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Ask an Espert: What to Do with All Those Tomatoes

Joliet Junior College Chef Instructor Mike McGreal offers tips on how to use the fruits of your harvest.

Despite the drought, gardeners are finding out that certain things have grown successfully – perhaps more successfully than in years without a drought. The top three yielding crops seem to be tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers.

“With tomatoes, the easiest thing you can do is freeze them (whole) and when they thaw, the skin just falls right off of them,” Mike McGreal,” Joliet Junior College Culinary Arts Chef Instructor said.

When you are ready to use the tomatoes, you can just pull them out, defrost them and they are ready to use for sauces.

“Thaw them, wipe them off, the peel falls off, squeeze the juice and seeds and then you just have the pulp,” McGreal said.

Of course, you could go the traditional route, boil the tomatoes, peel and drain them and jar them, but freezing them whole will preserve them as well, McGreal said.

In addition to preserving the tomatoes, you can use them right away and utilize a second, high-yielding crop - zucchini.

“For zucchini I’d take one of the simplest thing to do; you can cook zucchini and garlic and onion and tomatoes and put them in a soup pot and just cook them together and you make a stew that is called ratatouille.” McGreal said. “It’s great to have on crusty bread with mozzarella in the summer.”

“It’s a very hearty, warm, summer squash stew.”

McGreal is all about getting his daily vegetables into his diet and into the diets of his family members. Zucchini is a squash that can be mixed with other things and will take on the taste of those things. For example, McGreal mixes zucchini with chick peas and makes hummus.

“I’ll use only one fourth or one half of the chick peas and the other half is squash,” he said.

He mixes the two vegetables in a food processor with tahini and serves it as a traditional hummus.

“If kids eat it, now, when they are doing it, it is high in macro nutrients and high in fiber as well,” he said. “You actually are incorporating more veggies into their snack.”

The last vegetable that seems to have grown successfully despite the drought is cucumbers.

"Cucumbers are a tough one, they don’t freeze really well," McGreal said.

To get around that, McGreal suggests pureeing the cucumber and then placing the puree in ice cube trays and freezing it. You can then use it to make zaziki by adding it to sour cream or yogurt. You can also add cucumbers to fruit smoothies without changing how they taste.

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