Thanks to the pandemic shutdown in the spring, we planted our garden earlier than ever this year and are now enjoying a bounty of fresh, homegrown produce. We especially have an abundance of tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplant — so much, in fact, that we have invited friends and family to take some off our hands.

Recently, a friend asked me for ideas of how to utilize these three vegetables beyond just a salad or grilled veggie mix. I gave her several suggestions of recipes we’ve featured here over the years, including our Red Wine Garden Tomato Sauce, Roasted Eggplant and Garlic Soup, and Classic Cucumber and Onion Salad.

But there were two from the list that won her attention, and I happily praised her selections because they are also two of my favorite summer harvest recipes: Traditional Gazpacho (July 30, 2013), featuring fresh tomatoes and cucumber; and our Simple Eggplant Parmigiana (Sept. 3, 2013).

Traditional Gazpacho is made with tomatoes, bread, peppers, cucumbers and onion. Forum file photo
Traditional Gazpacho is made with tomatoes, bread, peppers, cucumbers and onion. Forum file photo

Gazpacho is a chilled Spanish soup traditionally served in the summer months for its seasonal ingredients and refreshing quality. You don’t even need to cook when making gazpacho, as the only equipment required is a sharp knife and a food processor or blender. While you will find chunky versions, we prefer the smooth puree typical of the gazpacho from the Andalusia region in Spain.

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Tomatoes and cucumber are the key ingredient in gazpacho, and you can use any variety you like. Another key component is stale bread, which acts as a thickening agent in the soup. While baguettes or French bread work well, any crusty white bread will suffice.

Gazpacho can be kept in the refrigerator for up to one week, which makes me love it even more. Simple, refreshing and delicious, this easy-to-make Spanish chilled soup is a must for your summer garden fare.

Our Simple Eggplant Parmigiana recipe is easy to make and requires just a few ingredients to transform the purple-hued beauty into crispy slices of golden, fried deliciousness. To get started, all you need is one eggplant, some egg wash, a bit of grated Parmesan cheese and either Italian-seasoned or panko-style breadcrumbs.

Simple Eggplant Parmigiana is shown accompanied with a tomato sauce. Forum file photo
Simple Eggplant Parmigiana is shown accompanied with a tomato sauce. Forum file photo

When picking an eggplant, look for one that is medium-sized and free of scars and bruises, with a shiny, vivid color and bright green stem. The texture should be firm and smooth. To test this, gently press your thumb against the skin. If it springs back, the eggplant is ripe and ready to use. If an indentation remains, the eggplant is not done ripening and will have a bland, bitter taste.

You can enjoy the fried eggplant with just a squeeze of lemon or topped with your favorite tomato sauce and more Parmesan cheese for a quick and easy summer appetizer or side dish that would be excellent alongside the gazpacho. Enjoy the harvest.

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Traditional Gazpacho

Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients:

6 large ripe tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped

2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped

1 red pepper, seeded and roughly chopped

1/2 large red onion, peeled and roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

½ cup tomato paste

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon Tabasco

3 day-old rolls, cubed or broken into pieces (about 3 cups)

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Place all ingredients in a food processor or liquid blender and puree until smooth and free of chunks.

To ensure the best consistency, pour the mixture through a strainer to remove the excess vegetable skin and pulp. Refrigerate soup for at least 24 hours for best flavor.

Serve very cold and garnish with chopped cucumber and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Other garnish ideas: Sliced avocado, diced red onion or diced yellow tomatoes for contrast.

To store: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Simple Eggplant Parmigiana

Serves: 2 to 4

Ingredients:

1 medium eggplant, sliced into ¼-inch rounds or strips, peel on

3 extra large eggs, beaten well

2-3 cups seasoned Italian breadcrumbs (or panko-style)

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to garnish

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1-2 cups canola oil for frying

2 ½ cups tomato sauce (freshly made or your favorite brand)

Directions:

Cut the eggplant into ¼-inch thick slices and pat each slice well with paper towel to dry.

Lay 2 shallow dishes out on the counter (like a pie plate or casserole dish). Place the beaten eggs in 1 dish. In the other, whisk together breadcrumbs, Parmesan, salt and pepper until combined.

Dip each eggplant slice in the egg wash, flipping to coat each side. Next, dip each slice in the breadcrumb mixture, flipping and patting with your fingertips until evenly coated on all sides.

Heat the canola oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat and line a baking sheet with paper towels.

Once the oil is hot, add the breaded eggplant slices in an even layer and fry until golden brown, about 1-2 minutes per side, placing the fried eggplant on the prepared baking sheet to drain. You may need to work in several batches.

To serve, transfer the fried eggplant to a serving platter or individual plates. Spoon a layer of tomato sauce on top, and finish with a healthy sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or serve plain with just a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.