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Be creative with the last summer vegetables

As the long dog days of August drag on and on, I get the feeling that it is forever summer. Not that that’s a bad thing, but one does begin look forward a little to the cool fresh air to come. As the summer garden winds down I was thinking of some more creative things to do with that last zucchini, cucumber, okra and tomato. I have tried some new things this week to use as starters for a meal that really turned out to be delicious. Perhaps these recipes will inspire you to use those last summer vegetables in interesting ways.

Okra Fritters

(Makes about 16)

2 eggs, separated

Oil for frying

1 1⁄2 cups milk

1 1/3 cups white cornmeal, sifted

2 teaspoons baking powder

Salt and cayenne to taste

1 1⁄2 cups corn kernels (preferably fresh from the cob)

2 tablespoons chopped green onions

1 1⁄2 cups cut okra (steamed for 2-3 minutes over boiling water)

Pour oil into a medium-size, heavy skillet to a depth of about 2 inches. Heat to 350 degrees.

Beat the egg yolks and add the milk, whisking to blend. Sift the cornmeal, baking powder, salt and pepper into a mixing bowl. Add the yolk mixture and mix quickly. Combine the corn, green onions and okra with the batter and stir to mix.

Beat the egg whites until stiff and pour over the batter and vegetable mixture. Carefully fold the eggs whites into the mixture.

Drop the mixture by tablespoons (in batches) into the hot oil, turning to brown evenly. Drain the fritters on paper towels, and season again with salt and cayenne if you wish.

The next recipe is a wonderful way to use tomatoes and cucumbers.

Cucumber and Tomato Salad

(Serves 4-6)

1/3 cup olive oil

1⁄4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

1 1⁄4 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper

3 3⁄4 lbs. vine-ripened tomatoes cut into 1/3 inch dice (4 cups)

1 lb. cucumber, cut into 1/3 inch dice (2 1⁄2 cups)

3⁄4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

1⁄4 cup finely chopped onion (preferably a sweet onion such as Vidalia or Walla Walla)

Whisk together oil, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, cumin and pepper in a medium bowl. Add tomatoes, cucumber, parsley, and onion and stir to combine. Let stand at room temperature 10 minutes before serving.

I have made several zucchini soups this summer, but this one is my favorite. It is from the September issue of Food and Wine.

Zucchini and Fennel Soup

(8 servings)

l large fennel bulb — 8 small fronds reserved, bulb cored and sliced 1⁄2 inch thick

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 3⁄4 lbs. zucchini, sliced crosswise 1⁄4 inch thick

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1 large garlic clove, smashed

1 quart chicken stock

Freshly ground pepper

1⁄2 cup crme fraîche (or sour cream)

In a medium saucepan, cover the sliced fennel with water. Add the lemon juice and a large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until the fennel is almost tender when pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes. Drain the fennel.

In a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the zucchini, onion and garlic, season with salt and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until just softened, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock and cooked fennel and bring to a boil. Cover partially and simmer over moderate heat, stirring a few times, until the vegetables have softened completely, about eight minutes.

Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender. Return the soup to a pot and season with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into shallow bowls. Dollop 1 tablespoon of the crme fraîche (or sour cream) into each bowl and swirl in. Garnish with the fennel fronds and serve.

A good cookbook to have for the long summer days is Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer. She has some fresh ideas for easy summer entertaining. I tried her zucchini fritters and thought how easy and nice this recipe was to make. Mint and parsley seem to add a coolness to this dish and I think to others as well.

Zucchini Fritters

(Makes about 25 fritters)

4 zucchini (approx. 1 1⁄2 pounds)

5-6 scallions, finely chopped

9 ounces feta cheese

Small bunch fresh parsley, chopped

Small bunch fresh mint, chopped plus extra to sprinkle over at the end

1 tablespoon dried mint

1 teaspoon paprika

Scant 1 cup all-purpose flour

Salt and pepper

3 eggs, beaten

Olive oil for frying

3-4 limes

Coarsely grate the zucchini with either the grating blade of the food processor or by hand. Spread the little shards out on a tea towel and leave for 20 minutes to get rid of any excess wetness.

Put the chopped scallions in a bowl and crumble in the feta. Stir in the chopped parsley and mint, along with the dried mint and paprika. Add the flour and season well with salt and pepper. Gradually add the beaten egg and mix thoroughly before stirring in the drained, grated zucchini. Don’t be alarmed by the unflowing straggly lumpiness of this batter; it’s meant to be this way.

Heat a few tablespoons of the oil in a large frying pan and drop heaped dessert-spoons of the mixture into the hot oil, flattening the little cakes down with the back of the spoon as you go. Cook these little patties for about two minutes each side until golden, and then transfer to a couple of waiting plates.

Chop up the limes and tumble them about the edges of the plates. Sprinkle over a little more of the chopped mint and eat them just as they are, spritzed with lime juice as you go.