How to Make the Most of End-of-Summer Produce
Recipes and tips (you can freeze 'em!) for enjoying the year's best tomatoes, basil, and zucchini
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Article and featured recipes and photographs by Ashley Strickland Freeman
It’s that time of year. The garden I planted back in May cranked out tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, and basil like crazy all summer, and now I’m at the end of the season. Where I once thought if I ate any more of those veggies I’d turn into one, I’m now hurrying to enjoy them a few last times — and to stash some so I can savor that homegrown flavor this winter. Are you in the same boat?
Whether you have a vegetable garden in your backyard, shop at a farmers’ market, or are taking advantage of grocery store specials, there’s still a gorgeous (and tasty) array of summer vegetables waiting to be scooped up. But don’t wait too long!
In that spirit, I’ve created a few easy recipes to make now to highlight the last of the tomatoes, basil, and summer squash, and have rounded up some more from the Yummly community. Then I’ve got some easy freezing and storage tips to help you lock in that summer flavor to enjoy for months to come.
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Make a gorgeous Fresh Basil Vinaigrette
In 10 minutes you can whip up my Fresh Basil Vinaigrette to add vibrant flavor and an emerald-green color pop to any end-of-summer salad, including my favorite combo, a plate of sliced tomatoes with burrata cheese. It’s also excellent drizzled over grilled chicken, pork, seafood, and grain bowls. The dressing keeps 1 week in the fridge, which is a good thing, because you’re going to want to add it to everything.
How to freeze basil
Throughout the summer, when my basil plants began to flower and get leggy, I trimmed them back to create bushier plants. Now I have a bucketful of fresh basil to do something with before the weather turns cold. There’s only so much I can make at once with that much basil, so I’ve found a way to freeze it.
1. First blanch the leaves in boiling water for about 10 seconds (just until they wilt). Then shock them in an ice bath.
2. Next let the basil dry on paper towel-lined baking sheets. Make sure the basil leaves get completely dry — watery leaves will develop frost in the freezer.
3. Set the baking sheet in the freezer. Once the basil is frozen, layer the leaves between paper towels in a freezer-safe container. (Work quickly, because they will thaw very fast.)
4. Keep in mind that the basil will likely darken and could even turn black as it freezes. That’s okay — it’s completely normal and the fresh basil flavor will still be there. If you’d prefer to keep the color bright, you can crumble the frozen basil leaves into ice cube trays, top with a little olive oil, and freeze. Then transfer the frozen cubes to a freezer-safe container.
Try an easy Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart
Here’s one of my favorite ways to use fresh tomatoes that are begging to be enjoyed right away. Made with store-bought puff pastry instead of pie dough, my Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart is a snap to put together and it’s full of big, bold flavors.
The key step is setting the sliced tomatoes on paper towels, then salting them to remove extra moisture so you don’t end up with a soggy crust. As a bonus, the process concentrates the tomatoes’ flavor.
Once you do that you’ll spread a simple herbed goat cheese onto the thawed puff pastry. Then give the tomatoes a pat-down to remove the liquid, layer them over the goat cheese, and pop the tart into the oven. The recipe couldn’t be easier or more beautiful, and it’s so good.
How to freeze tomatoes and make oil-packed tomatoes
When I have more tomatoes than I know what to do with, I start by freezing some. Once thawed, they will be soft and won’t be good for slicing, but will be perfect in a marinara sauce or soup.
To freeze tomatoes, set them whole on a sheet pan and freeze until firm. Then transfer to resealable plastic bags and freeze up to 6 months.
I also like to dry tomatoes in the oven for my own oil-cured tomatoes.
To make oil-packed tomatoes, first quarter the tomatoes and remove the seeds and juice. Toss the tomatoes in a little olive oil, and then place them on a rack in a single layer on a sheet pan. Bake the tomatoes at 200°F until they’re leathery, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Transfer the tomatoes to a jar, cover them with extra-virgin olive oil, and refrigerate up to 2 to 3 weeks.
Stir up a Garden Vegetable Pasta Salad
Along with zucchini, there’s still plenty of fresh corn and cherry tomatoes at my farmers' market, and I like to toss them all into a vibrant and refreshing pasta salad.
Instead of slicing the zucchini into rounds, I peel them into beautiful ribbons using a vegetable peeler.
After the pasta cooks, I drain it and return it to the pasta pot along with the zucchini and corn. The steam from the hot pasta softens the vegetables just enough so that they’re still a little crunchy but not raw, and the technique keeps me from having to heat up another pan. I went for cavatappi pasta here, but you can use another favorite shape like rotini, penne, or farfalle.
Tossed with a fresh Italian-style salsa verde dressing, cubes of feta cheese, and more fresh herbs, this pasta salad is a winner. It’s great as is or with chicken or shrimp tossed in. It also makes a hefty portion (16 cups!), perfect for meal prep or for serving a crowd, but feel free to cut the recipe in half if you like.
How to freeze zucchini
Over the summer, my zucchini and yellow squash plants seemed to multiply overnight, and I learned a trick for preserving the extra we couldn’t cook right away. Again, the freezer came to the rescue.
To freeze zucchini, first cut it into slices, or shred it if it’s bound for zucchini bread. Blanch the zucchini in boiling water for about 10 seconds (just until it softens). Then shock it in an ice bath.
Next drain the zucchini dry on paper towel-lined baking sheets. Transfer it in a single layer to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and freeze until firm. Freeze the zucchini in a resealable plastic bag up to 6 months and use it straight from the freezer.
Looking for additional ways to enjoy the last of that summer produce? Here are some other great recipes from the Yummly collection.
More favorite fresh basil recipes
For me, if summer was an herb it would be basil. This heat-loving plant is essential for Caprese salad and pizza Margherita. But that’s not all. The following are some other ways to make the most of it.
Cucumbers are another end-of-summer crop I'm trying to use up, so here is a two-fer. Featuring a basil-infused simple syrup, this cocktail is a refreshing blend of cucumbers, lime juice, and gin. Want an alcohol-free version? Omit the gin and use your favorite flavored seltzer water instead of plain club soda.
Looking for an easy weeknight dinner option? This fragrant coconut curry is an awesome one-pot meal, and the 1/4 cup of fresh basil added at the end gives it a punch of herbaceous goodness that’ll have everyone asking for seconds.
If you don’t have a go-to homemade pesto recipe, then this should be it. One taste, and you’ll wonder why you haven’t been making pesto from scratch all along. Use it as a spread for sandwiches, toss it with pasta, or spoon it over your favorite protein or grain bowl.
Don’t-miss tomato recipes
I grew up eating homegrown tomatoes in a variety of ways, from tomato pie — a Southern staple — to tomato sandwiches, always with white bread, mayonnaise, seasoned salt, and the juiciest tomatoes you could get your hands on. This time of year, these warm recipes from the stove-top and oven really hit the spot.
This comfort food classic is anything but basic, and bonus — it uses up a ton of tomatoes and basil from the garden (or freezer!). Serve with everyone’s go-to pairing: gooey grilled cheese. Serving a crowd? My Oven-Baked Classic Grilled Cheese Sandwiches are a great solution to avoid standing over the stove-top.
Fresh tomatoes are the hero of this traditional New England casserole. It's a dump-and-stir creation that's perfect for celebrating end-of-summer tomatoes. Serve it alongside your favorite main dish.
If your garden still has cherry tomatoes (or you picked up some from the market), this is the ultimate sheet pan dinner, ready in just 30 minutes. Balsamic-and herb-flavored chicken breasts bake alongside the tomatoes, and then are crowned with fresh mozzarella and basil. It’s a dish sure to please the whole family.
More ways to love zucchini
Sometimes simple sauteed zucchini or squash sprinkled with some Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper is just the ticket. But I like to switch things up, so here are three recipes to try when you want something a little different.
Searching for a healthy, crave-able snack? This is it! Sliced zucchini gets dipped in seasoned breadcrumbs and baked up until crisp. Dunk it in marinara or ranch, and even the kiddos will be coming back for more.
This is my favorite way to sneak vegetables into breakfast. My son is very wary of unidentifiable “green things” in his food, but he has no clue that they’re the secret ingredient in this spiced up loaf. We don’t mind raisins in our house, but sometimes I like to swap in chocolate chips instead. (As you can imagine, my son prefers them to the raisins.)
This recipe was an unexpected “wow!” find for me. I love to pickle vegetables but have never pickled squash. Not only is it beautiful, it’s ready in a snap and can be stored in the refrigerator — no canning needed. Add the pickles to a charcuterie board or serve them as a side for your favorite cookout meal.
Keep exploring end-of-summer cooking
Check out these next articles for more delicious dishes, and be sure to tag @Yummly when you post your creations on social media.