Patchwork: Season of plenty: Time to pick, clean, blanch, freeze

It’s here: the moment of August profusion in the garden, the one I dream about in my armchair during winter. There is so much ripening in my garden — indeed all over the county — it’s almost overwhelming. What to eat? What to can? What to freeze? Problems of abundance are nothing to complain about (in fact, there’s no time), but I relish the wealth of choices.
Eating dinner with friends, they nonchalantly leave their longest beans on the counter. They fill baskets with tomatoes, freshly picked garlic, and stacks of zucchini. The gleaming jars of herb vinegars, jams and dilly beans start to crowd the shelves.
I pick, I clean, I blanch, I freeze. There’s no room for weeds in the garden anymore. Ripening vegetables rule.
Tomatoes cluster thickly on their vines; you can watch them ripen over the course of a day. Pepper plants bend under their load of glossy dark fruit, rich greens, brilliant yellows, jewel reds. The trellis sags under the weight of the cucumbers, which are stacked like green cordwood in the refrigerator. The garlic, harvested two weeks ago, hangs inside the kitchen, and the space where it originally burst through the soil has been mulched and is now smothered by sprawling vines of butternut squash (a little piece of garden choreography that I am particularly proud of in the limited space of my in-town raised beds). Dusty eggplant leaves quietly hunker down under a load of glossy purple, or white fruit. The artichoke plants are the tallest I have ever seen. The succession plantings of carrots and beans, spinach, new radishes, tiny fresh lettuces, and fennel are established and await thinning.
And sunflower heads rise tall, yellow harbingers of the end of summer, above the green fray.
It is time for gazpacho, a cold summer soup that requires the freshest, ripest ingredients you can come by, sweet with the heat of the sun, but seasoned with a touch of vinegar and fresh herbs. So when I am not making ratatouille, a cooked vegetable mixture that demands the freshest ingredients as well (zucchini, onions, yellow squash, red, yellow and green bell peppers, garlic, tomatoes and eggplant), and which I tend to squirrel away in the freezer in one-quart Ziploc bags, I make gazpacho.
I met this chilled, refreshing soup many years ago on a trip with my mother to Spain. Not yet aware of the Spanish emphasis on using fresh, local ingredients (Europeans have been way ahead of Americans in this arena for generations), we soon discovered that the gazpacho differed from town to town. Sometimes it was radically different: a white gazpacho, instead of a red one. Sometimes it was subtle with the hint of a different herb, perhaps a bit of tarragon, or a pinch of mint. It became our daily lunch ritual to try and figure out how each soup had been made. How much olive oil, how much vinegar? Did it contain bread, or not? Had it been strained through a food mill? How about ice water? Which herbs had flavored it? Always refreshing and cool, the soup could be thick, grainy and textured, almost a meal in itself; other times it was smooth and light, a delicate palette sharpener before a main course. We marveled at the possibilities.
Since that trip I have run into a watermelon gazpacho at a pot luck, a gazpacho served in tiny shot glasses as an hors d’oeuvre at a fancy wedding, a hearty gazpacho made of baked vegetables (normally the vegetables are raw), a yellow frothy gazpacho made of yellow tomatoes and cucumbers (served with a nasturtium bloom on top) ground so fine it was a delicate precursor to an elaborate Mexican dinner, a red gazpacho served in glasses and topped with a grilled shrimp at a Town Hall Theater gathering, a strained red gazpacho served with a splash of vodka (on a camping trip!), a mango gazpacho (mangospacho) by a more adventurous cook than I, and a variety of red gazpachos served with different herbs. Last night, we had a first course of gazpacho, served in tall cordial glasses with a yellow Johnnie-jump up on top, just to be funny.
I am including a wide variety of gazpacho recipes that you will undoubtedly wish to tweak by adding more variations to this theme depending on what is ripe in your garden, or what is most tantalizing at the farmers’ market. You can choose to add bread soaked in water to thicken it, or not. You can alter the amount of garlic, or onion, pepper or tomato, according to your palette. If you make it with a fruit, the sweetness will be cut with the addition of the vinegar. You can play with different kinds of vinegar, and different amounts of olive oil. In other words, the gazpacho’s flavor will be as local as your own garden, palette and kitchen.
Check the staff blog for seasonal gazpacho recipes.

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