November 6, 2015

Got lot's of basil to harvest? Make pesto!
Stijn Nieuwendijk/Flickr

One might think I was a bit overzealous in planting basil this year. I’ve got about 20 plants, and I admit some of them are there just to help with bug control—but that doesn’t mean they’re not still viable for harvesting.

Ahhh, harvest time. This is when all the hard work of spring and summer comes to fruition. What seems to be an overabundance of basil will provide just the right amount of dried basil flakes to last me until next year and leave some over for pesto and a simple basil/olive oil purée that I can freeze in ice-cube trays until I want to chuck some into a soup or stew.

I put in a lot of stevia and peppermint this year, too. I’ll dry it along with bunches of lemon balm to make my favorite tea. Again, it’s amazing how much you need to produce a relatively small amount of tea; once you dry all those leaves—in the oven on lowest setting, in a dehydrator or both, if you need more processing volume—you’ll be lucky if you get one good-sized jar.

Roast tomatoes with seasonings and then freeze to have them ready for soups and sauces all winter long.
Sarah R/Flickr

The tomatoes present a double whammy. What to do with all those ripe tomatoes? What to do with all those green tomatoes? The Fat Mama sauce tomatoes I planted produced a ton of albeit small—OK, cherry-sized—fruits, but they are mighty tasty. And the Sun Sugar bush is still producing beautiful little orange orbs at the rate of about 10 a day.

I’m chucking the tiny ripe tomatoes into salad, adding to veggie medleys and eating them like candy, but the supply still vastly exceeds the demand. My go-tos for ripe tomato overage are:

  1. Toss with a little crushed garlic, olive oil and rosemary, and roast in a hot (about 400 degree F) oven until just slightly charred. Cool, bag and freeze, making sure to include the juice produced by this process. These can go into all kinds of meals, and they make a great soup on their own, chopped or puréed with a little chicken stock.

  2. Throw a bunch into a blender, purée and freeze. This method appeals greatly to my lazy side. I can use this to make small batches of my favorite sauce: Just get a good amount of olive oil (about a 1/8 inch layer) super hot in a saucepan, add some onion and garlic to the purée, then pour it into the hot olive oil. The tomato purée kind of fries in the olive oil, giving it a sweet, caramelized flavor. Depending on what I’m cooking, I can add seasoning to make this work with Italian or Mexican food. This is my go-to topping for chiles rellenos, which I use to bribe my family into doing pretty much anything I want. (A note on freezing in bags: lay them flat until they’re frozen, and they’ll form stackable slabs that save space.)

Green tomatoes can be fried, pickled, made into relish and more.
Will Luo/Flickr

If the green tomatoes show any color, I’ll try to ripen them by putting them in a paper bag on the counter for a few days. Otherwise, there are a gazillion ways to use them green: relish, pickles, in breads, sauces and even cake! And of course, the inevitable, delicious fried green tomatoes of Fannie Flagg fame.

So fear not that harvest overage, my friends. Embrace it. Spread drying herbs all over your living room, line your fridge with jars of pickles and fill your freezer with slabs and cubes of veggie purée. When the apocalypse comes, you’ll be ready. Unless, of course, the power goes out.

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