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Food That Makes Harvest Last

Learn how to dehydrate your backyard harvest and create produce-packed dishes that make summer flavors a year-round affairs.

There always comes a time when I can't pay anyone to take another zucchini.

That’s about the time every summer that I start dehydrating my extra produce. Although the frontrunners of food preservation have always been canning, freezing, and pickling, dehydration offers its own benefit: versatility. Whether you buy a dehydrator or use your kitchen oven, dehydrating transforms the bounty of the garden into powders; chips; and prepped, presliced, ready-to-cook vegetables.

Harnessing low, slow heat to coax out moisture morphs vegetables into ultracrisp versions of themselves—ready to munch on or store for another day. Dehydrators come in two common styles: stackable tray units and box. Using temperatures from 105°F to 145°F, both circulate dry heat to slowly draw out the moisture of various produce. Circular, stackable tray units are the old-school workhorses. They have a top-mounted fan that pushes hot air downward and can be easily expanded by adding extra trays. Box-style dehydrators include silicone-lined trays that slide into the unit much like oven racks. The fan unit located on the back circulates heat evenly among the trays for efficient and precise drying.

Herbs can be dehydrated, too. Basil, parsley, cilantro, and other tender herbs dry in a flash and can be crushed or ground into fragrant powders. It’s hard to go back to purchased versions of dried crushed herbs once you’ve made your own. Onions and garlic are also great candidates for dehydrating. Both make fresher versions of store-bought powders, but when left sliced, they can be whipped into dishes, such as garden-fresh Ratatouille Frittata, long after summer is gone.

Some vegetables need a little preparation before dehydrating to produce the best results. Because they are water-rich, eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes take longer to dehydrate, so slice them thin to reduce drying time. To prevent oxidation, these veggies should first be blanched or given a dip in water laced with lemon juice to remove the enzyme that causes browning.

I believe the timeless tradition of dehydrating brings a new element to the joy of gardening. When you bite into a dish made with a dried tomato harvested at its peak flavor, the magic of the garden lingers.

RECIPE: Ratatouille Frittata

PREP: 20 minutes   

BAKE: 15 minutes at 350°F

STAND: 10 minutes 

SERVINGS: 6

INGREDIENTS: 2 cups dehydrated zucchini slices, 2 cups dehydrated eggplant slices, 2 Tbsp. butter, 8 eggs - lightly beaten, ½ cup whole milk, 1 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese, 2 tsp. ground dehydrated garlic, 1 Tbsp. ground dehydrated basil, ¾ tsp. kosher salt, 6 dehydrated tomato slices, and 6 dehydrated onion slices.

STEPS:

1. Bring a pot of water to boiling. Remove from heat. Add zucchini and eggplant slices. Let steep 3 to 5 minutes or until softened. Using a slotted spoon, transfer vegetables to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Pat dry.
2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F. Heat 1 Tbsp. of the butter in a large cast-iron skillet over medium. Add eggplant. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, or until light golden, turning once. Transfer to a plate. Add remaining butter and zucchini slices to skillet. Cook and stir 2 to 3 minutes or until light golden. Turn off heat. Arrange zucchini in a single layer in the skillet. Arrange eggplant slices over zucchini.
3. In a medium bowl whisk together next six ingredients (through salt). Pour egg mixture over vegetables in skillet. Top with tomato and onion slices, pressing down into egg mixture until submerged.
4. Bake 15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
 
NUTRIENTS (Per Serving): 279 cal., 15 g total fat (7 g sat. fat), 270 mg chol., 517 mg sodium,  20 g carb., 8 g fiber, 12 g sugar, 18 g protein.
 

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