My Secret Weapon for Summer Produce

What do you do with a bumper crop of summer veggies?When it comes to impulse shopping, I don't have a problem with shoes, candy bars at the checkout counter, or Sephora's travel sizes that snake alongside a long line (Oh! The $10 version of that $60 scrub!). But I cannot, for the life of me, pass up a ripe summer vegetable.

This wouldn't be a problem in and of itself. But here's the thing: there are only two people in my household, and at some point in the summer, cooking becomes a race against rot. I buy these fruits and vegetables at their perkiest, but once on the counter or stowed in the crisper (a misnomer if there ever was one!), what was once fresh and fragrant ages like a time-lapse video in the summer air.

Shine reader Amanda left a comment recently suggesting we stash all the veggie scraps (cores, peels, onion skins, veggie ends) inside a ziploc bag in the freezer. When the bag is full, use it to make a vegetable stock, or throw it in the pot with a chicken carcass. Brilliant!

This is the kind of tidbit that can revolutionize the way we think and operate in the kitchen. What was once trash gets a new life. It got me thinking about other kitchen tricks in the war against waste. My latest: I make a lot of pesto.

Now, I'm using the term pesto loosely here since there's usually no basil, never any pine nuts, and rarely any cheese. Let's call it Kitchen Sink Pesto, in which almost any languishing veggie can get the food processor treatment. Wilting bunches of parsley combine with olive oil, red wine vinaiger, capers, garlic, and anchovies for a salsa verde that dresses salads or sauces-up a steak. Broccoli (and any other dark green veggie) gets steamed and processed with walnuts, garlic, and olive oil. A huge bunch of garlic scapes (an example of previously-mentioned impulse buying), meets basil, toasted almonds, olive oil, and a little lemon zest. All of these pestos can be tossed with pasta, spooned onto fish, or used in scrambled eggs, sandwiches, or as vinaigrette for salad (just thin with water). Covert bonus: it's a great way to sneak in another serving of goodness to the veggie-averse.

Once you feel surrounded by pestos, they transition to the freezer. Scoop into ice trays and freeze for a brisk fall or winter day when you would give anything for a summer bumper crop to contend with. Cubes thrown into a pot or pan will enliven any saute or soup.

How else do you use up all your summer fruits and veggies when they're just at their prime? Do you can and preserve fruits and veggies? Leave baskets of zucchini on your neighbor's doorstep? I'm especially curious to hear from the gardeners out there who likely have more produce than they know what to do with.

Read more:
Join the Shine Supper Club, Win a Grill!
How to Make Dinner Happen
French Cooking Tricks That Will Simplify Dinner