For many family farmers, harvest is the busiest time of the year, leaving little time to actually cook what they grow.
Consequently, many of them rely on recipes that are quick, simple and often ready to feed a crowd.
We recently asked busy farmers — some of whom are featured in Sur La Table's "Eating Local" cookbook — how they like to cook their seasonal bounty.
Amy Hicks of Amy's Organic Garden supplies produce from her Charles City, Va., farm to three farmers markets and a full roster of community supported agriculture members. So when it's time to cook, she prefers recipes that let the quality and freshness of her ingredients do most of the work.
"Here in Virginia we still have a lot of tomatoes until October, so we eat a lot of salsa," she said. "We mix a combination of colorful heirloom tomatoes with red onion, jalapenos and garlic. And then we serve that over a bowl of fresh shell beans or crowder peas that we have boiled up."
When it's time to turn on the oven, Hicks slices up sweet potatoes into wedges, gives them a light coat of olive oil and bakes them at 375 degrees. She likes them a little crispy and tender with a light dusting of salt and red pepper.
When Shari Sirkin and Bryan Dickerson of Dancing Roots Farm offered up a ratatouille recipe that calls for 61/2 pounds of tomatoes, it was clear they are used to cooking for a crowd. The couple throws monthly work parties on their Troutdale, Ore., farm where CSA members pitch in with farm duties, tour the property and enjoy the fruits of the land.
When they're not simmering up a pot of ratatouille, they like to take those same fruits and vegetables and grill them outdoors.
"We take a nice selection of eggplant, peppers and summer squashes and cut them into half-inch slices," Sirkin said. "Then we marinate them in a bowl with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and soy sauce and cook them on the grill until they are tender."
"We also grow golden and Chioggia beets, and we like to slice them to about a quarter inch, toss them in olive oil and bake them on a cookie sheet until they are sweet, chewy and crispy," she explained.
But one of their favorite no-fuss harvest recipes involves almost no cooking.
"We toss a bunch of pretty big chunks of chopped tomatoes with fresh basil, crushed garlic, olive oil and salt and let it sit for a couple of hours," Sirkin said. After the dish "cooks" in the salt, she tosses it over hot pasta for an easy fresh tomato sauce.
Vicki Westerhoff of Genesis Growers in St. Anne, Ill. produces 350 varieties of fruits and vegetables on her farm. And while she finds very little time to cook in the summer, she does have a fall favorite: stuffed zucchini.
"I get medium sized zucchini and scrape out the insides, but don't let them lose their structure. Then I blend the insides with eggs, ground lamb and some good Cheddar or baking cheese." She cooks the "boats" at 350 degrees and ends up with a dish that gives you "a nice big piece of cheese in every bite," she said.
Organic farmer Skip Connett has an even simpler way to eat his produce.
"It's one of those funny things," said the owner of Green Gate Farms in Austin, Tex. "You look at vegetables all day in the field and you're so tired that the last thing you want to do is cook them. So I end up eating them raw, just grabbing whatever's out there, okra, peppers, green beans, even baby squash."
Connett does admit to doing some cooking on Sundays, "but if I don't get to it then, that's it." Instead, when there is a steady flow of work and a steady flow of produce on his certified Naturally Grown farm, he opts for preserving the harvest.
"We just wash and freeze tomatoes whole by putting as many as you can in a freezer bag, cored or uncored," he said. "They won't be good for slicing, but they're fine for sauces later."
Sometimes harvest produce is most enjoyable long after the harvest is over.
Grilled fall vegetables with balsamic vinegar
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons each: soy sauce, balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 eggplants, sliced 1/2-inch thick
3 zucchini, sliced 1/2-inch thick
2 green bell peppers, cut into rings
1 Mix together soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl or food storage bag. Add vegetables; marinate at least 1 hour.
2 Prepare a grill or grill pan for medium heat. Grill vegetables, brushing with some of the marinade, until tender, 10-15 minutes. Transfer to a platter; drizzle with any remaining marinade, if desired. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Per serving: 66 calories, 45% of calories from fat, 4 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 8 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 86 mg sodium, 4 g fiber.
Many farmers rely on dishes that are quick, simple and often ready to feed a crowd. Here are a few more recipes.
Ratatouille for a crowd
Prep: 1 hour
Cook: 55 minutes
Oregon farmer Shari Sirkin lets this vegetable stew cook down until it's just this "thick, chunky, fruity, solanaceous ratatouille."
1/3 cup olive oil
5 large onions, cut in 1/2-inch dice
1 tablespoon each: salt, dried thyme
1/2 tablespoon each: dried rosemary, dried sage, dried oregano, pepper
5 green bell peppers, cut in 1/2-inch dice
2 red bell peppers, cut in 1/2-inch dice
6 zucchini, cut in 1/2-inch dice
4 large eggplants, cut in 1/2-inch dice
6 1/2 pounds tomatoes, cut in 1/2-inch dice
1 Heat olive oil in a stockpot or large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions; cook, stirring often, until golden, 10 minutes.
2 Add herbs and spices; cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in the diced vegetables. Cover; reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are tender and mixture is thickened, about 45 minutes. Season to taste. Serve hot.
Per serving: 104 calories, 33% of calories from fat, 4 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 16 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, 360 mg sodium, 6 g fiber.
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
A mandoline would help with the beet slicing in this recipe from Shari Sirkin and Bryan Dickerson, of Dancing Roots Farm.
5 beets, peeled, sliced 1/8-inch thick
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Toss beet slices in olive oil in a large bowl. Place in one layer on one or two cookie sheets; sprinkle with salt. Bake until chewy, crisp and tender, about 20 minutes.
Per serving: 134 calories, 67% of calories from fat, 10 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 10 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 320 mg sodium, 3 g fiber
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Makes: 5 servings
Use a grapefruit spoon to hollow out the zucchini in this recipe from Vicki Westerhoff of Genesis Growers in St. Anne, Ill.
1 pound ground lamb
1 red onion, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Grated parmesan or other cheese
1 Heat oven to 350 degrees. Slice zucchini in half lengthwise; scoop out the flesh of each to make boats, leaving a 1/4-inch rim. Place zucchini flesh and egg in a blender. Transfer to a large bowl; stir in lamb, onion, thyme, salt and pepper.
2 Fill each boat with the mixture; top with cheese. Bake until lamb is cooked through, about 25 minutes.
Per serving: 201 calories, 60% of calories from fat, 13 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 102 mg cholesterol, 3 g carbohydrates, 17 g protein, 530 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
Sweet potato fries
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Makes: 6 servings
Adapted from a recipe by Amy Hicks of Amy's Organic Garden, Charles City, Va.
4 sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into wedges
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Ground red pepper
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Toss potatoes in olive oil in a large bowl. Bake on cookie sheet until crispy on one side, about 10 minutes; turn. Bake until they are crispy and tender, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and red pepper to taste.
Per serving: 116 calories, 35% of calories from fat, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 18 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 221 mg sodium, 3 g fiberCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun