By Lindsay Courcelle
Every once in awhile I eat something and get a strong response from my body saying, “Oh yes. More of that please!” Usually this happens in the spring, once the soil has warmed again and is giving life to lots of fresh greens, but occasionally it occurs in other seasons.
Maybe because my body has the added responsibility of nursing a newborn baby, I’ve heard and felt many strong signals this winter when I eat something that has the nutrients and minerals my body is craving. More often than not, this happens when I eat from the preserved bounty of last year’s growing season.
This winter, my go to meal has been shakshuka, a dish originating in Tunisia and popular throughout the Middle East. Made up of sautéed onions, garlic, red peppers, and tomatoes, with eggs cooked on top, it has quickly become a household staple thanks to happy laying hens, a pantry of canned tomatoes, a root cellar full of onions and garlic, and a freezer stocked with bags of sliced sweet red peppers.
Being vegetable farmers, we shop from our freezers, root cellar, and pantry throughout the winter. Not only does this save us time and energy of going to the grocery store during the winter months, it also ensures that we eat as much locally grown food as possible.
Those who do not have their own farm are lucky to have access to plenty of delicious root vegetables and greens thanks to the farmers who attend the winter farmers market or sell to RAFFL’s Farm Fresh Connect and the Rutland Area Food Co-op. However some vegetables, like peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant, will never be grown in Vermont’s harsh winters and are best preserved in the warm weather months.
Our simplest preservation of these veggies is freezing. We don’t do anything fancy. For peppers, simply slice in half, remove the seeds, throw in a plastic bag, and into the freezer. These are great for stir-fries and dishes like shakshuka or tacos. Tomatoes can be frozen whole and cooked from frozen for a stew or sauce.
Our next simplest way to preserve our summer veggies is to make a huge batch of soup to freeze. This does take some work in the late summer months, but it pays off on a -20 degree day when you can simply open your freezer and pull out a container of soup, full of summer veggies. It will warm your body and soul, through and through, and give you time to rest and rejuvenate rather than spend time cooking.
Because shakshuka was recently featured in the Herald’s Food section, I will not share that recipe. If you missed it, check out the New York Time’s recipe for it online. It is delicious.
Instead, I’d like to share a recipe that you can file away for the late summer months when you are ready to make a big batch of soup for your freezer. Another farmer friend, Ali Wilson of The Purple Burdock, shared this recipe with me and it has been a hit this winter. To add a little more “local” to it, pop some Yoder Farm popcorn to sprinkle on top or eat on the side.
Pete’s Grilled Eggplant Tomato Soup
Adapted from the cookbook From Asparagus to Zucchini
- 3 large eggplants
- 1 cup olive oil
- 3 large yellow onions, diced
- 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 cups diced tomatoes
- 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
Slice eggplant lengthwise into ½-inch thick planks. Grill or broil until charred. Meanwhile, place oil, onions, and garlic in large pot. Cook on high heat, stirring frequently, until translucent. Dice the charred eggplant and add to the pot. Reduce heat to medium and cook 10 minutes, stirring. Add tomatoes and cook 5 minutes. Add stock, lemon juice, and spices. Simmer 30 minutes. Puree until smooth. The color will be a rich brick hue. Makes 12 servings.
Lindsay and her husband Scott own Alchemy Gardens, a vegetable farm business in Shrewsbury. Learn more at www.AlchemyGardensVT.com