It's the problem we least considered in March while eagerly sorting through seed catalogues in front of a roaring fire. Our mouths were watering for fresh vegetables straight from the back yard, our nails were itching for black soil and our skin yearned for an 85-degree summer day.
But here we are approaching the end of August, sweaty and sunburned with broken nails, and our back-yard gardens are producing twice as much as we can chew. We'd been warned by the experts that this would happen. Those visions of simmering pots of beans and steaming ears of corn that seemed so desirable five months ago, have muted. We are bored. Suddenly we have the height-of-the-season, sliced-tomato blues.
But there are ways around the problem of overabundance, some of which can change the shape of your vegetables without drastically changing their flavor. These solutions are easily assimilated into your cooking repertoire once you understand the basics of pure'eing, grilling and stir-frying vegetables, and slicing them into gratins and soups. Purees
Pureeing is just another fancy name for whipping, and any vegetable can be whipped or pure'ed once it is cooked until tender. You can use these whipped vegetables to perform a variety of services or just serve them plain, as in America's favorite -- mashed potatoes.
Pure'es are wonderful spooned into the centers of other vegetables or meats, and make beautiful piped garnitures alone or in a colorful combination. Turn them into compound butters by adding them by the tablespoon to butter that has been whipped and softened in the food processor. Roll the flavored butter in waxed paper, rechill and serve it in thin medallions melting over meat, fish or other vegetables. A tablespoon or two of pure'ed greens tastes wonderful mixed into your favorite pasta recipes. Finally, you can whisk them into soups to act as thickeners.
Almost any vegetable can be pure'ed, but keep its moisture content in mind before you start. Most vegetables contain enough water that they do not require additional liquid when being pure'ed. However, there are exceptions to every rule, and starchy vegetables such as potatoes will be pasty and dry without the addition of cream. Low starch vegetables, such as green beans and carrots, are too watery for a pure'e of piping consistency and should have cooked potatoes or rice added to the mixture to give them body. Adding butter or cream gives your pure'e flavor, a fluffier texture and helps to bind the mixture.
Once the vegetable is cooked until tender and drained, it is quickly dried in the pan on the stove for a few minutes. Mash it, adding liquid or a starch as needed, with an electric beater or by hand, or process it with a food processor to a fine, even consistency. You can also work it through a sieve or food mill. Electric beaters give you the coarsest texture; sieves and food mills, the finest. The sky is the limit for seasonings -- any fresh or dried herbs and garlic or shallots. Grilling ------------------
The best grilling vegetables are tomatoes, turnips, potatoes, peppers, onions, mushrooms, fennel, eggplant, corn and celery. But be careful. Grilling too long or too close to hot charcoals will render the juiciest vegetable tough and dry. To keep them moist, vegetables should be coated with oil at the very least, and they improve sitting in a spicy marinade for 30 minutes or more, if you have the time. You can also cook them in foil packets, which takes longer and the result is more of a steamed vegetable than that of a charred, smoky, crunchy vegetable. Corn on the cob can be cooked unhusked or, for the same steamy effect, wrapped in foil.
Cooking time, of course, varies with the vegetables, how thickly they are sliced and the temperature of the coals, so it isn't possible to give estimates. They cook best six inches from coals that have turned charcoal gray. There's no doubt that an assortment of vegetables on a skewer looks beautiful. However, since cooking times vary tremendously among vegetables, this is not the best way for the vegetable to cook. Compose a number of skewers of each kind of vegetable you plan to serve to avoid uneven cooking. New-Style Saute
This terrific clean-out-the-refrigerator technique should become a year-round habit whenever you are planning a vacation, or even a weekly trip to the store. It is amazing how few vegetables you actually need to feed large numbers of people, and the more varied your selection, the more beautiful your dish will be. You can use all raw vegetables or a combination of raw and leftover cooked vegetables. Be sure to add the cooked vegetables at the end of the cooking time, just to heat them through.
To prepare a new-style saute', peel root crops and wash all vegetables. Baby vegetables are lovely in this dish, especially squash with their tiny yellow blossoms still attached. Cut large vegetables into bite-sized pieces on the diagonal, in rounds or julienne. The vegetables are then cooked, stirred from time to time, in a small amount of cream, butter and/or broth over high heat, just until the vegetables have exuded their liquid and that liquid has cooked away. Season the dish generously with salt and pepper and any combination of herbs you have on hand, especially those herbs that look as though they are on their last legs. Parmesan cheese is a nice year-round flavoring agent, but use it especially during the winter when fresh herbs are nonexistent. Serve the vegetables by themselves or over cooked rice or pasta. Gratin
Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to put cheese in this dish to call it a gratin. But it does require using already-cooked vegetables, which are then baked to create a crust. A liquid is often added (often a creamy white sauce, but broth also works well) to prevent the vegetables from drying out while they are in the oven. However, particularly moist vegetables, such as tomatoes and greens, can be baked without a sauce, since they will exude plenty of juice on their own. You can use any vegetables either by themselves, or layered in compatable combinations. They are then often topped with bread crumbs to give it additional crunch. Since they are usually baked at 375 degrees for about an hour, you may be well advised to hold on to this technique until sometime next month when the thought of turning on the oven doesn't seem so ominous. Vegetable Soups
The thought of vegetable soup conjures up images of a meaty broth with barely cooked vegetables and a cold winter day. But there's more to this category of cooking with vegetables than meets the eye. Soups can be thick or thin, or hot or cold and can be seasoned with any flavor you please. In addition you can add any vegetable in any amount by itself or in combination with others.
The primary ingredients are vegetables, liquid and seasonings. The liquid can be a meat or vegetable stock or plain water. Most, but not all, vegetables need cooking in the stock or water before they can be eaten as is or pure'ed in a soup. Cucumbers and tomatoes (as well as fruits), however, work equally well when put directly in a blender with stock and yogurt, whipping cream or sour cream and served chilled with a fresh herb garnish.
Vegetable soups can be thickened by whisking in a vegetable pure'e or a roux. To make a roux, cook equal amounts of butter and flour together in a small saucepan for two minutes over medium heat. Be careful not to let the roux brown, as it will color the soup. Whisk this mixture into your cooked vegetables and broth. Add cream to thin especially thick soups to whatever consistency you desire. Adding acids, such as lemon juice or yogurt, to soups helps keep tender vegetables intact while they cook. Sugar adds sweetness to naturally acidic vegetables (such as tomatoes) and adds a glaze to the liquid.
Now that you've got some basics, here are a few recipes to get you started. Remember to use them as guides, along with your palate and what is ready to come out of your garden today. PAT'S MARINATING SAUCE FOR MEAT AND VEGETABLES (Makes 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Place all ingredients in a saucepan and heat to boiling. Pour directly over meat or cool slightly before pouring over vegetables. Marinate 30 minutes or more.
From "The Victory Garden Cookbook," by Marian Morash NEW-STYLE SAUTE (6 servings)
2 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, minced
1 tablespoon flour
3/4 cup cream
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 bunch scallions
1 small eggplant
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Cooked pasta or rice (optional)
Melt butter and saute' shallots until soft. Add flour and cook 2 minutes, without letting the flour brown. Add cream and broth and bring to a boil. Add vegetables and thyme and cook until vegetables are tender. Add parmesan, season with salt and pepper and serve by itself or over cooked pasta or rice. UNCOOKED CHILLED TOMATO SOUP (4 servings)
1 clove garlic
1 small shallot
1-inch leek, white part
2 whole large tomatoes, skinned and seeded
1 tablespoon curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons basil
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups yogurt
Juice of 1 lemon
4 dollops of yogurt
Put garlic, shallot, leek, and tomatoes in food processor or blender and process until minced. Add curry powder, salt, pepper, parsley, basil, chicken stock, yogurt and lemon juice and process until mixture is smooth. Chill before serving. Add a dollop of yogurt to each bowl and sprinkle with parsley garnish.