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Harvesting health

Garden harvested vegetables with meatballs and cheese
Garden harvested vegetables with meatballs and cheese
L Conlin

In some ways, fall appears to be approaching quicker this year than in some years past. Curled, crispy leaves have begun to fall from birch, maple, dogwood and tulip trees, as well as a host of other deciduous trees. August temperatures in Philadelphia have only reached 90 degrees twice, while night times have dipped into the low 60s nine times.

Micro climates in quite a few Philadelphia gardens have already turned tomato plants into brittle vines, while other well located plots are still providing conditions that allow vegetables and herbs to enjoy a final flourish. Summer squash, zucchini, yellow squash, hot and bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, onions and bush beans are among the variety of delectable crops that are ripe for picking and for combining to produce a harvest feast of freshness.

Try this hearty casserole to add a charge of healthy vitamins and minerals to your family's get-together. If the vegetables have been grown organically and are picked before becoming tough, there is usually no need to remove their skins. Many minerals are tucked directly beneath the outer layers of vegetables and fruits. Simply clean the skins by washing away any clinging soil.

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SUMMER HARVEST CASSEROLE
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

Tomato gravy/sauce:
3-4 pounds fresh tomatoes, skins on, diced into 1/2" cubes
1 large can crushed tomatoes
2-3 green or red bell peppers, stems and seeds removed, then diced into 1/2" cubes
1 jalapeno, stem removed, but seeds retained, finely chopped
1-2 small white eggplant, stem(s) removed, then diced into 1/2" cubes
1 large red onion, ends removed and skinned, then chopped into 1/2" cubes
5 cloves garlic, chopped
pinch dried, or 1 teaspoon of finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves (removed from stalks)
pinch dried, or 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme leaves (removed from stalks)
pinch salt
pinch freshly ground black pepper

Combine fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapeno, eggplant, onion and garlic, then cover and cook in a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan at medium to high heat. Stir occasionally, until they are sizzling and beginning to brown. Reduce heat to low and add remaining ingredients, except for canned crushed tomatoes. Simmer for around 10 minutes, then add canned tomatoes. Simmer for a further 10 minutes. Cool slightly, then place 3/4 of mixture (in appropriately sized batches) into blender and reduce to a thick, lumpy liquid. After blending, combine with 1/4 of mixture that was not blended. Pour 3/4 of combined mixture into a large, low casserole dish.

Vegetable filling:
1 large summer squash, seeded and diced into 1" cubes
2 large zuccini, diced into 1" cubes
2 large yellow squash, diced into 1" cubes
1/2 pound green beans, cut into 2" lengths

Combine all vegetables into a large frying pan, then cover and cook in a few tablespoons of olive oil at medium to high heat. Stir occasionally, until the vegetables are evenly browned (about 10 minutes). Turn down heat to low and simmer gently for approx. 10 minutes, or until vegetables are firmly cooked through, but not soft.

Spread vegetables evenly over tomato gravy.

Basil Pesto:
large handful of basil leaves, including lemon basil (if desired)
1/2 inch slice fresh ginger root
5 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey or agave nectar
pinch salt
pinch ground black pepper
1/4 cup milk or almond milk
pinch hot pepper flakes

Blend together in a food processor. Adjust ingredient amounts to yield a honey like liquidity, then spread mixture evenly, or in small frequent drops, over vegetable filling.

Meatballs:
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1/4 cup wholewheat flour
1/4 cup ground almonds or rolled oats
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
pinch rosemary
pinch fennel seeds
very tiny pinch ground cinnamon

Mix ingredients together, then mash with hands, forming into 20 small meatballs. In a little olive oil, fry the meatballs until evenly browned, turning occasionally. When evenly browned, cover and cook for approx. 20 minutes on low heat, to ensure they are fully cooked. Add meatballs to casserole dish, pushing gently into tomato gravy/vegetable mixture.

Topping:
Cover entire dish with finely sliced and/or grated extra sharp Cheddar cheese, or cheese of preference.

Cook in preheated 375 degree oven for around 25 minutes, or until cheese has melted and is starting to brown. Serve with pasta of choice.

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Those gardeners whose harvest results have been plentiful and overflowing may want to consider sharing their fresh, organically home grown produce. The program operated by Philabundance known as "Share the Harvest" is a great way to bring nutritious food to challenged communities.