I had high hopes. The eggplant and zucchini plants looked healthy and were putting out flowers; the tomato leaves were sturdy. The basil and thyme were overflowing their pot. My mini garden on our deck looked like it would be a success as the pretty eggplant flowers morphed into lots of baby eggplants. The zucchini was promising with big yellow flowers and the tomatoes were the size of baseballs.
Then came the squirrel. He first went for a green tomato, one that was almost ready to turn red. He took a big bite and he left the rest on the deck railing as if to taunt us. Guess the taste wasn’t right. Then he came for the four inch long eggplant, the largest on the plant.
But no need to worry. We painted the deck and the railing with something to repel squirrels. And the eggplant had lots of flowers and there were many tomatoes on the plant.
But back came the squirrel. In a matter of days he devoured the eggplant and denuded the tomato plant. As for the zucchini-it never lived up to its promise.
But there’s lots of basil and thyme. The squirrel just looks at it and walks right through the planter on to better things.
This must be the year of the squirrel. We have ever seen so many or seen them be so bold and destructive.
No summer bounty for us this year. However if you’ve escaped the squirrel scourge and have tomatoes and zucchini, as well as eggplant and basil, here’s a super way to use them up courtesy of the New York Times and others. This dish is hearty enough for supper but versatile enough to be a side dish.
2 pounds of tomatoes (I like Plum tomatoes, but any kind will work)
2 Tablespoons extra virgin love oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, or the equivalent, chopped
1/2 pound zucchini cut into 1/2 inch dice
salt/pepper to taste
2 teaspoons fresh or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup cooked rice, barley or farro (I used farro for its hardy texture)
2 oz. grated (1/2 cup) Gruyere cheese
1-2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1-2 cups bread crumbs or panko
2-3 tablespoons melted butter
- Peel and seed half of tomatoes if desired. Then chop them fine. Slice the rest and set them aside.
- Preheat oven to 375. Oil a 2 quart dish.
- Heat 1 T. oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent about 5 minutes.
- Add garlic and stir about a minute. Then stir in squash. Cook until translucent about 5 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.
- Raise heat and cook, stirring, until tomatoes have cooked down, about 10-15 minutes.
- Stir in cooked grain and remove from heat.
- Beat eggs in a large bowl.
- Stir in the vegetables spoonfuls at a time to temper the eggs so they don’t cook. Add salt and pepper to taste, cheese and combine well. Scrape into greased baking dish.
- Cover the top of the gratin with a layer of sliced tomatoes. Drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil.
- Mix the bread crumbs or panko with the melted butter and sprinkle on top of the gratin.
- Bake for 45 minutes or until brown and sizzling.
- Let sit for at least 10 minutes and then serve hot, warm or room temperature with a sprinkle of chopped basil on top. Reheats beautifully.
- Serve with a green salad and some crusty bread.
NOTES: A gratin is a dish with a light browned crust of breadcrumbs or melted cheese baked in a shallow container.
- Add a small eggplant, chunked, and some sliced mushrooms to the zucchini and proceed according to the directions.Don’t worry about peeling the eggplant. The skin will soften.
- Don’t have enough tomatoes? Use a 14 ounce or slightly larger can for the sauce or even grape tomatoes.
- Add some herbs de Provence to the thyme.
- I found that this is a fairly forgiving recipe so use what’s in your pantry and fridge. Even potatoes or corn would work.
- I use my countertop oven that does not heat up the kitchen. Any good toaster oven should be able to handle the baking of this dish.
- Too much basil, grape or cherry tomatoes? Use them to make this super simple lunch or supper salad. With variations, this may no longer be a caprese salad (tomatoes, mozzarella, basil) but it will still taste good. It’s a good “pantry” salad.
1 (14oz) can white beans
5 oz. grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
5 ounces small mozzarella balls, seasoned or canned tuna
1/4 c. torn basil leaves
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
diced red onion (optional)
- Toss together beans, tomatoes, cheese or tuna and half of basil.
- Add olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
- Drizzle with vinegar, toss with rest of basil and adjust seasonings. Finish, if desired, with flaky salt
NOTES: No white beans, use chick peas. Serve over arugula. With tuna use some feta cheese. Add black olives and/or roasted peppers. Crusty bread or crackers make a good accompaniment.
Both of the supper dishes above could be accompanied by a cold soup like black bean. Usually served hot, black bean soup is also delicious when cold.
2 cans black beans
1 can Rotel (or other) diced tomatoes with chiles
1 can no salt tomato sauce
1 1/2 c water or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon cumin
- Dump everything into a deep bowl, withholding some beans.
- Puree in a blender or using an immersion blender.
- Check seasoning, adding salt if needed.
- Add reserved beans. Stir.
- Serve chilled topped with a dollop of sour cream, cheddar cheese, salsa, or diced avocado.
NOTES: A squeeze of lime is delicious. Or add some chile/lime seasoning (Trader Joe’s) or both.