As we approach the end of summer, garden abundance is upon us and will last only a short time. One of the keys to a healthy diet, one that is rich not only in nutrients but also in flavor, is to take advantage of the harvest when it is most robust. This is when garden produce is highest in nutrients, and, for those without gardens of their own, when fruits and vegetables are cheapest at the farmers markets. Here are two ways I like to preserve our garden produce.
Gather a variety of fresh herbs from your garden or farmers market. I would include oregano, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, winter and summer savories and any other fresh herb at its peak. Give the herbs a gentle rinse, then put in either a dehydrator set at around 95 degrees or hang upside down to dry in the shade. Dry until the stems and leaves can be easily snapped without any bend or give. Powder the dried herbs in a spice grinder, and label and store them in a clean, dry, used Miron jar. This herb blend, if thoroughly dry, will last until next summer and will be a welcome addition to eggs, soups or any other savory dish. In addition, these herbs are loaded with healthy nutrients to keep you well throughout the winter.
Another easy way to store garden produce is to lacto-ferment the vegetables in a jar. It works best to get a lid that has a water lock; these are easily found online or in many natural-foods stores. An interesting variation of fermented vegetables is the traditional Giardiniera (the large jar in photo above), an Italian fermented recipe. For this recipe, start with a two-quart Mason jar and a water-lock top. Add one-half teaspoon of black peppercorns, one-half teaspoon whole cloves, one-half teaspoon juniper berries and two bay leaves to the jar. Then add the following vegetables, pressing down as you go:
Add four cups of filtered water, two which 2 Tablespoons of sea salt have been added. Make sure the vegetables are completely submerged in the brine (you might need to use a fermentation weight). Screw on the top and leave in a cool place for 10 to 14 days. When it is ready, seal and refrigerate, where it will last for months.
You can use any variation of the above two “recipes” — dry and powder as many herbs as you can, and ferment any extra vegetables from your garden or farmers market. These are almost foolproof ways to add flavor, diversity and nutrition to your diet.
Whoever coined the term ‘comfort food’ is a genius. I can’t think of a better way to describe this quick and easy family meal, and I have lost count of the number of times I have cooked it. It’s versatile, requires minimal preparation, which you can do in advance, and above all, it’s wonderfully satisfying and won’t have you reaching for pumpkin spice muffins an hour after dinner.