Winter Can Be Delicious!

Growing a fresh vegetable garden is the first step to a good life. The next, is to learn how to preserve all the overflows from your garden, so that when winter arrives, the inevitable rain persists and the sun takes a three months leave of absence, or when you are blanketed under three foot of snow, you can still enjoy good food bursting with the summer flavor.

Sounds easy enough, but years ago when I was faced with all the extra vegetables coming out of the garden, I was overwhelmed. My initial attempts of preserving produced some pretty unpalatable results. Through trial and error and practice, I have developed some dishes that can be proud of. The important thing is to have a good plan, figuring out what to grow, what to preserve and what to do with the food you preserve. That way, coming harvest time, when all the eggplants, tomatoes, peppers and all the veggies pouring out of the garden, you can put your plan in action, meticulously and methodically pack way. Here are a couple recipes that I use every year.

Vegetables: 5 lb. Opus Eggplant, cut into 1/2" cubes, add 2 T. salt, allow to set for 4 hours, squeeze out as much liquid as you can, 5 large ribs of celery stalks, cut into 1/2" cubes, 2 C. carrots, cut into 1/2" cubes, 1 large onion, cut into 1/2" cubes. Side ingredients: 3 C. Green olives, cut up (I used the Italian Antipasto from the big box store), 1/2 C. capers, 1-1/2 C. raisins, 1 C. pine nuts.
Herbs and seasonings:2 C. fresh Basil, chopped, 2 heads fresh Garlic, peeled and crushed, 1/2 C. fresh fresh chopped oregano, hot pepper flakes to taste. 1/2 C. Olive oil, 1/2 C. Red Wine or Balsamic vinegar, 1 C. Brown sugar, 1 C. Homemade Tomato sauce, Salt and pepper to taste.
Directions: Saute vegetables in batches until they are soft, making sure all pieces of vegetables are well coated with olive oil. Add all other ingredients gradually, mix well, allow to cook together for 20 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

Homemade Tomato Sauce:
This is a easy tomato sauce recipe, because the sauce is cooked down in a crock pot, there is no waiting no stirring. Can the tomato sauce the next day, and the job is done!
Gather 15 lb. assorted tomatoes from the garden. They don't have to be perfect, just remove any blemishes and the stem ends. Cook in a large stainless steel stock pot until the tomatoes are soft and easy to break down. Run the tomatoes through a colander to remove the seeds and skin. Transfer the tomato sauce (at this stage very runny) in two oval shaped crock pots (5Q), add garlic, herbs (I use oregano and basil from my garden), lemon juice and salt. Let it cook overnight. The next morning, it should reduced by half. Pack the tomato sauce in clean jars, put lids on and process in hot water bath for 15 minutes. This will be the best tomato sauce you will ever eat! Great for making pizza and pasta.

Dried Tomato and Cayenne Pepper Packed in Olive Oil:
While I was drying my tomatoes last year, I harvested a big basket of red cayenne pepper. I thought why not pack the peppers with the tomatoes? It turned out to be a real winner. I used this preserve to make an olive oil dip, which is tremendously popular. Here's how:
Heat some olive oil in the pan until hot, add some chopped up cayenne peppers, include the seeds if you like your preserve hot. Cook until you can smell the aroma of the peppers and turn off the heat. Mix in dehydrated tomatoes. Pack the mixture into jars, adding 1 t. salt in each jar. Add enough olive oil to cover. Screw on the top. The preserve will be good for 6 month stored in the refrigerator.

Infused Olive Oil Dip:
Add feta cheese, chopped kalamata olives, crushed garlic to the Dried Tomato and Cayenne Pepper Preserve, adjust salt level. Add enough olive oil for dipping. Serve with any type of fresh baked bread.

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