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Jessica’s Garden: Too Many Tomatoes – A Jarring Experience

Tomato_Sauce_and_Girls_Night_Out
Tomato Sauce and Girls Night Out

It’s the time during the summer harvest that certain veggies might be leaving you feeling a bit jaded.  I know I am up to my eyeballs in tomatoes.  It seems that no matter how many are canned or consumed with every meal, and I mean every meal, I’m beginning to wonder if they’re not multiplying while ripening on the countertop.  And there’s only so many nights a week you can keep creatively integrating zucchini into the menu.

But if you’re anything like me, if you’ve grown it it’s going to get utilized. Waste not, want not.  So that being said, my mission over the coming weeks is to provide a couple of my most favorite ways to incorporate a couple garden goodies you may be getting tired of seeing.

Zucchini Cakes
Zucchini Cakes

My most favorite way to prepare summer squash and zucchini is by making them into serving sized cakes.  They are a little bit cheesy, have a delicious crunchy crust on the outside and a crab cake-like consistency.  I’ve played with and developed this recipe over the past couple seasons, and I have made my best attempt at writing down accurate measurements.

Zucchini and Summer Squash Cakes

4-5 Medium, Firm & Fresh Zucchini, Yellow Squash or Mix of the two
1 Tbsp Salt
1 C Breadcrumbs (See below for homemade recipe)
1 Can (16 oz) Whole Kernel Corn; drained
½ C Grated or Shredded Parmesan
2 Eggs
Fresh Cracked Pepper to taste
1 tsp Italian Seasoning (See below for homemade recipe)

Grate squash into a large mixing bowl.  Sprinkle with salt and mix gently to combine.  Set aside for 30-60 minutes.  Next, rinse squash thoroughly to remove most of salt.  Strain and squeeze through clean tea towel or cheesecloth to remove majority of moisture from veggies.  Return to mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients.  Incorporate all ingredients completely, but don’t over-work mixture.  Form into small hamburger sized patties.  Pan fry over medium heat, in equal mix of olive oil and melted butter until golden and crispy. Yield 6-8 cakes.

A couple key suggestions:  be patient and don’t turn frequently or too soon or you will not obtain a nice crust on the outside. If using seasoned breadcrumbs, consider skipping or reducing the additional Italian seasoning.  As the squash is already salted and the parmesan is too, wait to add additional salt until after serving and tasting. You can also be creative with this by adding other shredded vegetables.  A carrot or sweet pepper would add lots of color and sweetness.  Leftover cakes can be re-heated quite nicely if toasted again on a skillet.

Homemade Breadcrumbs
Homemade Breadcrumbs

DIY breadcrumbs are awesomely easy and much more affordable than store-bought. I like to make my own breadcrumbs and add dried herbs from the garden.  Rather than tossing out bakery bread that’s gone stale, reinvent it.  Not to mention, you can control what goes into them.  For a healthier kick, use a multigrain or wholegrain bread.

Homemade Breadcrumbs: Pulse day old bread, cut in small chunks, in the food processor into a coarse mix and toast under broiler, watching carefully and turning frequently until crispy. Some grocery stores sell crustini round s(which I’m convinced is their way of selling day old French bread) in large bags in the bakery section, which are already toasted and ready for the food processor.  Toss in a generous handful of Italian seasoning for seasoned breadcrumbs.  Leftovers can be stored indefinitely in a sealed container in the pantry.

Homemade Italian Herb Seasoning:  2 Tbsp each dried basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary & red pepper flakes.

Salsa
Salsa

Canning was also on the agenda this week. I escaped out for a much needed girl’s night with my best friend Bethany over the weekend and we canned homemade pasta sauce from our garden tomatoes. We have been canning together for about ten years now. The pasta sauce recipe we used, we encountered several years ago and have been raving about ever since.

So I dug it up out of my canning binder for the occasion.  It was one of the first canning recipes that we ever did that ventured outside of jams and jellies. Twelve quarts later, I was feeling confident that I had mastered and caught up with the tomato harvest.  And then I went to the garden again in the morning.  So once again, after my little tyke went to sleep Monday night, I canned until close to midnight.  This time, I tried canning salsa for the first time and am patiently waiting for the excuse to pop open a jar for quality control.

Sun Dried Tomatoes
Sun Dried Tomatoes

In another attempt to rein in the tomato yield, I oven roasted ‘sun dried tomatoes.’  I have two small heirloom varieties of cherry tomatoes, Yellow Pear and Principe Borghese, which have produced abundantly and make wonderfully tangy sun dried tomatoes.  I did quite a bit of research online about how to safely prepare them.

The general consensus was to roast on baking sheets in single layers in a 225 degree oven until pliable but no liquid is released when squeezed.  This process takes the better part of a whole day (10 hours +/-), so choose a day you know you will be home.

Once tomatoes have reached proper consistency, store in a sterile container that is close to the same volume as the tomatoes, and cover completely with olive oil.  I use canning jars for everything. They not only look beautiful in a pantry, but are also in my opinion, the best for the job.  There is a bit of inconsistency and controversy about the safeness of chopping and adding fresh herbs. So for safety purposes I added about one tablespoon of the homemade dried Italian seasoning to the oil, as they are not adding any moisture that could promote mold growth. The tomatoes can be stored in the fridge or pantry for up to 9 months.

I hope this leaves you feeling inspired with renewed hope and faith in tired ingredients. It’s the time of year to take advantage of delicious and fresh produce, whether homegrown or from your local farmer’s market. Try the zucchini cakes; I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Posted By: Jessica J. Crawford

Stephanie Fleming

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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