By Falon French

Everyone has hobbies – my hobby is food.  I love to cook, I love to eat, and I love to talk about food!  Most Saturdays you can find me at the Lafayette farmers market, either shopping or volunteering.  More than anything, I love to talk to farmers about how they grow their crops, what they’re growing and what will be coming in the next weeks, and how they use the vegetables they grow. 

Labor Day is the start of a whole new round of vegetables and fruits at the farmers markets, local groceries, and CSAs.  At the beginning of September, there are so many colorful, delicious, and healthy foods ripening that you will be able to buy everything you need for your family and friends fresh and local:  apples, artichokes , beans, bell peppers, carrots , cauliflower, corn , cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, grapes, horseradish, leeks, lettuce, melons, nectarines, okra , onions , peaches, peas, plums, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, rhubarb, squash, sweet potatoes , tomatoes, and turnips…and of course, more depending on the farmers!

Now is the best time to make a huge batch of your favorite summer recipes and freeze or can them for the winter.  Some of the standard in my freezer are soups, salsa, and frozen homemade bean burgers and bean loaves.  Since tomatoes will be one of fall’s first casualties, this is the time of year when I start batch-cooking fresh tomato soups, salsa, and homemade marinara.  The basic recipes, including some links, are below:

When the veggies are still ripe, I make my salsa and leave it fresh and raw.  Before canning or freezing salsa, I recommend boiling it.  Start with the tomatoes, and leave the peppers and herbs till the end.  The salsa is always the easiest for me, and I think you’ll find it’s pretty simple too.

To make salsa, I chop tomatoes, onions, green onions, and cilantro, squeeze lime over it, and then add in whatever peppers I have on hand – usually, jalapeno, poblano, serrano, and habanero as well as bell peppers.  It’s quick and easy to customize, and except for the limes (occasionally) all of the ingredients can be found at your local farmers market. 
If you want more specific recipes and directions, here is a link to several great salsa recipes:

Marinara sauce is one of those things that is always great to have on hand for a quick and easy meal.  I make my own, and I usually make a couple of different varieties.  Then, I can pull out just one jar and save the rest for later.  I usually have at least a couple of jars of very smooth marinara (just put the ingredients in a blender or food processor) for some of my recipes, and then a few jars of chunky and spicy marinara for other recipes. 
I like veggies to be crispier, so I usually save the mushrooms, green peppers, squash, and zucchini and add them when I’m reheating the sauce.  If you want the veggies in the sauce (especially since they won’t be available soon), add them about 5-10 minutes before the sauce should be finished cooking…that way, they stay crispier.

Basic Marinara Sauce
• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1/2 cup minced onion
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
• 1 large clove garlic, minced
• 4 cups fresh tomato puree
• 1 large fresh basil stem with leaves removed
• 1 teaspoon sea salt, preferably gray salt
• Pinch baking soda or sugar, if needed

Heat the olive oil in a large non-reactive pot over moderate heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the parsley and garlic and cook briefly to release their fragrance. Add the tomatoes, basil and salt. Simmer briskly until reduced to a sauce like consistency, stirring occasionally so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. The timing will depend on the ripeness and meatiness of your tomatoes and the size of your pot. If the sauce thickens too much before the flavors have developed, add a little water and continue cooking.  Taste and adjust the seasoning. If the sauce tastes too acidic, add the baking soda and cook for 5 more minutes. If it needs a touch of sweetness, add the sugar and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove the basil stem before serving.

Red Wine Marinara Sauce
• 2 large yellow onions, peeled and diced
• 2 Tbsp olive oil
• 5-6 cloves of garlic, minced (about 2 Tbsp)
• 2 Tbsp dried herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, etc)* mixed, total
• 1/2 cup red wine
• 12 cups peeled and seeded fresh ripe tomatoes**
• salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat up the olive oil. Add the onions and cook slowly, on medium heat until they start to caramelize. They should be evenly brown and soft. Cooking them this way brings out the natural sweetness in the onions. Add the garlic and dried herbs and cook for 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the 1/2 cup of red wine and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and their juice and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook on low, stirring occasionally for about 2 hours. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Artichoke and Olive Marinara
*This is one of my favorite recipes, but I tweak it every time.  I usually sauté fresh artichokes in olive oil with the garlic and onion, and then add it to the sauce instead of buying marinated artichokes.  I also add shredded spinach to this recipe, and it is delicious!
• 2 clove  cloves garlic (minced)
• ¾ cup finely chopped onion
• 1 ½ tbsp pepperoncini (minced drained bottled, peppers italian pickled peppers)
• ¼ cup olive oil
• 13 cup dry white wine
• 32 oz tomatoes (chopped)
• 10 oz artichoke hearts (marinated artichoke hearts drained well and halved)
• ½ cup kalamata olive (chopped pitted)
• 1/3 cup fresh parsley (minced)

In a large skillet cook garlic, onion and peperoncini in oil over moderately-low heat, stirring, until onion is softened, add wine and boil 3-5 minutes, or until wine is almost evaporated.  Add tomatoes and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, or until the sauce is thickened.  Stir in artichokes and olives and simmer sauce for 5 minutes and stir in parsley and season to taste.

In the winter, my “happy meal” is tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.  So toward the end of the tomato season, I buy a bushel and make lots of soup, and freeze it for those dreary days when I need a little pick-me-up. 

These recipes are by far my favorites.  After several years, I don’t usually follow them anymore; I toss together the ingredients and season to taste.  To cut down on fat and calories, I usually don’t use milk, cream, or butter – a quick trade secret: blend the tomatoes with one slice of bread (sans crust, just like with gazpacho) and you will get a thick, creamy soup that is much skinnier! 

Basic Tomato Soup
• 4 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
• 1 slice onion
• 4 whole cloves
• 2 cups chicken or veggie broth
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 teaspoons white sugar, or to taste

In a stockpot, over medium heat, combine the tomatoes, onion, cloves and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, and gently boil for about 20 minutes to blend all of the flavors. Remove from heat and run the mixture through a food mill into a large bowl, or pan. Discard any stuff left over in the food mill.  In the now empty stockpot, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour to make a roux, cooking until the roux is a medium brown. Gradually whisk in a bit of the tomato mixture, so that no lumps form, then stir in the rest. Season with sugar and salt, and adjust to taste.

Roasted Tomato Soup
• 2 ½ pounds fresh tomatoes (mix of fresh heirlooms, cherry, vine and plum tomatoes)
• 6 cloves garlic, peeled
• 2 small yellow onions, sliced
• Vine cherry tomatoes for garnish, optional
• ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 quart chicken or veggie stock
• 2 bay leaves
• 4 tablespoons butter
• ½ cup chopped fresh basil leaves, optional
• ¾ cup heavy cream, optional

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Wash, core and cut the tomatoes into halves. Spread the tomatoes, garlic cloves and onions onto a baking tray. If using vine cherry tomatoes for garnish, add them as well, leaving them whole and on the vine. Drizzle with 1/2 cup of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, or until caramelized.  Remove roasted tomatoes, garlic and onion from the oven and transfer to a large stock pot (set aside the roasted vine tomatoes for later). Add 3/4 of the chicken stock, bay leaves, and butter. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid has reduced by a third.  Wash and dry basil leaves, if using, and add to the pot. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth. Return soup to low heat, add cream and adjust consistency with remaining chicken stock, if necessary. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish in bowl with 3 or 4 roasted vine cherry tomatoes and a splash of heavy cream.

Tomato-Basil Soup
• 4 tomatoes – peeled, seeded and diced
• 4 cups tomato juice
• 14 leaves fresh basil
• 1 cup heavy whipping cream
• ½ cup butter
• salt and pepper to taste

Place tomatoes and juice in a stock pot over medium heat. Simmer for 30 minutes. Puree the tomato mixture along with the basil leaves, and return the puree to the stock pot.  Place the pot over medium heat, and stir in the heavy cream and butter. Season with salt and pepper. Heat, stirring until the butter is melted. Do not boil.

Enjoy!  Lastly, have you ever wondered when the best time is to get fresh blueberries? Even though this produce calendar is for Illinois, it’s still relevant for Indiana.  Hope you can use it!


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