In early June, I wrote about how I decide what to grow in our garden. When planning out our garden this year, I asked my children what they wanted to grow. My oldest son chose to grow four different pepper plants, my daughter chose to grow romaine lettuce, and my youngest son chose to grow zinnias. These choices did not take up a lot of space, so I added two tomato plants and two acorn squash plants.
My children checked the garden every day and helped with the watering and weeding. Their plants took off and were looking good, but nature had other plans. We left for a few days and, while we were gone, the rabbits helped themselves to the lettuce, pepper leaves, and zinnias. The children were disappointed, but they have worked hard to keep two of the pepper plants and a few zinnias alive.
My children have also worked hard to protect the tomatoes and squash. As you can see in the picture below, that hard work has paid off. The tomatoes and squash have nearly taken over the garden. We have enjoyed watching the flowers bloom and then watching those blooms transform into beautiful tomatoes and squash. My children do not like to eat tomatoes and squash on their own, but they do like both in sauces and soups. So, we are planning to cook and freeze much of our harvest to use for meals this winter.
Tomatoes are by far the most popular vegetable grown in our gardens, and for good reason. They are tasty, nutritious, versatile, relatively easy to grow, and return high value for the space they occupy.
I love tomatoes, especially those sweet cherry and grape ones that give you a burst of flavor when you bite into them. Our featured recipe this month packs a lot of flavor into a fresh tasting, light pasta dish.
When I make this dish I substitute basil for some of the spinach and when I have garden tomatoes, sometimes I use large tomatoes. When I use large tomatoes I take the seeds out and cut the tomatoes into large chunks before I roast them. I think you could grill the tomatoes instead of roasting them, but I haven’t tried this yet. I usually serve a green salad, fruit and milk with this dish. Enjoy!
Roasted Tomato and Spinach Pasta
Serving Size: 1¼ cups | Servings: 4
2 cups (about 10 ounces) cherry tomatoes
¼ cup oil (divided)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
3 cups fresh spinach or a 10 ounce bag frozen spinach, thawed
8 ounces whole wheat spaghetti
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
5 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
Heat oven to 400°F.
Rinse the tomatoes under running water. Cut in half. Spread on greased baking pan.
Sprinkle olive oil (2 tablespoons), salt, pepper, and garlic powder on tomatoes. Stir to coat.
Bake for 15-20 minutes. Prepare spinach and spaghetti as tomatoes bake.
Rinse fresh spinach in water, slice in strips OR thaw, drain, and pat dry the frozen spinach. Set aside.
Follow package directions to cook spaghetti. Drain.
Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil, Italian seasoning, spinach, and baked tomatoes to the spaghetti. Stir until heated through. Serve with Parmesan cheese.
Our yummy Cheesy Pasta with Summer Veggies recipe is filled with vegetables, whole grain, and is low in calories. Plus it is very versatile, so you can use any vegetable that you have on hand. In the summer I make it with garden vegetables such as broccoli, zucchini, peppers, carrots and fresh tomatoes. In the winter I use a frozen vegetable mix and drained, canned tomatoes. If I have some leftover meat or beans in the refrigerator, I add that along with the vegetables.
Notice the pasta we use is whole wheat. In the past few years the quality of whole grain pastas has increased and is now quite good. Whole grain pastas take a little longer to cook and the texture is a little different, but the nutritional improvement is definitely worth it. Check out the great nutritional value you get from the 250 calories in this recipe.
“Want to make salsa with the big tomatoes from the garden? How about Friday night?”
I found a great publication called Preserving Food: Sensational Salsas on the University of Georgia website. It not only has several tomato salsas, but also directions on how to can Mango Salsa, Peach Apple Salsa, and Spicy Cranberry Salsa.
It is true that we have lots of gorgeous tomatoes and, with all the sun and heat, they are ripening faster than usual. We need to do something with them in addition to eating our fill and giving them away.
Canning, freezing, and making salsa are the best alternatives I can think of.
Here is my chart of pros and cons:
Fastest, no special equipment needed, can do in small batches.
Heats up the kitchen when you blanch them, but not as much as the other methods. Freezing breaks down the cell walls so they are best used in soups and stews. Uses up space in my refrigerator/freezer.
Good flavor and texture compared to frozen; stores on the shelf.
Requires a water bath or pressure canner, and new lids (we already have canning jars or we would have to buy them also).Heats up the kitchen.
Makes a nice little gift if it turns out.Uses peppers and onions from the garden. Stores on the shelf.
Requires processing in a hot water bath. Takes time to chop up the vegetables. Heats up the kitchen.
I am not sure what we will do with the tomatoes, but I am following the directions from a university. I do not want to take the chance on wasting my time and energy with spoiled food. If canning or freezing are your choice here is a link to Iowa State’s food preservation resources.
A couple of weeks ago, I posted about meatless meals on our Facebook page. Choosing to go meatless for a meal or for an entire day is one way to save a little money on your grocery bill. This can be easy at breakfast and lunch, but tends to be a little more difficult at supper time. Even with a husband and a son who like to have meat with their meals, our family enjoys a meatless supper together once or twice each week.
Unfortunately, my post focused only on eggs and nuts as a good source of protein when choosing to go meatless. My family and I love beans as a meatless meal. There are some great bean recipes on the Spend Smart Eat Smart website; each recipe has helpful tips on preparing beans. One of our favorites is Cowboy Caviar. My son likes to eat it plain, but my husband and I spoon it into whole wheat tortillas and top it with some shredded cheese. It also makes a good topping for lettuce salad or a dip for vegetables or tortilla chips.
Besides saving some money on food, meatless meals do have another benefit. They help add variety into a weekly menu. Eating a variety of foods from all the food groups (fruits, vegetables, dairy, protein, and grains) helps us make sure that we are getting all the nutrients we need primarily from food.
We also use soy to add protein to meals when we choose to go meatless, but that is a topic for another post…
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained
1 1/2 cups frozen corn, cooked
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chilies
3 green onions, sliced
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
Stir together kidney beans, black beans, corn, tomatoes, chilies, and onions in a large bowl.
Add lime juice, oil, salt, and pepper; toss gently to combine.
Soup is a great comfort food for winter meals, and so good for you too. Our featured recipe for January is Mexican Chicken Soup. Making this soup takes less time than getting in the car and driving through your favorite takeout place. You don’t have to cook the chicken ahead of time. Just place raw boneless chicken in the pot with the other ingredients. After cooking for about 20 minutes, take the chicken out and shred it into bite-size pieces. Serve it with tortilla chips or bread, apple/orange slices and you have a meal with something from each food group plus plenty of fiber. For extra instruction, check out the preparation video under the recipe instructions.
This recipe would be super economical if you made your own chicken broth and cooked dry beans instead of buying them canned; click on the hot links above to see the directions. Another advantage of doing it yourself is that you can control the amount of sodium.
If this soup scores points with your family, check out the other soup recipes in the Cook section of the SpendSmart.EatSmart web page. All our recipes are healthy, low-cost and easy.
Remember that old argument…is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? Here’s the answer. BOTH. Botanically speaking, the tomato is a fruit. A “fruit” is any fleshy material covering a seed or seeds. Horticulturally speaking, the tomato is a vegetable plant. The plant is an annual and non-woody. (Source: Produce Marketing Association and the Produce for Better Health Foundation.)
Whatever, our garden and my patio plants are loaded with tomatoes that are almost ripe. I have my fingers crossed that we don’t get hail, insects or disease in the next few weeks. If not, there should be some extras to make salsa, or preserve for future meals.