In the urban office building where I work, a coworker surprised me the other day with a tiny object that was causing her great delight. Now, she is a single lady of some sophistication, graying at the temples, and a superb and serious professional. What she was holding in her hand, as tenderly and lovingly as a baby, was a miniature purple eggplant, no more than an inch long. "I grew it," she said.
She told me that she shares a garden with country friends, and that she had planted this seed, and that this was the harvest. Since it was too minuscule to make into ratatouille, she was keeping it with her as a pet.
This phenomenon is just the tip of the August iceberg, of course. In no time, the desks in my urban office building will be filling up with great bags of surplus tomatoes and zucchini, lovingly brought forth by hordes of amateur gardeners who cheered them on and now haven't the slightest idea of what to do with them all. A gift of home-grown vegetables is a wonderful one, of course, as is a harvest from one's own yard. But the trouble with amateur gardening is that the vegetables are always of one species; nobody who gardens only in his spare time ever seems to come up with the ingredients for a perfect pasta primavera. It is always a load of tomatoes or a load of zucchini.
Fortunately, the cookbook market is also currently flooded with books on vegetables because of the current preoccupation with freshness and health, and the fact that for most of the currently popular diets, you can't have too many vegetables. One of my favorite books is based on that premise. It's called "Too Many Tomatoes, Squash, Beans, and Other Good Things: A Cookbook for When Your Garden Explodes" (by Lois M. Burrows and Laura G. Myers; Harper Colophon Books). One reason I like this book is that it calls the zucchini plant "tiresomely productive." If you have a consistent problem with garden explosions, this book is well worth the $8.95investment.
Both tomatoes and zucchini are most vitamin-packed when eaten right after picking, but both will keep nicely in the refrigerator. And when you're ready to cope with them, here are some recipes to help: STACKED TOMATOES (4 servings)
4 tomatoes, peeled and halved
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup minced scallions
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
Place tomatoes in buttered casserole and top with remaining ingredients in given order; bake in a 325-degree oven for 20 minutes. From "Too Many Tomatoes, Squash, Beans, and Other Good Things: A Cookbook for when Your Garden Explodes," by Lois M. Burrows and Laura G. Myers, (Harper Colophon Books) VERY FRESH CREAM OF TOMATO SOUP (6 to 8 servings)
Freeze this in bags before adding the cream and egg yolks, and enjoy summer-fresh cooking all winter. The frozen base is an excellent tomato sauce as well.
12 very ripe tomatoes, peeled and cut up
1 cup water or chicken stock
1 cup sliced celery
1/2 onion, sliced
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
2 cups light cream
1 egg yolk, beaten
Simmer tomatoes, water or stock, celery, onion and parsley for 30 minutes. Pure'e and strain. Mix cornstarch and melted butter together; stir into soup over medium heat until the broth boils and thickens.
Add the brown sugar, pepper and salt. (Freeze, if desired at this point.) Combine cream and egg yolk, and stir one cup of hot soup into it, then stir the mixture into the soup and heat, being careful not to let it boil. TOMATOES STUFFED WITH CHARD AND PINE NUTS (6 servings)
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, mashed
1 cup cooked, chopped drained chard or spinach
6 medium tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
Saute' the pine nuts in 2 tablespoons olive oil. When lightly browned, remove from pan and set aside. Add 2 more tablespoons oil to pan, and saute' onion and garlic until soft. Remove from heat. Add the chard or spinach, the pine nuts and 2 more tablespoons of oil and mix. Hollow the cavities of the tomatoes. Sprinkle insides with salt, pepper, sugar and basil; stuff with chard mixture. Arrange tomatoes in a baking pan. Dribble remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over them, and bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Chill, then bring to room temperature before serving. From "Too Many Tomatoes, Squash, Beans and Other Good Things: A Cookbook for When Your Garden Explodes," by Lois M. Burrows and Laura G. Myers, (Harper Colophon Books) SHREDDED ZUCCHINI (6 servings)
6 small zucchini
2 tablespoons butter
6 scallions, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly ground nutmeg to taste
Parmesan cheese (optional)
Shred zucchini (a food processor is ideal for this, using a coarse shredding disk). Drain on paper towels for a few minutes. Place zucchini in a large saucepan or skillet with butter and scallions. Turn on high heat and toss zucchini mixture until just heated through. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt, pepper and freshly ground nutmeg. Serve immediately, sprinkling with parmesan cheese if you wish. From "Private Collection," the Junior League of Palo Alto, Inc. GREEN AND GOLD SQUASH (6 servings)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons salad oil
3 medium sized zucchini, scrubbed, stemmed and shredded coarsely
2 medium-sized yellow summer squash, scrubbed, stemmed and shredded coarsely
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup cracker crumbs
In a large frying pan, saute' onion in salad oil until golden brown. Remove from heat; stir in shredded zucchini and yellow squash, parsley, salt, oregano, pepper and slightly beaten eggs blended with milk. Spoon about half the mixture into a buttered 1 1/2-quart baking dish; sprinkle with half the cheese and half the crumbs. Make a second layer of the remaining squash; sprinkle with remaining cracker crumbs. Arrange the last of the cheese in a crisscross design on top. Bake, uncovered, in 325-degree oven for about 45 minutes. From "The Sunset Casserole Book," Lane ZUCCHINI ONION DIP (8 servings)
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1 garlic clove, sliced
2 cups chopped zucchini
1 teaspoon salt
Dash pepper and lemon juice
1/2 cup plain lowfat yogurt
In a small skillet, heat oil; add onion and garlic and saute' until onion is translucent. Add zucchini and saute', stirring constantly, until softened, about 5 minutes.
Transfer onion mixture to work bowl of food processor. Add salt, pepper and lemon juice and process until pure'ed. Pour mixture into bowl and stir in yogurt; cover and refrigerate until chilled.
From "Weight Watchers Quick Start Program Cookbook," New American Library, $17.95