The Year of the Pepper

In the veggie garden this year, eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash all bombed. Rotting zucchini plants were everywhere and tomatoes that peaked early and then languished was the norm.  The mid-Atlantic had record rainfall and it seemed every day there was a chance of showers. And shower it did! Non-stop for five solid months, it was mud season all summer.

Raised beds would have helped with my veggies garden as they help with drainage

From May through July 2018, much of the East Coast, especially the Mid-Atlantic, experienced rainfall up to 300% of normal according to NOOA. The soggy summer was described this way by NOOA, “in June and July, the epicenter for heaviest rains became focused over the Mid-Atlantic, as monthly rains near Washington, D.C. through central Pennsylvania easily eclipsed 200% of normal”. The rains here in Maryland have been so heavy that May to July was the wettest in the state’s 124 history. This pattern continued into October. Also, the heat was turned up so I call this summer our “tropical rain forest year”. It felt heavy and humid every day which translates to Heat + Humidity = More Disease. 

Mad Hatter is one of my favorite varieties; If you keep them on the plant, they turn red

The wet weather affected my vegetable garden yields greatly, and any vining veggies, like cucumbers, squash, and melons, totally succumbed to disease from wet conditions.  But to my total surprise, my pepper crop reveled in the rain and heat and broke all records for producing quantities of peppers. We have been eating peppers at every meal- sweet, hot, and slightly hot are all producing prodigiously even into the end of October.

Piles of peppers

I used all AAS Winners (All American Selections National and Regional Winners) for seed which have been tested for garden performance all over North America from a panel of expert judges. Reliable new varieties that have proved their superior garden performance in trial gardens is the way to go for me. Like a stamp of approval from experienced gardeners, my AAS peppers included: Cayenne Red Ember, Hungarian Mexican, Escamillo, Mexican Sunset, Habanero Roulette, Mad Hatter, Pretty N Sweet, and Mama Mia Giallo.

I grew some bell peppers for stuffing also

Growing all my plants from seed, I planted about 20 different transplants out in May and forgot about them for the next two months. Peppers thrive on neglect and yes, I neglected them while I constantly tried planting new cucumbers and squash to no avail. I didn’t harvest one. But when I totally despaired of my vegetable garden, the peppers started to come in and are still producing.

Growing some of my peppers in containers was the best choice I made this year. The ones in containers excelled and when frost started to hit in late October, I whisked them into my greenhouse, where they are still producing.

I placed my containers of peppers in my greenhouse

Peppers 3 Ways

What to do with all this bounty? I have tried these three ways this season.

Drying peppers
Piles of dried peppers; I store in the freezer as I found that they got moldy otherwise

Freeze Drying

Wash peppers and let dry. Cut in half and lay on a dehydrator tray and dry for about 24 hours. Store the dried peppers in plastic freezer baggies, and store in freezer. Pull them out as needed.

Freezing

Wash peppers and let dry. Chop peppers up into pieces and place in freezer bags. I like to mix red and green pepper together. I freeze them in small quantities that are recipe-ready.

Place chopped peppers into freezer bags squeezing any excess air out

Blackened

My favorite treatment by far: Wash your peppers and dry. Heat up some canola oil in a fry pan until hot and sizzling. Dump your peppers in one layer and stir to flip them to all sides until blackened. Squeeze juice of one lime into the pan and sprinkle with kosher or sea salt. Eat by biting the pepper right off the stem that will include the seeds. Delicious! Watch out for the hot ones!

Saute and blacken
Ready to eat

 

Ratatouille-Garden on a Plate

Ingredients for Ratatouille

An overflowing garden and a frig packed with produce is an opportunity to make the classic vegetarian French stew Ratatouille, using up everything in one fell swoop. Chock full of eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and ripe summer tomatoes, this summer stew will produce a dish to feed a crowd, pack for lunch, and freeze for later.

Sauteing eggplant and onions in olive oil

Starting with basics from the garden- chunks of squash, peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes- I add anything else that is hanging around my fridge that needs a home. Extra pesto from my garden was a welcome addition, as well as some fresh Okra pods that I picked and added ten minutes later for a flavor boost. Some leftover grilled squash and eggplant made it to the mix also. Fresh herbs such as thyme, basil, and oregano were added along with garlic cloves that were sitting in my garlic-infused olive oil. Okra has started to produce and this was a tasty addition to the stew, adding a welcome thickening agent to the final product.

Candle Fire Okra

One of the easiest, most prolific vegetable that you can grow in most any garden is Okra. A super food full of nutrients, and tasty as well, I tried a new All America Selection called Candle Fire, a unique red okra with round pods. An ornamental plant in the garden, the only chore for this plant is picking the pods every few days to use in cooking. That is absolutely it! No pests bother it and I love the beautiful blooms.

The Okra plant is related to Hibiscus as shown by its beautiful bloom

For more information on growing Okra, go to my post, Okra SuperFood  Superstar. 

After other veggies are added, I included some leftover pesto that I had made the day before

The recipe is very loose – it is just the starting point for many flavor additions that you might have on hand. You could add some red wine, a splash of vinegar or lemon juice, or smoked paprika to make it your own. Cooking a large batch at the beginning of the week allows you to use it throughout the next week as a tasty and colorful base for chicken, fish, grilled meats, or pasta. The possibilities are endless. How about folding some into a omelette or over crostini?

Delicious cold. if possible make it a day ahead of time-ratatouille improves significantly after the flavors have a chance to mingle in the refrigerator.

Summertime Ratatouille

Making this in a large 10 inch cast iron skillet is the easiest and most flavorful method; the clean up is a breeze 

Prep Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Onion Sliced thin
  • 2-3 Garlic Clove Minced
  • 5-6 T Olive Oil
  • 1 Small Eggplant 1/2" Dice
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper, or any other peppers 1/2" Dice
  • 1/2 to 1 LB Tomatoes Chopped Coarse
  • Small tender okra pods 4" or less, Chopped
  • 1/4 C Basil Pesto
  • Dried or Fresh Oregano Chopped
  • Dried or Fresh Thyme Chopped
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Fresh Basil Leaves Shredded

Instructions

  1. In large cast iron skillet, cook the garlic and onion in olive oil until tender, stirring occasionally. Add the rest of the vegetables, sauteing until tender. Stir in the herbs, except for the fresh basil. Stir occasionally to blend the flavors about 30 minutes, adding the fresh basil right before serving.

Move Over Butternut- Try Boston Marrow Squash

I love Butternut squash! It is a sweet nutty squash that is very nutritious – full of vitamins A and C and fiber. Versatile in many types of dishes – soups, roasted, steamed, risotto, pies, pasta, gratins – the recipes are endless. But I just picked up a Boston Marrow winter squash and it will give Butternut a “run for the money”.

Chop your Boston Marrow into manageable chunks for peeling

Winter squash are different from summer squash (like zucchini and yellow crookneck)—the skin is hard and inedible, while the inside is firm and flavorful.  Leaving winter squash on the vine like a pumpkin, you can store them for long periods of time because of their tough outer shell. A seasonal squash that can be cooked in a variety of ways– baked or roasted, in a puree, in soups or stews, and as a sweet addition to other hearty winter dishes. For a great Butternut Squash soup recipe, go to Winter Squash Round Up.

Kaboucha is a winter squash good for soups

Another winter squash that you might like to try is the Boston Marrow. Hard to find, except at farmer’s markets, I was delighted to find this heirloom squash at a local farmstand/orchard and was able to savor it for the first time.

A pile of Boston marrow Squash, photo from Burpee

According to Burpee who is now carrying this hard to find squash, they describe it as; “Once you taste the melt-in-your-mouth “pumpkin” pie that this squash yields, you’ll be making it as often as possible. Sweet, carrot-orange flesh, cooks to a creamy, custardy texture for perfect pies, puddings and breads. Delicious alone. A fine choice for areas with a short growing season”.

 

 

This blue ribbon winning basket features a Boston marrow squash

An heirloom squash with more than 200 years of documented history, and even thought to be much older, like ancient, Boston Marrow originated in the upstate New York area. Legend has it that Native Americans gifted this squash to colonists and seeds were later passed on to Salem, Massachusetts in 1831. Marrow soon became one of the most important commercial squashes for over 150 years. But in modern times, nearly every seed company had dropped this unique treasure. In recent years, with the interest in heirloom veggies increasing, it is being picked up again by seed companies.

Used primarily as a pie squash, its skin is also thin and easy to peel. Due to its success in cooler conditions with a shorter growing season, the squash has spread throughout the US. If kept in a cool dry place, the squash can last to the following spring, another trait prized by early growers.

Growing between 5 to 52 pounds each, these squash can be made into quite a few pies. And what a fabulous pie!  Flesh of the Boston Marrow squash is less sweet and dense than that of Butternut squash, which gives it a wonderful custardy flavor.

One piece of the squash being peeled
A piece of Boston Marrow with the seeds removed

Resulting in a much better tasting pumpkin pie, it is lighter in texture and flavor. Starting with a basic recipe from AllRecipes for a butternut squash pie, I have revised the spices to my liking and substituted Boston Marrow. The resulting pie was a big hit with my family for its creaminess and wonderful flavor. Everyone was coming back for one more piece, until it was gone.

From a 6.5 pound squash, I was able to make 3 pies!

Boston Marrow Squash Pie

A wonderful fall pie recipe; if you can't find Boston Marrow, substitute Butternut Squash

Servings 8 people

Ingredients

  • 3 C Chunks of winter squash, peeled
  • 1 C Brown sugar, packed
  • 1 T Cornstarch
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 12 oz can Evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 t Cinnamon
  • 1/4 t Freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 t Ground cloves
  • 1/4 t Ground allspice
  • 1/2 t Ground ginger
  • 1 Unbaked pie shell

Instructions

  1. Steam the squash chunks in a saucepan for 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain.


  2. Place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.


  3. Pour into pie shell and sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice. Place in preheated 350 degree oven for 50 minutes, until the center is set.


  4. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.
Blending in food processor was the easiest way to mix everything

Blackberries Rolling In-Blackberry Lime Cobbler

Ripening blackberries

If you have never grown blackberries, this is one of the easiest and most satisfying berry to grow. I started with one “cane” or stem of a thornless blackberry variety some years ago and it grew to be one ginormous mass of a plant. Taming the canes by growing them on a trellis of cattle fencing has produced endless quarts of blackberries every July and August.

Berries are produced at the tips of the canes or stems

Blackberries and other berries bear fruit on second-year growth, so the canes sprouting now will yield next year’s crop. After picking the last berries of the season, I remove all the older canes that just produced fruit by cutting close to the ground, to allow new canes that will produce to grow for next season.

Easy to pick if the canes are held upright with cattle fencing

The tips of the canes will root in and produce more progeny so it is important to prune it back vigorously. Besides mulching around the plants, there is nothing else to be done for this self-reliant plant.

Blackberry Deluge

When late July rolls around, that means plump juicy blackberries are ready and waiting. I am looking for ways to use them as I pick about a quart a day and we can’t eat them fast enough.

While picking, my border collie helps by eating all the lower hanging blackberries. She picks alongside me and gets to keep them all!

Eating all the blackberries she can reach, Tori saves me a lot of bending

I will freeze some but I love to use them fresh and they are classified as a “superfood“, full of antioxidants and other good stuff. I use them as a garnish for green salads,  a topping for yogurt and granola, pies, jam, sorbets, and cobblers.

Blackberry Sorbet

I tried some Blackberry Lime jam this winter and enjoyed the tangy taste so much I came up with this Blackberry Lime Cobbler. Baked in a cast iron skillet, it makes for an easy cleanup.

 

Blackberry Lime Cobbler
Baked into a cast iron skillet

Blackberry Lime Skillet Cobbler

A delightful citrusy Blackberry juicy tart in a skillet. Adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe for Blackberry Buckle, I have added lime extract, grated zest and lime juice to ramp up the flavor

Course Dessert
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 C Butter (1 stick unsalted)
  • 4 C fresh Blackberries
  • 1/4 C Sugar to sprinkle on Blackberries
  • 1 C Flour
  • 2 tsp Baking Powder
  • Pinch Kosher salt
  • 1 C Milk
  • 1 tsp Lime extract
  • Grated lime zest from 1 lime
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 1 Tbsp Sanding sugar

Creme fraiche, whipped cream, or ice cream, for serving

Instructions

  1. Gather ingredients and have 4 Cups of fresh Blackberries on hand

  2. Melt butter stick in a 10" or 12" cast iron skillet, or an oven safe skillet

  3. Grate lime zest from one lime into bowl

  4. Place blackberries in a large bowl and mash lightly with a fork or potato masher; sprinkle with 1/4 C of sugar and squeeze lime juice from lime into blackberries; Let sit while the berries steep in the lime and sugar combination


  5. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add sugar, milk, lime extract; mix until combined. Add melted butter to flour mixture and lime zest; stir until combined. 

  6. Pour mixture into hot skillet and add blackberries and their juices into the center. Sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake skillet in 350 degree oven until top is golden brown for 50 to 55 minutes

  7. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream, creme fraiche, or ice cream

Gather your ingredients
Melt stick in butter in a 10 or 12 inch cast iron or oven safe skillet
Lightly mash your blackberries sprinkled with sugar with a potato masher
Mix your batter; here you can see flecks of lime zest
Pour your batter into the hot skillet and add your blackberries into the center
Baked into a cast iron skillet; it should be lightly browned on top
Enjoy with whipped cream and a garnish of fresh blackberries and lime

Ultimate Zucchini Bread-Savory & Moist

Flecks of bacon and zucchini show in the bread

Quick breads are old fashioned and retro, but so delicious!  Since I haven’t made one for ages, I was inspired to create some savory loaves when my squash harvest started to take over the refrigerator. Who hasn’t been inundated with dozens of squash when they are at their peak? Even with two or three plants, I can pick half a dozen small ones a day!

Zucchini starting life

Not wanting a cinnamony sugary bread, I searched recipes on-line for some ideas. Cheese…..check, bacon……check, lots of shredded squash…..check, a spicy bite….check, and easy to put together…….check – those were my requirements. But after searching in vain for the perfect recipe, I created my own. The results after making four of these in a week, will stay in my summer repertoire for years to come. The finishing touch was a hint of spice in the bread, delivered by adding shredded fresh Poblano pepper, a mild chili pepper-my favorite. Using only a quarter of the pepper was plenty for me, but if you like spicy, add some more.

Poblanos are mildly hot

Since Zucchini is just my term for summer squash, you can use any in this recipe – yellow, patty pan, green striped, or the classic Zucchini.

Any kind of summer squash works in this recipe

Savory Zucchini Bread

Savory, moist, with green flecks of zucchini throughout; a tiny bit of heat

Prep Time 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1 T Sugar
  • 1/2 C Canola Oil
  • 1/2 C Milk
  • 1 1/2 C Flour
  • 1/2 t Baking Soda
  • 1 t Baking Powder
  • 1/2 t Salt
  • 1/4 t Pepper
  • 1 C Shredded Zucchini, 2 small
  • 2-3 T Shredded Poblano Pepper
  • 4 Strips Cooked Bacon, shredded
  • 11/2 C Shredded Parmesan or Cheddar Cheese

Instructions

  1. Add eggs, sugar, and liquid ingredients to a large bowl and mix by hand.

  2. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and pepper and stir until moistened.
  3. Stir in shredded zucchini, poblano, cheese, and bacon.
  4. Pour thick batter into greased loaf pan.
  5. Cook at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes and let cool for 10 minutes in pan.
  6. Cut into slices and serve warm or at room temperature.

Step by Step

After chunking up your Zucchini, chop in a food processor
Chop up 1/4 of your Poblano pepper and add to the Zucchini

 

Mix your wet ingredients together and then add the dry and mix just until moistened
Stir in the cheese, veggies, and bacon just until incorporated
Pour batter into greased loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes and enjoy!

This bread slices beautifully and makes great grilled cheese. The flavor is moist and the ‘crumb’ texture is very fine for a batter bread. Freezing the bread is easy by wrapping in foil.

Squash Birth Control- Squash Blossom Recipes

Squash blossom pizza with grilled corn

If you never have eaten a squash blossom, go down to the nearest farmers market and pick up a bag and try them out. Even better, grow a few plants in containers or in a garden to pluck them fresh off the plant. They are a wonderful addition to summer menus. I grow squash, not only for the vegetable, but for the flower. And when you pick the young squash at a certain point, you get both the veggie and the blossom, and that is the best of both worlds.

Baby squash with blossoms attached

To eat them, I slice the squash in half and fry them up, put them on pizza, stuff the blossoms with goat cheese, and make latkes or fritters.  You could also cut them up into ribbons or a chiffonade and drape on top of a pasta dish. There are countless ways to enjoy the yellow trumpets that emerge from the plants all summer. Here is a great pasta dish using blossoms: Pasta with Squash Blossoms.

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Pick the blossoms first thing in the morning

Also, consider this as birth control for squash. It reduces your yield tremendously when you really don’t need another 20 zucchini or yellow squash cluttering up your refrigerator. When the squash comes in, it is an avalanche!

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Big variety of summer squash

The trick is to catch the squash when it is only a day or two old, has the blossom attached, and is still tender. Or just pluck the blossom before it becomes fertilized and starts a tiny squash.

The blossom is pretty fragile so carefully snip it off, and I like to give it a quick rinse as insects like to lay their eggs on the blossom, namely squash bugs and ants. Bees seem to get drunk on the pollen inside the flower and it is fun to watch them. Make sure the blossoms are bee free. Place the blossoms in the fridge wrapped in damp paper towels for no more than 24 hours to use in your favorite recipe.

 

Early morning is the best time to pick them before the heat of the day wilt them. Shake out any bees that spent the night curled at the base and collect as many as you can. I use both winter and summer squash blossoms and have taken out flowers from my fridge that still have buzzing bees in them that awaken when taken out into warm air. So, be careful about examining them carefully first.

Open the flower, and snip off the stamen in the center as this is tough.

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At this point, you can stuff them with goat cheese or just batter and fry them. My post on stuffed squash blossoms is an easy recipe bound to impress everyone as an appetizer. Blossoms are sublime as a pizza topping. My favorite treatment though is Squash Latkes/Fritters.

Squash blossom latke recipe
Squash blossom latke recipe
Chop the squash along with the blossoms into chunks
Make your batter
Add chunks to your batter
Fry in olive oil on both sides
Serve latkes with sour cream

Winter Squash Roundup with the Best Soup Recipe Ever

Butternut squash at a farmers market
Butternut squash at a farmers market

Overflowing my pantry, my winter squash harvest is a treasure that I pluck from when I get the urge to cook something savory and good for you. I have new squash favorites like Kaboucha and Delicata, but I always revert back to Butternut as my go-to winter squash for soups or creamy pasta recipes.

Kaboucha squash has a nutty taste
Kaboucha squash has a nutty taste

Kaboucha, which is a Japanese pumpkin, has a fluffy, chestnut texture widely used in Asia. I would compare it to a cross between a sweet potato and pumpkin. All winter squashes are full of beta carotene, iron, vitamins, and other good stuff.

So many delicious fall recipes lend itself to these versatile tasty squashes, that I have increased the space devoted to growing them in my veggie garden. And yes, it does take some serious space! A sprawling vine, it can spread up to 10 feet horizontally or vertically, but I consider this a well-earned space in my garden as winter squashes are quite prolific and easy to grow.

An immature butternut is still green; when ripe, the skin turns a golden brown and hard to pierce with your fingernail
An immature butternut is still green; when ripe, the skin turns a golden brown and hard to pierce with your fingernail

When the rinds of winter squash are tough enough to resist being punctured with a fingernail, cut them with a short stub of vine attached, like their cousins, pumpkins. Be sure to wait until they are fully ripened and sit the squash out in the sun to fully cure before storing in a cool place indoors. Keeping for months, squash are handy to pull out from storage when you need something for dinner as a main or side. The only downside to winter squash is preparing them. They are very tough to chop and I once cut the tip of my finger off when chopping one up! To avoid this, you can buy the pre-cut pieces at the supermarket, plus save a ton of time on prep.

Delicata is anouther favorite, with nutty flesh, which is not as sweet as Kaboucha or Butternut
Delicata is another favorite, with nutty flesh, which is not as sweet as Kaboucha or Butternut

Butternut squash soup is a favorite during cold months and once you cook up a batch, you can make several tasty meals from it. My absolute favorite soup cookbook, The New England Soup Factory Cookbook has the best squash soup that I have ever tasted, called Butternut Squash Soup with Calvados, Gorgonzola Cheese, and Prosciutto. I have  adapted it somewhat, most notably, adding the sage leaves and using Feta cheese to the garnish.

Butternut Squash soup
Butternut Squash soup

The recipe is below:

Butternut Squash Soup

Garnish

1 Tablespoon of olive oil

6 slices of prosciutto, cut into small chunks

1 green apple, thinly sliced

Handful of fresh sage leaves

Crumbled feta cheese

Cooking up the apple slices, sage leaves, and prosciutto
Cooking up the apple slices, sage leaves, and prosciutto

Soup

4 T butter

2  cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 c diced onions

2 c diced carrots

1/2 c diced celery

1/2 c diced parsnips

2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and diced – a medium squash

8 c chicken stock

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 T Worcestershire sauce

3 T brown sugar

1 1/2 c light cream

2 to 3 T Calvados, an apple brandy, optional

Blend soup until smooth
Blend soup until smooth

Directions

Garnish: In a saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the prosciutto and pan fry until crispy. Remove from the pan and set aside. In the same pan, add the apple slices and sage leaves and saute lightly until the apples are crisp tender. Set aside.

Soup: In a stockpot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, onions, apples, carrot, celery, parsnips, and butternut squash. Saute for 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about an hour.

Puree the soup in the pot using a hand blender or working in batches with a regular blender until smooth. Return the soup to the pot if using a blender and season with salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar. Add the cream and incorporate. Return to the heat and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the Calvados right before serving. Top each serving with a sprinkling of Feta. Garnish with slices of sautéed green apple, the prosciutto and sage leaves on top.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

I guarantee that this will be the best butternut squash soup you have every had!

 

Easy Tomato Tart

Dealing with the deluge of delicious tomatoes in August is always a challenge. Recently I served this amazingly simple tomato tart that used up at least 5-8 large tomatoes and got rave reviews. The amount of tomato usage in a recipe is always paramount for me when I am looking at a counter top laden down with ripe ready-to-use tomatoes.

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Different tomato varieties

Recipe

2 medium onions caramelized in olive oil

1 package puff pastry, defrosted

1/4 c mayonnaise

5-7 ripe tomatoes, all colors

1 wedge of Cojita cheese crumbled to make 2 cups and some grated cheddar

1  small package of Feta cheese, crumbled

salt, pepper, dried thyme and oregano to taste

cut strips of fresh basil

Caramelize 2 onions in olive oil until brown. Slice 5-8 large tomatoes 3/8″ thick and let drain for about a half hour. Place both pieces of defrosted puff pastry in a jelly roll pan, press firmly. Spread 1/4 cup of mayonnaise on top of the puff pastry along with most of the caramelized onions. Sprinkle cheeses, cojita and cheddar, on top. Overlap tomato slices to cover the entire pan and press lightly into pan. Sprinkle feta cheese, herbs, salt and pepper. Add reserved onions and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes until golden brown. Let cool about 15 minutes before slicing. Serve with basil strips.

Here is a step by step version:

  • Slice two medium onions thinly and slowly saute the slices in olive oil in a saucepan until caramelized. Stir the onions every few minutes to get an even brown color.

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  • Defrost a package of puff pastry which should contain 2 sheets. Lay out on a jelly roll pan(cookie sheet with short sides) and press to cover the bottom and side. If you want, you can spray a light mist of cooking spray on the pan first.

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Press puff pastry on the bottom and sides of the pan
  • Spread mayonnaise on top in a thin layer. I didn’t measure this, but it probably was about 1/4 of a cup.

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Spread mayo on top thinly

  • Spread the onion on top of the puff pastry, reserving some for the top.

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Spread your caramelized onions on top of the puff pastry
  • Sprinkle 2 cups of crumbled or grated cheese (I use cojita cheese which crumbles nicely) and cheddar on top the onions.

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Sprinkle cheese on top of the onions
  •  Now for the tomatoes. I used different colors of tomatoes and sizes for variety. Slice them about 3/8″ thick and leave them on the cutting board to drain slightly.

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Slice your tomatoes
  • Arrange your tomatoes in the pan, overlapping slightly and press them down lightly.

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Overlap the tomatoes covering the entire pan
  • Sprinkle some more cheese (I used crumbled feta), salt, pepper, and dried thyme and oregano. Add the reserved caramelized onions.

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Sprinkle the top with herbs and cheese, and reserved onions
  • Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees until the edges brown. Shredded basil placed on top was the finishing touch. Let cool before cutting. It is also delicious cold.

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Add some shredded basil to serve

 

From Plot to Plate-Squash Sex in the Garden

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Oven fried squash blossoms served with a blue cheese dipping sauce

My last post on Squash Birth Control showed you how to decrease your squash harvest. But how about if you want to increase your harvest? Maybe you only have one plant to work with and you want to eat squash every night? It is easy to increase your odds of growing fruit as each squash plant bears male and female flowers and you can use this to your advantage without the help of pollinators. You become the pollinator!

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An early morning harvest of squash blossoms, mostly male, but a few female ones

Most gardeners look at their squash plant blooming and see tons of flowers and start making plans for all that squash, pulling out recipes for squash bread and zucchini cake. Over the next week, you see with chagrin the blossoms fall off, some with small squash attached and wonder why? In reality, most of the flowers are male flowers and produce no fruit and pollinate the much fewer female flowers.

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An open female flower and a fertilized one that is starting to grow a squash fruit

Learning to distinguish between male and female flowers on the vine will help you figure out what your true harvest will be. Both male and female flowers occur on each plant and pollen from the male flowers has to make it to the female by way of insects or hand pollination. This is where the gardener can lend a helping hand.

The video below shows a snapshot of morning activity of flying insects in my squash blossoms. I have three hives so there is always lots of visiting bees to my flowers. But everyone doesn’t maintain bee hives and you can increase your odds of your squash flowers getting pollinated even in an urban situation by simply hand pollinating.

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Here you can see the difference: The female flower on the left with the enlarged center, the pistil, and the male flower on the right which carries all the pollen grains

The first week or two it is normal for the blossoms to fall off as only male flowers are produced and then the female flowers start opening. For pollination to occur you need bees- native, bumble, or honey bees and other insects, or a handy Q-tip!  If there is a dearth of bees, pollination is a lot less likely to occur, but not to worry- this is very easy to do yourself.

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Removing all the flower petals from the male flower, touch the pollen bearing anther to the stigma of the female flower

Simply take the petals off of a male flower and use the ‘brush’  or exposed anther and brush it against the stigma of the female flower thus transferring the pollen manually and ensuring that the female flower grows a fruit. You can also perform this with a Q-Tip very easily in the vegetable plot. I prefer to fertilize directly with the male flower and go to each female flower that I see, brushing the anther against the stigma of the female flower. Fertilization is necessary for fruit formation. If fertilization does not occur, the ovary  or little squash will wither away. The squash flower below on the right has successfully been fertilized and is starting to grow.

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On the bottom left is the male flower; top middle is a female flower; bottom right is a female flower that has closed up, pollination has occurred and the squash fruit is starting to grow

Male flowers greatly out number female ones and I take advantage of this and pick baskets of male flowers for recipes. Of course to cut your harvest, simply remove the fewer female flowers which can also be used in recipes. Just remember to cut off the center part, the stigma bearing part, as this can be tough. For recipes, check out Squash Birth Control-Squash Blossom Recipes.

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A bee and a cucumber beetle in a squash blossom

Here is one of my favorite recipes-Oven Fried Stuffed Squash Blossoms. Instead of messy deep-frying, I like to cook them at a high temperature in the oven. Serve with a dipping sauce, like a blue cheese mix.

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Baked stuffed squash blossoms ready to eat

recipeee

 

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Mix all your ingredients in a bowl
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Stuff cheese into blossom
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Blossoms all stuffed,ends twisted, ready for breading
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Breaded and ready to pop into the oven

Squash Birth Control- Squash Blossom Recipes

Squash blossom pizza with grilled corn

If you never have eaten a squash blossom, go down to the nearest farmers market and pick up a bag and try them out. Even better, grow a few plants in containers or in a garden to pluck them fresh off the plant. They are a wonderful addition to summer menus. I grow squash, not only for the vegetable, but for the flower. And when you pick the young squash at a certain point, you get both the veggie and the blossom, and that is the best of both worlds.

Baby squash with blossoms attached

To eat them, I slice the squash in half and fry them up, put them on pizza, stuff the blossoms with goat cheese, and make latkes or fritters.  You could also cut them up into ribbons or a chiffonade and drape on top of a pasta dish. There are countless ways to enjoy the yellow trumpets that emerge from the plants all summer. Here is a great pasta dish using blossoms: Pasta with Squash Blossoms.

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Pick the blossoms first thing in the morning

Also, consider this as birth control for squash. It reduces your yield tremendously when you really don’t need another 20 zucchini or yellow squash cluttering up your refrigerator. When the squash comes in, it is an avalanche!

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Big variety of summer squash

The trick is to catch the squash when it is only a day or two old, has the blossom attached, and is still tender. Or just pluck the blossom before it becomes fertilized and starts a tiny squash.

The blossom is pretty fragile so carefully snip it off, and I like to give it a quick rinse as insects like to lay their eggs on the blossom, namely squash bugs and ants. Bees seem to get drunk on the pollen inside the flower and it is fun to watch them. Make sure the blossoms are bee free. Place the blossoms in the fridge wrapped in damp paper towels for no more than 24 hours to use in your favorite recipe.

 

Early morning is the best time to pick them before the heat of the day wilt them. Shake out any bees that spent the night curled at the base and collect as many as you can. I use both winter and summer squash blossoms and have taken out flowers from my fridge that still have buzzing bees in them that awaken when taken out into warm air. So, be careful about examining them carefully first.

Open the flower, and snip off the stamen in the center as this is tough.

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At this point, you can stuff them with goat cheese or just batter and fry them. My post on stuffed squash blossoms is an easy recipe bound to impress everyone as an appetizer. Blossoms are sublime as a pizza topping. My favorite treatment though is Squash Latkes/Fritters.

Squash blossom latke recipe
Squash blossom latke recipe
Chop the squash along with the blossoms into chunks
Make your batter
Add chunks to your batter
Fry in olive oil on both sides
Serve latkes with sour cream