Friends With Benefits

No, not those benefits. These benefits:


Our friends, Carol and Dave, are experienced gardeners, and they had such a bountiful harvest this year that they offered to give us some of their veggies.  Yes, and thank you! You can bet that we spent part of our evening out to dinner with them last weekend taking mental notes about how they did it.  Wow. We were so impressed and very grateful, and we were determined to use each and every vegetable.

I thought it would be fun to document how we made good use of all this. So this will be a longish post that covers several days and cooking sessions.  We had a big head of kale, two small butternut squash, seven eggplants, and a huge bunch of basil.  Plus there was a fun Santorini zucchini which was completely new to me.  Here’s a better shot of that:


So here’s what we made…

 Caprese Salad – Dish #1

Jeff  joined us for dinner last Saturday night, and we had planned on making a Caprese salad using the gorgeous heirloom tomatoes that are in the stores right now.  We figured we could use some of the wonderfully aromatic basil to top the dish. Here it is all assembled and ready for dinner:


This  salad is simply heirloom tomatoes sliced and topped with fresh mozzarella, our C & D basil (chiffonade), salt, fresh ground pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  I’m not actually a tomato fan but these heirlooms are visually hard to resist. Check out the colors and shapes underneath the cheese:


So good.  And no leftovers.

Butternut Squash Soup -Dish #2

David knew what he wanted to do with the butternut squash because this soup is a favorite recipe of his.  And since we were going to Dave and Carol’s for nosh and a movie last Sunday night it was a good time to whip it up.  I did neither the cooking nor photography for this one since I was on the treadmill working off Saturday night’s blueberry pie.  I think David did a great job standing in. Here’s the lovely squash all peeled and chopped and ready for the pot:


After sautéing some onion and garlic in a saucepan,  David added the squash, chopped apple, vegetable broth, and dried thyme.  Here’s the  pot simmering away:


As everything softened up he add some chopped jalapeño (no seeds), cinnamon and a pinch of salt.  After some heavy pulverization in our Vitamix, voila!


Silky smooth squash soup with a little bit of sweet and a little bit of heat.  It’s delicious and Carol and Dave loved it too.  Next time, though, a sprinkle of parsley or some pine nuts on top?

Summer Squash Gratin with Salsa Verde- Dish #3

For this dish we used the Santorini zucchini, a yellow squash and this zucchini from our garden:


It was such a coincidence that Smitten Kitchen posted the perfect recipe just as I was trying to figure out what to do with the zucchini.  I considered a zucchini bread but really wanted to showcase the veggies.  Her recipe for Summer Squash Gratin with Salsa Verde is here and I followed it pretty much as written.  I did substitute a mild red onion for the shallots because Whole Foods didn’t have any shallots and I can only schlep around so much in the Tucson summer heat.

This recipe is all about adding flavor, flavor, flavor to the delicate (i.e. kind of flavorless) squash.  That is done by mixing in a salsa verde along with grated gruyere cheese, shallots/onion and brown butter coated bread crumbs.  It was my first time making salsa verde which is a combination of fresh herbs, anchovies, capers, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil that are chopped up together in the food processor.  The vibrant green color is beautiful.  Here’s a look at my leftover salsa verde:


And here’s a look at the assembled dish before baking…


and after:


Ooh, this was good.  I think the breadcrumb to zucchini ratio was a little off because I had a hard time cutting and slicing the Santorini zucchini.  I used some of it but probably not as much as the recipe needed.  Luckily brown butter breadcrumbs are one of those “can’t have too much of ” items.  An excellent place to park all that summer squash.

And last but not least we made:

Eggplant Parmigiana – Dish #4

While there are lots of light and healthy eggplant recipes out there, we knew we wanted to go with a classic eggplant parmigiana, and my usual sources weren’t any help.  Luckily we found a recipe by Alex Guarnaschelli of Food Network online which came with nothing but rave reviews.  Check out the recipe here.   A bit labor intensive but I had my sous-chef/husband ready to assist.  This recipe uses a from-scratch sauce which is worth it.  I tracked down those San Marzano canned plum tomatoes at Whole Foods and it made a difference.  Plus gobs of softened onion and garlic.  Really, how bad can it be? Here’s  a look:


David cut up all seven of our little eggplants, dipped, coated (gluten free breadcrumbs) and fried them.  And here they are in their golden loveliness awaiting entry into the casserole:


Admittedly we did a bit of “tasting” of the eggplant with a little tomato sauce dip.  Couldn’t resist!

The layering included the usual mozzarella:


And along with the grated parmesan and torn basil, this recipe uses lots of grated provolone :


In our excitement to get this dish in the oven, I forgot to take a “before”shot of the dish but here’s the after:


Oh my.  It was as decadent and flavorful as it looks.

Wow!  We did it.  And I think we did our friends proud.  We used most of the veggies and tried out some terrific recipes along the way.  The kale, by the way, went with David to work for lunch everyday.  We ended up throwing away some of the basil because we couldn’t use it up fast enough.  Next time we’ll make some pesto and freeze it.

Even if you don’t have any friends with benefits/bumper crops I recommend checking out the farmers markets this summer and using what’s fresh and available to try out some new recipes, eat well and have a lot of fun.  David and I are determined to expand and improve our garden this fall and if we are so lucky to have more than we can eat ourselves we’ll be sure to let you know.



3 thoughts on “Friends With Benefits

  1. All the food looks beautiful and sooooo delicious! Wish I could taste with you! BTW…….have you aver heard of ROTEL? If I knew how to take a picture of the can and post it, I would. Actually, I’ll text you a pic. Look for it in your canned aisle section, or mexican section. They’re cans of diced tomatoes and chilies in different heats. Soooo easy and great to add to the zucchini stew, tomato sauce, or any veggie dish. I always have a few cans in my pantry as a staple.


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