Imagine a late summer dinner party. The meal is served al fresco on a patio lit by evening summer light. Candles glimmer and fresh flowers add color to a well-laid table. The food is simple, elegant and absolutely delicious. The host and hostess, intent on creating the perfect meal, has selected only the freshest, highest quality, local produce – all from their vegetable garden.
Creating a pastoral summer feast is one of the simple joys of summer. You’ll save time and money, and your guests will enjoy the fresh produce. Of course, late summer isn’t the only time for a garden feast. Spring and fall bring their bounties, as well.
Here are some dinner party ideas per harvest season using vegetables straight from the garden:
Early Summer Garden Vegetables
Late spring to early summer is the time to harvest cool-season crops, such as kale, Swiss chard, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, radishes, early potatoes and green onions. These crops form the basis for a light, spring meal. Try a spinach salad with mandarin oranges, pecans and an orange dressing. Serve boiled, red potatoes in a light mustard vinaigrette with bacon. Whip up an omelet or quiche with steamed kale or chard, broccoli, bacon and green onions.
Late Summer Garden Vegetables
Late summer is the season for robust, flavorful vegetables. Think heirloom tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, peppers, carrots and green beans. Pair sliced, ripe tomatoes with basil, garlic and a drizzle of olive oil. Top your favorite pizza dough with sautéed tomatoes, peppers and onions for a vegetable pizza. Make a Greek salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, Kalamata olives and feta cheese. Wrap bacon around a small bunch of green beans and roast for a savory side dish.
One of the simplest, most delicious ways to serve fresh summer vegetables is to roast them, either in a very hot oven, or in a grill basket. Wash and slice the vegetables into 1 inch slices. Coat them with olive oil and sprinkle them with kosher salt. Roast vegetables on a baking tray at 450 degrees Fahrenheit or grill them until tender on the inside and crisp on the outside.
Autumn and Fall Garden Vegetables
Soak up the last rays of the summer sun with an autumn harvest meal. Autumn vegetables include pumpkins, winter squash, potatoes, turnips and parsnips. These hearty vegetables have a robust texture and flavor that pairs well with roasted meat and fruit. Roast cubes of winter squash with apples and serve with roasted pork, or puree winter squash and apples to make a sweet, but savory soup.
Tips for Harvesting Garden Vegetables
- Your meal will only be as good as the ingredients that go into it. Select ripe, unblemished produce that shows no sign of decay, such as soft or black spots. Overripe produce is often dry or bland. Green beans, for example, are best picked when they are the size of a pencil. Larger beans become woody and dry.
- Store vegetables properly. Greens, peppers, beans, and peas have a high moisture content. Store them in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator and use within two days. Store tomatoes on the countertop. Refrigeration alters their taste and texture. Store winter squash and potatoes in a cool, dark location.
- Brush dirt off vegetables when you pick them, but don’t wash them until right before use. Water promotes decay.
- Use a knife to cut cucumbers, melons, peppers and zucchini from the plants. Yanking them off by hand can damage or uproot the plant.
- Freeze, can or share surplus vegetables with neighbors, friends or even a local food bank.