Southern food blogger Jackie Garvin knows how to put peak-summer produce to good use.
Southern summers, especially Deep South summers, bring on weather conditions that seem downright intolerable at times. But those same conditions that try our souls bring forth a bounty of delectable produce so spectacular they are the topic of dinner conversations and published articles. Folks stop dead in their tracks on busy roads when they see signs for farmers' markets. Sometimes it causes folks to back up on busy highways if they pass the sign, but that's another topic.
My Southern Summer Vegetable Casserole is a good way to use some of our summertime favorites: tomatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, fresh herbs, and Southern field peas. We wait all year for that good summer produce to come in. Once it gets started, it's relentless. Our days and nights turn into endless cooking and preserving adventures. We preserve everything we can by freezing, canning, and pickling. We fritter everything we can, turn unexpected items into cakes and, make bread out of anything that doesn't run from us. And, all that's after we've fried and roasted until we feel like we can't fry and roast no more. And the bounty keeps on rolling in.
Southern field peas are one of our summer crown jewels. In addition to a flavor of which sweet dreams are made, they have delightful and entertaining names such as Zipper, Lady, Cream 40, Purple Hull, Crowder, Blackeye, Sadandy, White Acre, and Conk. We love our Southern peas and anticipate their yearly arrival.
If you don't grow them, you have to know where to find them. It's not as easy as walking into any grocery store on any corner in any city and grabbing up a mess of peas for supper. My husband planted a small patch of zipper peas this year, but the yield from a small patch isn't enough to blanch and freeze for year-round pea enjoyment. So we buy bushels from farmer's markets or specialty produce companies. Because our peas are treasured, we don't waste them. If we have but a few mouthfuls leftover after the cornbread runs out, we find a way to reuse them. This recipe makes use of a tad of leftover zipper peas.
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There are many other reasons to make this vegetable casserole. The thing just flat-out tastes great. Secondly, it's as good at room temperature as it is warm so you can take to picnics, family reunions, and church suppers all summer long. Next, it's easily doubled. (I made a slightly different version that makes a 9- by 11-inch casserole dish.) Lastly, the leftovers are scrumptious.
It's important to note that you can use your favorite variety of tomato. Any variety, other than Roma, contains a high percentage of water and should be salted and drained, as per the recipe instructions, prior to use. Make the most out our our bountiful gardens and farms while we can. And when your backyard garden has produced so much zucchini you feel like you're about to turn into a zucchini yourself, give thanks for the bounty and make this casserole.
Jackie Garvin is an Alabama born and raised, award-winning author and cook. She is the author of the popular Southern food blog, "Syrup and Biscuits", and two Southern-inspired cookbooks: Biscuits and Sweet Potato Love. She currently lives in Florida with her husband and Basset Hound, both of whom are well fed.