Garden to Table: Ratatouille

Essentially a vegetable stew, the name “Ratatouille” comes from the French verb touiller, meaning “to stir up” – and it’s just that easy! This hearty dish hails from the Provence region of France is a super easy-to-make mix of seasonal vegetables, garlic, and olive oil. A perfect dish for a hard working gardener and lazy cook like me - enjoy!


Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil
1 head garlic, cloves smashed & peeled
2 large green bell peppers, cut into chunks
2 medium onions, cut into half-moons
1 large eggplant (or three small ones) cut into chunks
3 medium zucchini, cut into 1-1/2-inch chunks
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram or oregano leaves
2 (14-1/2-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 Bay leaf
2 tablespoons sugar
salt to taste
black pepper to taste

Method

1.     In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat; sauté the garlic, bell peppers, and onions for 5 minutes, or until tender.

2.     Add the eggplant and zucchini; mix well, and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley, basil, marjoram, bay leaf and diced tomatoes; mix well.

3.     Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients and heat for 2 to 3 minutes before serving.


Garden To Table: Luscious Lemon Basil

Basil, with its thick, fragrant leaves, is the quintessential summer herb. The vast arrays of basil varieties have always been shadowed by the typical Italian sweet basil. In my garden however, that old standby has taken second place to my cherished lemon basil.

I first encountered lemon basil four years ago at Native Nurseries, where I work. Betty O'Toole had just brought in her weekly delivery of summer herbs and veggies from her farm in Madison. She had a fresh flat of ‘Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil’, an heirloom lemon basil variety dating back to pre-1940.

I had seen lemon basil offered in seed catalogues before, but the question still remained for me; what do you do with lemon basil? Despite that lingering doubt, I was immediately seduced by the bright, sweet lemony scent and took one home to add to my vegetable garden.

My first foray into culinary uses of lemon basil began by substituting it for sweet basil in my regular pesto recipe. This brought about glorious results and I soon began adding it to many different dishes to see how that luscious lemon flavor might brighten them up. Of these experiments, two have grown to become my favorite summer dishes. The first resulted from adding lemon basil to my typical cucumber and cream cheese sandwich. I had been inspired by the heirloom lemon cukes I was growing which already had a slight citrus tang to them. The additional lemony layer was addictive, especially when on sourdough bread.

I was inspired to create my second dish by my friend Mike, who had been adding his bountiful lime basil that summer to many delicious pizzas. The resulting lemon basil pizza recipe remains my favorite pizza today and is sorely missed through the long winter months when lemon basil leaves my garden.


Here are my recipes for my two favorite lemon basil recipes:

Lilly's Lemon and Cuke Sandwich

Pretty simple. Sourdough bread smeared with a generous helping of cream cheese, a bed of fresh lemon basil leaves and sliced cucumbers (garden or market fresh makes all the difference). Enjoy on a summer afternoon or slice into petit-fours as an appetizer.

Luscious Lemon Basil Pizza

Preheat the oven to 400. Again I prefer sourdough pizza dough, but regular Italian is fine as well. You can easily make your own or pick up some fresh refrigerated dough at the grocers. Roll out the dough onto a pizza stone that has been sprinkled with finely ground cornmeal. I like to make attempts at hand tossing it, but these usually fail laughingly. Drizzle some olive oil across the dough and smooth it out. Sprinkle sea salt over the dough, and then lay a thick bed of fresh lemon basil. Fresh picked tomatoes sliced and laid atop the basil is optional - I love to use Jaune Flamme! Sprinkle mozzarella across, and don't be stingy. Delicious!

Centipedes, Millipedes and Squash Vine Borers

Adult Squash Vine Borer, Photo by Jeff Hahn

Adult Squash Vine Borer, Photo by Jeff Hahn

We got a question today from a customer who says centipedes are damaging the roots of his squash plants. "I noticed a bunch (maybe 50) centipedes on the roots of my squash plants."

First of all, they are probably millipedes. Centipedes (which have one set of legs per segment) would be eating other insects. Millipedes (two sets of legs per segment) are sometimes found in large numbers in moist garden soil that contains a lot of organic matter because they feed mainly on decomposing organic matter. Sometimes they will damage young seedlings, but usually the problem starts otherwise; and the millipedes are eating the damaged, rotting stems and roots. For instance, if your soil is staying too wet or if you’re watering late in the day, the problem may have started with root rot. Or if you have squash vine borers, the millipedes will feed on the damaged stems. If you do think your problem is starting and ending with millipedes, I’d apply some diatomaceous earth (or Organic One which is diatomaceous earth with pyrethrin) around the base of the plant and wherever it touches the soil. Do not use more than you have to however, as this will affect your earthworms also.

In any case, count on squash vine borers to cause problems with this crop. I recommend drenching the stems of your squash plants (especially at the base) with Thuricide (liquid Bt) at least a couple times per week and more if you have time. The moths will lay eggs at the base of your plants, but they will be protected when the larva hatches if it has to eat its way through Bt to get into the stem (the borers/larva will be dead before they can do any real damage). Keep an eye out for the moths which are active during the day. As you can see from the photo, they’re pretty distinctive. Kill them whenever you can, and increase the Bt treatments while they’re active.

 One more caution about watering. You’ll avoid a lot of problems simply by watering early and giving the plants time to dry before evening, but be aware that overhead irrigation will wash the Bt off the squash stems. Drip irrigation solves this problem and (since it does not get the foliage wet) relieves the necessity to water early. If this is not an option, you may want to increase the number of Bt treatments to replace product that has been washed off.

Frankly if I did not love yellow crookneck squash and zucchini as much as I do (and if homegrown squash did not taste so much better than what you get at the store), I would not go to this much trouble. But I do (and it does), so it’s definitely worth the extra work.