Making the most of a backyard harvest
If you like fresh fruits and vegetables, July is your month. All may not be homegrown because it’s getting hot in our corner of the earth, but whatever we’re missing is probably growing just over the line in neighboring states.
Here at home we’ve got apples, cantaloupes, eggplant, peppers, melons, peaches, cucumbers, snap beans, figs, corn, okra, peas and, my favorite, butterbeans. And close-by, even tomatoes are still on the vines. In the north of our state, peaches are falling off the trees.
When I was a girl growing up in Memphis, we scoured the farmers’ markets this time of year to stock up the freezer. Things were cheap then, and my parents would buy corn by the bushel, fruits by the flat and huge bags of butterbeans and peas in the shells. There was something relaxing about shelling our own, but I can only find peas and butterbeans in the shells when I go to Gulf Shores and scour the markets near I-10.
Locals like to stuff peppers and eggplant when they are cheap and stash them in the freezer. This is the time to shop for sales. My favorite recipe for stuffed peppers uses both ground beef and Italian sausage, and my latest twist is to add shrimp. Even better.
My family always had a fig tree, and a routine summer breakfast began with peeled figs, a sprinkle of sugar and light cream poured over. When my widowed mother moved to New Orleans and bought a home, the first thing she did was to plant a fig tree in her yard. We planted our first fig tree this year. Only about five feet tall, this baby is already producing figs. These will go into bowls with sugar and cream, I guarantee, and if there are any left, we’ll wrap them in prosciutto for appetizers and make a few jars of fig preserves.
When it comes to desserts, there is nothing like a warm fruit cobbler with vanilla ice cream – now and later. Blackberries, blueberries and peaches can be purchased in season and frozen for year-round memories of the summer.
Fresh Peach Pie a la Mode
4 ½ to 5 cups peeled peaches, seeded and sliced
In a large bowl, combine peaches, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and lemon juice. Gently stir in flour until mixed well.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Place one crust in a 9-inch pie plate. Spoon in peaches. Dot with butter. Cover with other piecrust, tucking edges under edges of bottom crust. Press edges together and flute. Make several slits in pastry to vent steam.
Beat egg white and brush on top crust and edges. Use only the amount necessary to cover.
Bake for 15 minutes on 450. Lower heat to 350 and bake until bubbly and browning on top, about 40 minutes. If pie is not as brown as you’d like, place under broiler for a minute or two, checking regularly.
Serve warm with scoops of ice cream.
Serves 6 to 8.
Stuffed Bell Peppers
6 bell peppers
1 ½ pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
4 green onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound lean ground beef
3 links Italian sausage, casings removed, about ½ pound
1 14.5-ounce can whole Roma tomatoes
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Salt, freshly ground pepper and Creole seasoning to taste
Several dashes Tabasco
¾ cup Italian bread crumbs, divided
1/3 cup shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
3 Tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
Slice peppers in half lengthwise, and clean out stem, seeds and white pulp. Chop one of the bell pepper halves and set aside. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and parboil the remaining 11 halves for 3 minutes. Place on a large baking pan and set aside.
Clean shrimp and roughly chop. Set aside.
Heat oil in a large frying pan or medium pot, and sauté chopped pepper, onions and garlic. Add ground beef and sausage and brown, breaking meat apart. When all meat is browned, stir in tomatoes, seasonings and Tabasco, and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. When cooked, skim off fat from the surface. Add shrimp and continue simmering until shrimp turn pink.
Remove from heat and add half the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley and eggs. Mix well and stuff into peppers. Sprinkle with remaining bread crumbs, and dot with butter.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. If not browned well on top, place under the broiler for a minute or two.
Serves 6 to 8. Freeze any remaining stuffed peppers for later use.
Fresh Fig Appetizer
2 dozen ripe figs
8 ounces gorgonzola
2 dozen pecan halves, roasted*
8 ounces prosciutto
Rinse figs, pat dry and cut off stems. Slice in halves lengthwise.
Use about 1 teaspoon gorgonzola for each fig, spreading on one side. Top with pecan half and close with other half of fig.
Wrap each stuffed fig with a piece of prosciutto large enough to overlap. Combine smaller pieces when necessary. Stick a toothpick through each fig to hold it together.
Serves 12 as party appetizer.
*To roast pecan halves, spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 8 to 10 minutes, turning once.