When I cook at home, the seasons and the weather come into my decision of what to prepare for that night’s dinner. This combination comes into play because of my home’s temperature and the produce available during that season.
For each vegetable, I have my favorite recipes. When I have tomatoes, I make salsa, or when I have broccoli, I make cream of broccoli soup, summer squash, become fritters, green beans get sautéed in a little garlic.
When creating weekly recipes for our community supported agriculture produce boxes, there comes a time when I am stumped at what to do with something. It’s because I often know a regular “one vegetable” recipe would not work with the quantities we can provide that week.
I consider the fact that a single person or couple might create a side dish out of a small quantity, but what would a family of four with older kids do with it. Cook one cup of vegetables and let everyone fight over a few bites.
This system comes into action when the time comes to clean out the vegetable bin. Combine the bits of produce and make one meal.
To take this a step further, I’ve incorporated a cooking method that goes best with the available produce in each season.
In the spring, the vegetables are young and tender and just need a quick sauté. In the summer, a salad is cooling to eat and doesn’t heat the kitchen. In the autumn, roasting brings out the sweetness in hearty root vegetables and winter squash. And, in the winter, a simmering pot of soup warms the home and your stomach.
Below is my method to combine several of that season’s vegetables into one dish that could serve everyone and even make leftovers for lunch the next day.
The recipes are guidelines. The point is for you to change the vegetables to use what you have on hand. The ingredients like nuts, olives, and cheese are additions to add flavor and texture to your recipe, but they are optional. Consider the herbs optional too, but they will add significant flavor. Use them if available.
Spring = Sautéing
Sautéing is quick cooking in a large pan with short sides in a little bit of fat. You want to avoid overcrowding the pan. Cook the vegetables over medium-high to high heat. Unless you are a speedy chopper, prepare your vegetables before you turn the heat on your pan. Line them up based on the estimated cooking time. Onions and carrots first, then peas and hardy greens next, finish with quick-cooking spinach if you have it.
Spring Vegetable Sauté
- 1 tablespoon butter or oil
- 2–3 tablespoons minced onion
- 1–2 carrots, diced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 handful of shelled peas or snap or snow peas, cut in half
- 2–3 cups chopped spinach or Swiss chard leaves
- 2 tablespoons white wine or lemon juice
- ¼ cup fresh chopped parsley
- ¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
In a large sauté pan, melt the butter and add the onion, carrots, and salt. Stir over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium and cover the pan, occasionally stirring until the carrots are tender about 3–5 minutes. Remove the lid, stir in the peas, and then the spinach. Turn the heat up to high, add the white wine, stirring until it has evaporated. Add the herbs and pepper, taste to see if it needs more salt, add if needed, and serve over pasta, rice, or your favorite cooked grain.
Summer = Salads
Cutting the vegetables is the hard part. Once they are ready to go, salads are all about balancing the acid, fat, and salt to bring out the flavors. The acid components are usually lemon juice or vinegar. The fat can be extra-virgin olive oil or a neutral-flavored oil like canola or grapeseed.
Fresh Summer Salad
- 1 medium cucumber, chopped, peeled and/or seeded if desired
- 2–3 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 sweet pepper, diced
- 1 small summer squash, diced
- ¼ cup diced onion, red, white, yellow or green onions
- 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon oregano, chopped fresh or dried
- 1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
- ½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- Freshly ground pepper
- ¼ cup mixed olives, chopped (optional)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 2 ounces crumbled feta cheese (optional)
Combine the cucumbers, tomatoes, pepper, summer squash, and onion in a large mixing bowl. Top with the olive oil, vinegar, oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper and stir well. Let the salad sit for 15 minutes, then add the olives, basil, and toss gently. Pour into a serving bowl and top with the feta cheese.
Autumn = Roasting
Roasting uses higher heat than baking. Usually 400–450 F. You will want the vegetables to be browned and fully cooked at the same time. The larger you cut the vegetable, the better they will brown on the outside. But you don’t want the outside to burn before the inside is cooked through.
Roasting is time-saving because you can load the vegetables in the oven and work on cooking the other components of dinner at the same time.
Roasted Fall Vegetables
- 5–6 cups fall vegetables, diced large, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, and/or carrots
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- ¼ cup goat cheese, crumbled (optional)
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Toss the diced vegetables with the oil and ½ teaspoon salt. Spread out on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cook in the oven for about 25–30 minutes, until tender. In the same oven, while cooking the squash, toast the nuts until fragrant, about 5 minutes, remove and set aside. After removing the roasted vegetables from the oven, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar, season with salt and pepper, if needed. Toss gently and transfer to a serving platter or bowl. Top with the goat cheese if desired.
Winter = Soups
Soups with meat can take time to bring out the flavors, but you don’t want to overcook the vegetables. Simmer until they are cooked through. In this soup recipe, I purée the soup at the end. Puréeing allows you to save time cutting the vegetables into presentable shapes. Alternatively, you could cut them into small dice and then leave the soup chunky at the end, skipping the blending step.
Winter Vegetable Soup
- 1 medium onion
- 3–4 carrots
- 2–3 parsnips
- 1 celery root
- 2–3 celery stalks with leaves
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups chopped greens, like kale or cabbage
- 1 teaspoon thyme leaves, fresh or dried
- 2–3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cups of water
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley or chives
Peel the celery root and peel the other vegetables, if desired. Coarsely chop all of the vegetables. Add the oil to a Dutch oven or soup pot. Over medium heat, add in the onion, carrot, parsnip, celery root, and celery and cook, occasionally stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 8 minutes. Stir in the greens, thyme, garlic, salt, and pepper and cook, occasionally stirring, 2–3 minutes more. Add the water. Bring the mixture just to a boil, stirring to scrape up any browned bits. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer, occasionally stirring 15–20 minutes. Purée with an immersion blender in the Dutch oven or in batches in a regular blender. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if needed. Add the fresh herbs and serve.
Look for direction from the seasons.
When you are just trying to throw dinner together at the end of the day, combine the small bits and make a meal. Serve with cooked beans and rice for a simple vegetarian meal or add grilled chicken or fish for meat-eaters.
You don’t have to make these recipes the rule, but the seasons are an inspiration to get started when you need to make dinner with what you have on hand.
Julie Moreno is a chef and writer, now trying to get more people to cook their own food and understand where it comes from. She lives in the middle of California, where she’s learning to landscape with fruits and vegetables. Find her blog at The Wooden Cutting Board on Twitter @juliehouse and Facebook @thewoodencuttingboard