Last week we looked at our garden, still pumping out produce even this late in the season, and wondered: What the heck are we going to do with all of it?
Our zucchini fizzled out because of squash bugs, but a few young zukes were still healthy enough to harvest. I planted 10 varieties of tomatoes this year and two huge basil plants plus an array of other savory herbs. Topping the scales in terms of sheer volume, however, were carrots. We had a veritable glut of plump carrots.
So that was a dilemma. But then my dear friend Angela Heaston gave us three of the most monstrous zucchini I have ever seen in my life. They were 2 feet long if they were an inch and at least 6 inches wide. They should have had their own ZIP code. Her son had drawn a grumpy face on one of them so that it seemed to be saying, “Either you eat me or I’ll eat you.”
I decided to do what I always do when confronted with a bunch of random vegetables: Make sauce. Put it in jars. Shove as many jars as we can into our tiny freezer, then give the rest away. I’ve modified the recipe to give you about enough sauce for dinner for four and lunch the next day. I got 18 jars of sauce out of my vegetables but you don’t need that much unless you’re feeding the entire cast of “Game of Thrones,” plus the dragons.
First, roast those carrots. Wash and slice five or six large carrots into sticks, like the kind you munch on at a party with lots of ranch dressing or sour cream onion dip. It’s not necessary to peel them for this recipe but you can if you prefer. Cover them with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon lemon pepper. Roast them in the oven at 375 degrees for half an hour, give or take. What you’re looking for are carrots that are soft but not mushy, browned a little but not burnt.
While the carrots are roasting — don’t they smell good? — chop up a whole sweet yellow onion (about 1 cup) and mince five cloves of garlic and put them in a large pot with 2 tablespoons olive oil, a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of lemon pepper and a teaspoon of paprika. Next, peel and grate six regular-size zucchini. I don’t mean the Jurassic-size gourds that your neighbor gives you because she’s afraid her giant squash will crush her in her sleep. I mean the 6- to 8-inch zucchini you get in a little package at the grocery store. Really, you can use any size zucchini that you want, but in the end you’ll need 4 heaping cups of zucchini. For this recipe, it’s not necessary to squeeze the zucchini dry like you would if you were making zucchini bread. You want the zucchini to be as wet as possible because that moisture will become part of the sauce. Put the zucchini into the pot with the onions and garlic and set it to simmer on medium-low.
If the carrots are done roasting, take them out of the oven. While they’re cooling, chop up four or five large tomatoes. You can use any kind of tomato that you like, or mix varieties. You need 2 heaping cups of tomatoes total. You can also use canned tomatoes along with all the juice for this recipe, especially if you’re making this sauce later in the fall or winter and can’t get sweet, fresh tomatoes. Put the tomatoes in the pot with the zucchini, onions and garlic.
Back to the carrots. Put them all in a food blender or processor. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and blend or pulse, adding more olive oil if necessary, until you’ve got a chunky sort of paste. It’s fine if it’s lumpy and has some carrot pieces in it. Use a spatula to scoop the paste into the pot with the other vegetables.
Next, the basil-and-herb pesto. You’re not making a classic basil pesto with olive oil, Parmesan and pine nuts; you’re just processing the fresh herbs into a paste that can be better blended into the sauce. You’ll need 2 cups fresh basil leaves, detached from the stems, along with ¼ cup of oregano leaves, ¼ cup sage leaves and 2 tablespoons rosemary needles. Put the herbs in a blender or food processor with ¼ cup olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt and pulse or blend until somewhat smooth — not perfectly smooth, but in the neighborhood, or at least in the same county. If you can salvage the tender greens from one of the carrots, throw those in, too. And yes, that’s a lot of herbs, but herbs never hurt anyone, unless they were allergic, got poked in the eye, or somehow ate a quantity so vast that it poisoned them. One must account for human vagaries.
I’d say that fresh herbs are crucial for this, but I know that large handfuls of fresh herbs aren’t always easy to come by. If you can’t get your hands on the fresh stuff, substitute a small jar of store-bought pesto (but do be careful of the salt and perhaps omit all the other salt in the recipe).
Scrape the pesto out of the blender or food processor and directly into the pot with the other ingredients and stir until well incorporated. Add two cubes of chicken bouillon and simmer, stirring occasionally, on low for an hour with the lid on. Taste the sauce and add salt as necessary or add a little water if the liquid cooks off. The chicken bouillon is entirely optional and you can skip it if you’d prefer a vegetarian sauce. Since the sauce doesn’t use any other animal products, I suppose that makes it vegan as well.
I also added pimientos to my sauce. I love the mellow peppery flavor and the bright pops of red. You can add a small jar of pimientos or a few strips of jarred roasted red peppers, too, or you can chop up a fresh red bell pepper and add it to the sauce along with the onions, garlic and zucchini.
The sauce can be served over pasta or polenta or used as a braise for chicken, pork loin, pork chops, salmon or cod. If you have leftover sauce, you can freeze it in a Mason jar for up to six months then pull it out on a cloudy day and use it as a base for vegetable soup or hearty stew. Add ginger, soy sauce, scallions, Sriracha or hoisin sauce and enjoy it with udon or ramen, fresh chopped scallions and a poached egg. Welcome the change in season and sleep soundly knowing that all the giant zucchini have been dealt with.