational, late summer crops. Farm markets are burgeoning with baskets of ripe, red tomatoes, super sweet corn, plump purple eggplant, tongue tingling hot peppers, crisp early apples, brightly colored sweet peppers, and both summer and winter squashes. All of this delectable produce can be preserved in a multitude of ways, to be savored when the New England chill sets in.
Tomatoes can easily be melded into a marvelous marinara, fragrant with fresh basil and rich with the restorative powers of fresh garlic and onion. Sweet corn will rise to see another day when stripped off the cob and slipped into freezer bags. Measure out kernels into 2 cup increments for extra convenience when preparing corn chowder, tender cornbread, crispy corn waffles or zesty veggie enchiladas.
Transform eggplant into lasagna or parmigiana, both of which freeze beautifully and will be the divine centerpiece of a winter dinner party. Plenty of peppers in your pantry? Roast them up in the oven, or get thee to a grill, and impart a sultry smokiness to both sweet and hot varieties. Whichever method of heat you choose, continually turn peppers until they are blackened on all sides. Place the charred beauties into a paper bag and let steam for at least thirty minutes. When cooled, remove the skins with a gentle rubbing motion, slice the peppers into strips, remove the ribs and seeds, and place the strips in small freezer containers. To each container add several peeled garlic cloves, fresh basil, oregano and thyme and cover with extra virgin olive oil. Cover containers and let the peppers infuse on your countertop for a day. Store in the fridge for up to a week, or place in the freezer to use over the winter months. Use the smoky, sweet, strips to enliven a winter antipasto, add rich flavor to veggie sandwiches or crostini or whip up a soup as vibrant as a summer sunset.
The intense, vitamin-rich goodness of late summer produce will help strengthen the immune system, while bolstering repair systems that soothe the skin. Vitamin A and C are found in copious amounts in fresh produce, that will help you protect and renew your body as you prepare a delicious life!
Preserving summer marinara sauce
(Makes about 4-5 cups)
5 pounds fresh, very, very ripe tomatoes
1/3 cup olive oil
1 sweet onion, finely diced
4-5 cloves fresh, farm market garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/3 cup minced fresh basil
3-4 large sprigs fresh thyme
2 large sprigs fresh oregano
2 large sprigs fresh parsley
To peel tomatoes: slice an x into the bottom of each tomato with a sharp paring knife. Lower tomatoes into a pot of boiling water and let blanch for 10-15 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to remove tomatoes from the pot and plunge them into a bowl of ice water until cool enough to handle. Slip off peels, remove cores and gently squeeze out seeds. Coarsely chop or tear tomatoes.
In a large stockpot, heat olive oil and saute onion until golden. Add garlic and stir for a minute. Do not let garlic color. Add tomatoes, season with a pinch of salt and pepper, then add all the herbs. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce to a simmer and let cook until tomatoes are falling apart and reduced.
Leave the sauce chunky, or puree with a stick blender for a smoother texture. Let cool completely. Store sauce in freezer containers and freeze for up to 3 months.