How To

Making the Most of Your Excess Summer Produce

summer produce

Summer is the time of bountiful produce – which can be a double-edged sword for home cooks.

On the plus side, in-season fruits and vegetables are often at their cheapest and most flavorful. But there’s a catch: it’s easy to end up with too much produce. You might have an unexpectedly generous garden bounty, or receive a big quantity from a friend in that same position. Or maybe your eyes were a bit too big for your stomach at a farmer’s market or u-pick farm.

Frugal Foodie recently experienced the latter at a strawberry farm in New Jersey, and ended up with six pounds of strawberries. (Talk about a sweet mistake!) Her solution: freeze half the bounty for summer smoothies and sangrias, and mix the rest with a little lavender from the garden for jam.

We asked chefs, food bloggers and other experts to share their best recipes for turning quantity into quality foods:

Tomato Water

“Perfectly ripe tomatoes produce an elixir as clear as water, bursting with concentrated, pure tomato flavor,” says chef Jim Denevan, founder of the traveling farm dinner series, “Outstanding in the Field.” (FYI: the yield will vary depending on the type of tomatoes you use.)

His recipe (also in, “Outstanding in the Field: a Farm to Table Cookbook”): Line a large strainer or colander with several layers of cheesecloth and set it over a large bowl. Coarsely chop three pounds of very ripe tomatoes and transfer them to the bowl of a food processor. Add a large pinch of kosher salt and process until pureed.

Pour the tomato puree into the strainer and let it drain slowly overnight in the refrigerator. Taste, and adjust seasoning as needed. Pour into chilled shot glasses to serve.

Watermelon Agua Fresca

Got watermelon? This recipe from the National Watermelon Promotion Board uses a whopping eight cups of chopped melon and another six cups of juice.

Dried Strawberries

“Dehydrated strawberries make for a great snack year round,” says Melissa Picoli, founder of health and beauty line Bijabody.com. Spread whole or sliced berries on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. Bake at 225 degrees for three to five hours. “This removes the water content,” she says. “Although it affects some of the nutrient profile, it actually concentrates the rest, so you have a healthy snack.”

Green Pea Hummus

“This recipe can be adapted to work for baby, as well as the rest of the family,” says Jennifer Broe, founder of BabyGourmet.com. To make, purée in the food processor a cup and a quarter fresh shelled green peas, a 
cup of drained and rinsed garbanzo beans, a quarter-cup plain Greek yogurt, two tablespoons of chopped green onion and three tablespoons of chopped fresh mint.

“That, by itself, is suitable for babies eight months and older,” she says. Babies 10 months and older can have the puree on small bits of pita. For the rest of the family, add two tablespoons fresh lemon juice and a half-teaspoon salt into the puree. Serve with toasted baguette slices or pita chips.

DIY Diced Tomatoes

“I buy organic tomatoes at the farmers market, but I get the seconds, 
blemished, or ugly ones that are usually marked down,” says Kathy Hester, author of  “The Vegan Slow Cooker.” She continues, “Then I cook them in the slow cooker and put them up in the freezer.” A bonus: using a slow cooker means cooks don’t have to heat up the kitchen.

Fresh Strawberry Bavarian

Denevan uses roughly three pints of strawberries in this “Bavarian,” an eggless, unmolded mousse. To make, place a 5-cup mold or eight 8-ounce molds or ramekins in the refrigerator to chill. Pour three tablespoons cold water into a small saucepan and sprinkle a tablespoon of unflavored gelatin on top. Set aside for 10 minutes to soften.

In a food processor, puree enough strawberries to make two cups of puree (about two to three pints). Transfer to a large bowl. Add two-thirds cup of superfine sugar and two tablespoons lemon juice and stir until sugar is dissolved. In another bowl, using an electric mixer or whisk, beat a cup heavy cream with a half-teaspoon vanilla until it holds stiff peaks. Set aside in the refrigerator. Heat the gelatin and water over low heat, stirring until gelatin is completely dissolved.

Set the bowl with the strawberry mixture in a bowl of ice and water. Quickly whisk the gelatin mixture into the strawberries; continue whisking until mixture thickens to the consistency of raw egg whites, about 10 minutes. Remove the bowl from the ice and fold in the whipped cream, working quickly.

Remove the mold or ramekins from the refrigerator. Wet the inside of the mold or ramekins with cold water and shake out the excess, or very lightly oil the inside. Pour in the Bavarian mixture. Refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, dip the bottom of the mold in warm water for 5 seconds for thin molds and 10 seconds for thicker or glass or ceramic molds. Place a plate over the top and flip the mold over to invert the Bavarian onto the plate. If the Bavarian does not unmold easily, gently slip the tip of a thin knife into the side of the inverted mold to release the vacuum.

Top with fresh sliced berries and serve immediately.

Chimichurri

Herb sauces can be a great way to make the most of fast-growing herbs. Picoli suggests homemade chimichurri, made with your choice of herbs. (Her pick: a combo of basil and parsley, with a bit of turmeric.) Fill a blender with fresh herbs, two to five cloves of garlic, equal amounts of apple cider vinegar and olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Blend.

Watermelon and Tomato Gazpacho

Steve Topple, executive chef at Sonnenalp Resort in Vail, CO, uses this gazpacho to make the most of the region’s short summer season. To prepare, blend together one cup of chopped watermelon, a pound of chopped tomatoes, a half-cup white vinegar, a half-cup olive oil, half of a chopped cucumber, one chopped jalapeno and two chopped shallots.

Puree to a smooth liquid. Strain the soup through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding the solids. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill the gazpacho for at least 24 hours. Before serving, cut another cup of chopped watermelon into quarter-inch cubes to use as a garnish.

Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie