Thursday, September 26, 2013

Harvest Time - Marinara & Salsa

It's been rainy and muddy, and we have all been struck with hand, foot & mouth disease. Ugh! So the garden has been neglected for the past week. 

With the heat of summer, the garden was just bursting with goodies this morning that we needed to pick ASAP!

So, all hands on deck for harvesting!

We got a nice haul of an assortment of peppers and tomatoes, an acorn squash, beans, some cantaloupe and watermelon.

Tomatoes, however, were the agenda for the day. 

I do not seed my tomatoes prior to cooking. If that is your preference, please do so. While my marinara recipe is chock full of fresh herbs, dried can be used. As with any recipe, use what you like, what you have, and do it the way you want. Only in baking does one need to follow a recipe fairly exact.


I blanched the tomatoes...1 minute in boiling water, remove with a large slotted pasta spatula, and place into cold water.

You can really pack them into the pot.

If you cut the stem end off, then they just smoosh out of their skins easy peasy. 

I thought it would be a great sensory experience and a way for them to participate. For some reason, my non-squeemish kiddos wanted NOTHING to do with this process.  

Most of these are San Marzano tomatoes, evidently the best for marinara, if the current ads for Olive Garden are to be believed. Plus, I did check into it before I decided which to plant this year, and got the same info.

However, there are also a couple Better Boy, some cherry tomatoes and Romas in this lot. To ensure the salsa wouldn't be too juicy, I ran my immersion blender through some and set them in a colander over a bowl, covered, in the fridge to drain for the rest of the day. The rest I put in the crock pot on low for the marinara.

After nap, we collected the rest of our ingredients...

Garlic! This elephant garlic was given to me by my grandfather 20 years ago. It just keeps growing.

We gathered some larger cloves and re-planted the baby ones.

What does it smell like? "ONION!"
Close enough!

The garden is intended for extensive learning and to be a sensory explosion.

Since we have them, we just collected all the Italian-type herbs we grow that I thought would go well together. I had already collected basil yesterday, and we added...

Thyme and flat-leafed parsley,


and rosemary.

Since they usually experience one plant at a time as they explore and forage, it was good for them to get a chance to feel and smell them as a group. A totally different sensory experience.

Many children are overwhelmed when they smell fresh herbs, but these children have been around them since birth, so to them, it's familiar and welcome.

I tossed our herbs and garlic into the crock pot.

Our onions didn't survive this year, so that was the one veggie that I purchased that went into the marinara. I chopped it, one of our smallish chocolate bells, and a small jalapeno that went in as well. 

It all got a whirl of the immersion blender and left to cook on low for about 12 hours, with the lid propped up on wooden skewers to let some of the liquid escape. If you don't want to do this, then drain your tomatoes as I did for the salsa.

Adding the fresh herbs at the beginning led to a very mild, amalgamated flavor to the marinara. This is good for storage, as it allows me to pep up the flavor according to what I will be cooking with it later. If I want more of a taste of rosemary, then I can add that when I re-heat, likewise with any herb. It makes the sauce more versatile. 

I looked at a few marinara recipes and took what I wanted from them and combined them into my own.

The elephant garlic is much milder, so even though it is bigger, it still takes as many cloves as regular garlic.

 6 cups fresh tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley
1 rosemary stem, leaves only, removed
3-4 stems thyme, leaves only, removed
3-4 stems oregano, leaves only, removed
1 small jalapeno chopped
1/2 large or 1 small bell pepper chopped
1 large yellow onion chopped
5 cloves garlic 
1/4 teaspoon fennel seed  
1 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt [may need more]

Place all in a crock pot and blend with an immersion blender. Let cook a minimum of 3 hours on low.

Note: For the most intense flavor, add fresh herbs in the last hour of cooking, and blend again at end of cooking.

We are not allowed to can for child care, but we can freeze. I use my silicone molds to freeze individual portions. Each one holds exactly 1/3 cup. A serving is 1/4 cup, so this provides a little extra. I cover them, put them in my freezer [after digging out room], hit the "QUICK FREEZE" button, and pop them out later. They go into a labeled one gallon freezer bag. I can take out exactly as many as I need, so less waste.


The garlic [not shown, I had to go dig some more up], flat-leafed parsley, jalapeno and onion were all chopped with my Pampered Chef chopper [which I LOVE! These stay sharp and don't break down using them as I do, directly on plates and cutting boards.]

It keeps everything a fine, even consistency, without the ingredients losing their individuality within the salsa. Ree uses her food processor, but I like mine a little more chunky. And the food processor is just such a pain to clean!

I had to buy cilantro, because ours bolted early, and this is what it currently looks like...

The children have been practicing those fine motor skills collecting the seeds for next year.

The salsa came out WONDERFUL!

I made the children chicken nachos, just added some taco spice to the chicken, and smothered them in the salsa.

Mr. G said, "This is the BEST. LUNCH. EVER!!"

It was right up there, anyway.
Tags: garden, gardening, preschoolers, pre-k, child, care, daycare, home, homeschooling, salsa, marinara, fresh, herbs, children, harvest, harvesting, farm, table, food, cycle, 

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