Easy To Please, Deer Resistant Bulbs

Deer are darling but they do love tulips

On Beyond Tulips

Autumn brings a rush of enticing bulb catalogs, their glossy pages full of glowing tulips and ruffled daffodils. Here in Deer Central, I don’t bother much with big border tulips any more, since they are apparently addictive for deer. Let deer once discover tulips in your garden and they’ll return year after year, seeking those tender tidbits. Instead, I grow all sorts of daffodils, from tiny species to huge border beauties. Actually, I’ve stopped buying the biggest kinds of daffs, those frilly doubles that bend over and plunge their faces in the mud at the first rain. That still leaves me with hundreds to choose from, though finding space is a bit of a problem. That’s because, unlike fancy tulips, most daffodils are quite persistent, reappearing faithfully for many years. When we moved to Bainbridge in 1985, clumps of Poet’s Narcissus daffodils reportedly planted in 1908 were still flowering each spring. Similarly, yellow trumpet King Alfred daffodils planted over a century ago by Mary Sam, a Native American midwife, still bloom every year, some now at the Historic Museum and some at the library.

Daffodils are tougher than tulips, being pest, disease, and drought resistant when given suitable conditions. That’s not to say no tulips are persistent, many singles, notably the old fashioned Darwins, can last for decades, and some species tulips live indefinitely. Both daffodils and tulips, like most bulbs, thrive in clay based soils as long as they get to dry out in summer. That means planting them away from any irrigated areas, since dry summer “baking” is vital to their wellbeing. So is excellent drainage; where soils remain moist in summer, bulbs may rot unless planted in berms or mounded beds on pads of sandy loam. For longer lives, all bulbs must be allowed to ripen their foliage fully, as the browning leaves redirect stored nutrients back into the bulbs. Since the fading foliage isn’t attractive, it’s a good idea to intersperse bulbs with drought resistant perennials that don’t need much or any summer watering. Leatherleaf (Bergenia) and lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) are good companions, as are ferns and hostas.

Planting Bulbs Without Breaking Your Back

Most years, planting bulbs is eased by returning rains that soften summer baked soil. Even in dry years, autumn is bulb planting time, but before you start excavating, here’s some good news: Bulbs planted less deeply last longer. That flies in the face of advice found almost everywhere, from bulb packaging to articles found online to articles and books by respected horticulture writers. Why? Several bulb trials demonstrate that shallower planting can indeed promote better returns of spring blooming bulbs.One recent Cornell study focused on getting tulips, notably fickle bulbs, to stick around longer in garden settings. Here’s what the final report says, “Deep planting of tulips, as recommended by most packages and websites, is detrimental to longer term perennialization potential. If consumers want the best chance to perennialize tulips, or simply want to plant them with less effort, shallower planting should generally be advised.”

Yay! The study determined that, although it’s widely recommended that tulips be planted at least 8 inches deep, there are better, more effective, and best of all easier ways to plant with better results. This is good, because very few people actually enjoy excavating heavy clay soils a full 8 inches deep. If you’re looking at planting bulbs by the dozen or the hundred, it’s seriously hard work! It turns out that the reasoning behind the deep planting recommendations are flawed; deeper soils were thought to maintain even soil temperatures better, yet bulbs in native, often harsh, environments experience a wide range of temperature fluctuations that do not impair their lifespan.

Try Modified Mulching

Back in the 1990s, large scale planting trials in North Carolina involved a “modified mulching system” for a variety of spring blooming bulbs. Beds were loosened 4-8 inches deep, then bulbs were placed on the loosened soil and covered with 5-8 inches of lime-amended mulch to balance acidic soils. Several multi-year trials were run in coordination with Dutch bulb exporters, aiming to create bulb planting techniques that would encourage bulbs to return for at least 3-5 years. The end result was that deeper soil loosening didn’t make a positive difference and deeper mulches didn’t either. The bottom line was that shallowly planted bulbs (2-4 inches) topped with 2-3 inches of mulch are most likely to return to bloom well for multiple years.

What’s a modified mulch? Any loose, airy material, such as fine wood chips mixed with compost will do, but one of the best is available for free. As autumn leaves tumble, take advantage of nature’s bounty and heap leaves over your newly planted bulbs. If you live near Bigleaf maples, run the lawn mower over the leaves or put them through a shredder first, as the more cut surface available, the faster soil bacteria can break them down into natural compost. In any case, the leaves will rot down over the winter, improving the soil and feeding your bulbs as they put out roots and shoots. If the leaves are dry, cover them with bird netting secured with tent stakes or rocks to keep them from blowing away.

Minor Bulbs For Major Delight

My grandkids are enchanted with the many minor bulbs we’ve planted, from winter blooming crocus to tiny daffodils just a few inches tall and baby-sized tulips which the deer don’t seem to notice. These diminutive bloomers are perfect for the rock garden or wide, shallow containers placed where you can admire the delicate little blossoms up close. It’s fun to fill a series of pots with bulbs that will provide a succession of flowers from late winter into early summer. Start with snow crocus, which really do pop up through snow if need be. This group of small but early blooming species often beat their big Dutch hybrid cousins into flower by as much as six or eight weeks. Most are multi-flowering as well, boasting six or eight blossoms from each bulb. In my garden, both “golden bunch”, Crocus ancyrensis, and golden Crocus chrysanthus bloom in January and February, appearing in increasingly fat clusters nestled between bumps of moss and running thymes.

C. chrysanthus has many colorful forms, like the chalky, sweet-scented ‘Blue Bird’ and ‘Violet Queen’, Easter egg purple with a slate grey eye and red-gold stamens. ‘Advance’ is a lively combination of bronze and thundercloud purples when closed on grey days, but when the thin winter sun coaxes it open, pure lemon yellow spills from its deep cups. The fragrant, butter yellow petals of ‘Cream Beauty’ are faintly feathered with bronze on their backs, while ‘Gypsy Girl’ is sunny yellow with bolder, brassy stripes that partner well with bronze Carex comans and rosy sedums. Dapper little ‘Lady Killer’, clean white heavily barred and brushed with midnight purple, combines strikingly with black labrador violets and tufts of black mondo grass or white winter heathers and hellebores.

A Squirrel Defeating Crocus

Perhaps the most prolific multiplier is Crocus tommasinianus, which will quickly colonize border or lawn if allowed to ripen seed as well as foliage. Tommies, as they are affectionately known, run from lavenders to purple-blues in nature, making them good company for blue and purple flowered lungworts (Pulmonaria species) and the mauve and misty purple Lenten roses (Helleborus orientalis). Tommies also come in named varieties, among them the grape jelly colored ‘Whitewell Purple’ and ‘Ruby Giant’, a vinaceous red. Tucked between pink primroses and rosy hardy cyclamen, any or all will give you and your garden a lovely late winter lift. Best of all, squirrels don’t eat Tommies, so they spread unmolested!


Posted in Drainage, Garden Design, Plant Partnerships, Planting & Transplanting, Soil, Sustainable Gardening | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When The World Is Changing, We Change Too

Climate change helps peaches grow in Western Washington now

Changing Along With Climate Change 

When I sat down to write this post, I found myself getting sidetracked more and more readily, always a sign of reluctance to come to grips with something. There are so many things that are hard to think and talk about, and some days it seems like pretty much everything is connected, and not in a heart warming way. Long ago, John Muir wrote that “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” For many years, my self soothing pre-sleep practice has been to meditate lovingly on forests and bogs, mountains and plains, rivers and streams, beaches and shorelines, all kinds of plants and all kinds of critters, from bees and birds to elephants and whales. These days every such thought leads me to tears, because every natural environment, every waterway, every population is affected by a deadly, interlaced chain of human mistakes and greedy misbehavior. I find it heartbreaking yet I don’t want to lapse into cynicism or despair. The world does not need more cynics or depressed people but Gaia Mom can sure use more friends willing to change our ways to reduce the burdens we heap on her.

Change feels important as well as inevitable. So much has changed, ecologically and socially, in just a few years. So much more change has been building for decades and even centuries, right in our own backyards. When I first arrived in Washington State, nearly 50 years ago, I fell in love with the climate. West of the Cascades, temperatures were mild all year round. Back in the 70’s, even the snowiest Seattle winters were easy on New Englanders like me, since ice and snow typically melted off within a few days. The mild, moist winters were ideal for growing winter greens and planting and transplanting ornamental trees and shrubs. Up to 100 inches of rain and abundant snowpack in the Cascades (long among the snowiest places on the planet) filled rivers and streams and ensured ample summer water for our abundant lowland gardens. That was then. This year, during June’s “heat dome” event, a little town a few hundred miles away in Western Canada was the hottest place on earth. Western Washington was hotter than the Sahara Desert.

Changing To Simplicity

East of the Cascades, temperatures are growing even hotter in summer and colder in winter. Summer drought is increasing, and winter storms are growing stronger. South of us, Oregon and Northern California reflect a similar climate split along mountainous backbones, and their coastal climates offer a glimpse of what the Maritime Northwest may be like, not in decades, but in just a few years. All of us living along the West Coast are faced with the same general situation, and all of us need to change our ways. We know what needs to be done but it’s hard to change old habits of doing exactly as we please without a thought of the effects. We love to travel, we love to enjoy marvelous imported food and wines, we love to shop online, then toss out our excess stuff, from clothing and housewares to furniture. We love to crank up the heat or the air conditioning so we can wear whatever we choose, water huge lawns, drive huge cars and trucks (usually almost empty).

I’m often reminded of my grandfather’s stories about growing up in Northern Montana on the family dairy farm, walking to the one-room schoolhouse, growing most of the family’s food each year. Even when family farms were common, food security was dependent on the weather, but the family with a few cows and lots of chickens could usually get by and share with neighbors even in the lean years. Then, destructive plowing destroyed America’s Great Plains, washing topsoil into the sea, soon followed by excess artificial fertilizers and toxic pesticides that now pollute every major waterway in North America. I doubt that many people would be willing to return to the farm, even if they had the skills, which very few of us do anymore. However, we can all take a clear look at our buying behavior, painful as it may seem.

Can We Retrench?

In Persuasion, my favorite of Jane Austen’s books, the foolish, spendthrift head of the family finds the idea of retrenching their unsustainable lifestyle to be outrageous and beneath his dignity. These days, dignity doesn’t seem to trouble our society much but the idea of giving up anything pleasurable definitely gets a lot of people defensive and upset, if not angry. I suspect that entitlement is a disorder, like addiction and hoarding, that’s socially contagious, but supposedly happiness is too; maybe by being as peaceful and happy as we can manage to be, we can sow seeds of a less contentious culture? I gotta say that folding my socks doesn’t make me joyful (sorry, Ms. Kondo), but living more and more simply actually does leave me feeling lighter and less stressed out. Perhaps by reducing the amount of waste we produce, whether food or clothing or excess stuff, we can influence others to similarly lighten their own load?

As someone who is perfectly happy to stay home most of the time, I may not truly grasp the need many folks feel to roam around the country or the world. Having traveled a lot for work, I personally think the entertainment value of travel is overrated. With a world wide pandemic still roaring away, frivolous travel feels irresponsible and dangerous to others. Like I said, I don’t really get it. I’m trying not to be judgmental, as that feels corrosive to my spirit as well as other people’s. Instead, I’m working on paying more attention to my family and friends and less attention to the news, actively listening to everyone I meet up with, and being present instead of distracted. Good goals, right? How about you? What’s helpful for you in these troubled and sometimes terrifying times?

Peachy Peace Muffins

Noticing that Granny was in a bit of a mood today (she’s a very astute five year old), my granddaughter decided we needed to bake something to cheer us up. We enjoyed a perfectly ripe peach from a neighbor’s tree at lunch, and decided to use another one to make something yummy. The resulting delicious twist on my usual muffin recipe has added oatmeal for body, two eggs for protein and extra richness, and yogurt and milk for an especially tender crumb. When we tasted them, warm from the oven, I told my girl that I felt more peaceful after cooking together and she said “Then they must be Peachy Peace Muffins!” and so they are.

Peachy Oatmeal Muffins

2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon and/or cardamom
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted or very soft
2/3 cup yogurt
2 eggs
1/2 cup rolled oats or raw oatmeal
1 cup milk
1 chopped ripe peach (about 1 cup)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with muffin cups. Sift together dry ingredients (flour through sugar), set aside. Mix together the butter, yogurt, eggs and oatmeal, then blend in dry ingredients, thinning with milk (start with 1/2 cup) to make a fairly thick batter. Stir in peaches and spoon into muffin cups. Reduce heat and bake at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes or until tops are firm and sides lightly browned. Cool for a few minutes before eating or it may be hard to peel off the muffins cups. Makes 12 standard muffins.

Peace be with you!


Posted in Care & Feeding, Climate Change, Health & Wellbeing, Recipes | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Great Tomato Race

Perfect for cooking, canning, freezing…

A Torrent Of Tomatoes

It was 48 degrees when I got up this morning, though the sun broke through the marine layer early, quickly warming the day up by 15 degrees. Even so, it’s clear that summer is waning fast and autumn is already making her moves. As usual, my island garden was just catching up with summer when she wandered off, and now my tomatoes and peppers and soup beans are valiantly trying to complete their tasks without much help from the fickle weather. In July, I wasn’t sure we’d get much of a tomato crop, since some failed to do much of anything in the cool weather that followed our heat bump in late June. However, the trusty grafted tomato plants kept chugging along, picking up speed in August and now racing towards the finish line. Grafted tomatoes are most definitely worth growing anywhere the climate is less than perfect, and in our notoriously unreliable island summers, they consistently out-produce non-grafted plants. They’re also resistant to late blight, which often wipes out the tomato crop just as it’s hitting its stride. Late blight can sometimes be averted and always minimized if you mulch susceptible plants with used coffee grounds, starting as soon as fruit is setting well. Coffee grounds are high in nitrogen, and using them too early can promote a lot of leaves and not much fruit.

One of the summer’s strongest performers is Matt’s Wild Cherry, a heritage-type tomato native to the Hidalgo area of Mexico. The airy, arching plants get as big as a hoop skirt and are loaded with berry-sized tomatoes that kids find enchanting to hunt for and pop blissfully into their mouths. Adults also find them delicious, but tend to grumble more about having to pick a dozen to get a decent mouthful. We happily pick handfuls of them for salads, where they explode in your mouth like intense little flavor bombs, and they also make a lively garnish for grilled vegetables or fish. Another new-to-me treasure is the Orange Paruche cherry tomato, an exceptional producer; even in this difficult year, it’s always heavily laden with plump little glowing golden-orange tomatoes that are especially sweet and flavorful. My grandkids strip the branches every time they visit yet there are always more coming on, and always totally delectable. I’m still smitten with the Midnight Snack cherry tomato, a black skinned beauty that blushes red on the bottom as it ripens. The flavor is too outstanding fresh to bother with cooking them, but we do tuck the few that don’t get eaten immediately into salads and sandwiches or put them, halved, on pizzas.

Red Or Green Or In Between

Most days now, we can pick a gallon of tomatoes, red or green or in between, and trying to keep up with the torrent can get challenging. The ripest can be dried or canned, but we also love them slow roasted. I do some batches of red and green separately and some mixed together, which gives the results a piquant, slightly tart flavor that’s pleasant in soups and sauces. Can your torrential tomatoes or freeze them in sturdy pint or quart containers to bring a bright taste of summer to winter meals.

It may seem like a bother to make your own red sauces, but store bought ones tend to taste heavy and dull, with a flat flavor profile. Homemade red sauces taste fresher, retaining a lively, nuanced flavor whether canned or frozen. I prefer robust, rustic sauces that include tomato skin and seeds, finding the flavor fuller and more complex than when only the pulp is used. I just core and quarter tomatoes, or just remove the stem ends on smaller ones, and I think the resulting sauces are better than anything store bought, skin or no skin. However, if you prefer a more refined sauce, just use an apple sauce maker or strainer to separate out the bits. Here are some basic ways to ready tomatoes for canning or freezing, though whether sauced or pureed or roasted, they all taste so good you may end up serving them in a fish stew or quick chili right away.

Quick And Savory Sauces

This well balanced sauce cans beautifully, and canning seems to preserve fresh, summery flavors better than long term freezing (especially anything involving garlic). Scale this sauce up for big batches, but try just a quart or two first to see how you like it, and keep notes about changes you prefer. Add any extra ingredients when you that/reheat it for an especially fresh and lively taste.

End Of Summer Canning Sauce

1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
8 cups chopped ripe tomatoes with juices
2 cups pureed tomatoes
1-2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons stemmed oregano

In a large saucepan, cook oil, onion, garlic, and salt over medium heat to the fragrance point (about a minute). Add chopped and pureed tomatoes, sugar, pepper, basil and oregano, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until sauce is as thick as you like it, then adjust salt, sugar and pepper to taste. Makes about 5 pints. Fill, seal, and process jars as usual, or follow this link if you haven’t canned tomato sauces before:


Ready Or Not, Here They Come

When September fills the kitchen with tomatoes and I’m feeling overwhelmed, roasting is the easiest way to deal with the bounty. It works best to roast ripe ones separately, and at a slightly higher temperature than the green ones, which develop the most luscious flavors when slow roasted for several hours. Don’t be afraid to let them cook for what seems like a ridiculously long time; just check on them every half hour or so, letting them caramelize but not burn (unlikely at such a low temperature).

Roasted Reds

2 quarts medium red tomatoes, cut in half
1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
1/4 teaspoon basil salt or sea salt

Lightly rub each tomato, (skin side only) with oil, then place them cut-side-up in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake at 300 degrees F until soft and edges are lightly caramelized (1-2 or more hours, depending on size). Pack in freezer containers as-is or puree first for a smoother sauce. Makes about 4-5 cups.

Slow Roasted Green Tomatoes

2 quarts medium green tomatoes, cut in half
1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
1/4 teaspoon basil salt or sea salt

Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. Lightly rub each tomato, (skin side only) with oil, then place them cut-side-up in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake at 225 degrees F until soft and edges are lightly caramelized (3-4 hours or more, depending on size). Pack in freezer containers as-is or puree first for a smoother sauce. Makes about 6 cups.

A Hearty Red Sauce

This is my go-to sauce for unexpected company meals (which are sadly very rare these days). It’s one of the richest flavored sauces I make, and it’s always a crowd pleaser. The base of pureed Roasted Reds combines with chopped Kalamata olives give this sauce a deep, intense flavor, as if you spent hours making it, though it cooks up in minutes. Serve over pasta, quinoa, or rice or use it as a splendid pizza sauce.

Robust Rustic Red Sauce

2 teaspoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
1/8 teaspoon basil salt or sea salt
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives (or any)
2 cups ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
2 cups pureed Roasted Reds (thawed if frozen)
1/4 cup coarsely grated Asiago or Romano cheese

In a sauce pan, heat oil, garlic, onion, and oregano over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, add celery and olives and cook until barely tender (3-4 minutes). Add chopped tomatoes and pepper, bring to a simmer, add pureed tomatoes, bring back to a simmer, adjust seasonings and serve at once over pasta or rice, etc., garnished with cheese. Serves 4.

Quick Green Tomato Sauce

This speedy, tasty sauce is lighter than red sauces and is a great match with grilled autumn greens (think radicchio) and grilled salmon. If you don’t have any zucchini (what?), substitute green beans, thinly sliced on the diagonal. Capers bring body and depth to this quick sauce, or a tiny bit of anchovy paste works well too.

Fresh Pasta With Green Tomato Sauce

8 ounces fresh fettucini or noodles
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 leeks, thinly sliced (white and palest green parts only)
OR 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 cup finely chopped basil
2 cups diced (1/4 inch) green tomatoes (with juices)
2 cups grated zucchini
2 teaspoons capers, drained
1/4 teaspoon basil salt or sea salt (optional)
1/4 cup soft goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup halved ripe cherry tomatoes

Combine oil, garlic, and fennel seed in a wide, shallow pan over medium heat and cook to the fragrance point (about one minute). Add leeks or onion and cook until just tender (5-6 minutes). Add basil and diced green tomatoes, cover pan and bring to a simmer, then stir in zucchini and capers, adding salt as (or if) needed. Cover pan and let simmer on low while you cook pasta as directed. Drain pasta and serve with the sauce, garnished with goat cheese and cherry tomatoes. Serves 4.

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Appreciating Goodness Where We Find It

What to do when zucchini arrives

Garden Bathing As Balm To An Aching Heart

When dire daily news crushes my heart, the garden is the only place that truly refreshes my spirit. Yanking out weeds (with a muttered diatribe against people who can’t hear and would never listen) helps, but planting fall starts is even more soothing. Tucking in the hopeful young plants, renewing the compost blanket for summer weary soil, watering deeply, all feel like balm to my aching being. Though I doubt that I will ever understand what makes some people so staunchly contrarian, so consistently mean spirited, so endlessly angry and so delightedly evil, I don’t even try anymore. Instead, I pull weeds, amend soil, plant vegetables, and sow seeds for a better tomorrow. It’s not much, but it’s what I can do, here and now.

Though I all too often head to the garden in dismay or even rage, the work, vigorous or gentle, gradually absorbs my attention and helps me stop arguing in my head with people who aren’t here. Bird song replaces my own ranting. My hands unclench and begin to sense the life in the soil, the health in this young plant, the fatigue in that aging one as it edges toward slumber or slow decay. Here in the garden, all these states are equally valuable, the growth and the resting, the new life and the ending life.

When Zucchini Arrives In Force

Though September is here, with autumn two weeks away, the garden is still in its productive summer mode. The chilly days of August left tomatoes ripening so slowly that lots of people have given up and started roasting them green. My larger tomatoes aren’t doing much better but the cherry types are all ripening daily in such abundance that I’m carrying basketfuls to neighbors, along with the plums that are finally ripening as well. My beautiful basil is still growing strongly, especially the Everleaf Emerald Towers, which true to its name is rising in slim columns, providing a seemingly endless supply of fragrant, savory foliage, still tender months after planting and still not blooming and going to seed. Its cousin, Everleaf Thai Towers, is similarly tall, with large, piquantly flavorful foliage that’s perfect for wrapping around grilled shrimp or cherry tomatoes and goat cheese. And the zucchini which grew so slowly this summer is now stretching wide arms and popping out more plump produce each week than in all of August. For my family, that’s good news, because summer squash graces our table in so many ways.

Zucchini does not know when to stop (that’s a BIG head of garlic!)

Given the lateness of the season, the best news of all is that zucchini can be frozen and thawed for use in favorite recipes from muffins and sweet bread to casseroles and pancakes. Zucchini holds quality best if picked when moderately sized; about 2-3 inches around and 8-10 inches long. If seeds have formed, zucchini will freeze best if grated; just remove any large seeds, along with any inner pulp that seems soft and soggy rather than firm and crisp. Trim off both blossom and stem ends before slicing, cubing, or grating your zucchini. To avoid having prepared zucchini freeze in a giant blob, arrange it in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and freeze for at least 20 minutes, then wrap in freezer paper and pack in freezer containers with as little air as possible. It doesn’t matter as much if grated zucchini freezes in a lump so simply measure it into freezer containers that hold the amount your favorite recipes call for (usually 2-4 cups). When it thaws, add any liquid to baked goods batter but drain it off if you’re making an egg-based dish to keep it from getting too watery.

Addictive Yet Wholesome

When zucchini starts sizing up all at once, I make golden-crusted garden casseroles, which my family finds almost addictive despite the healthy ingredients. This fragrant, succulent dish started out as an adaptation of one of Julia Childs’ classics, Tian de Courgettes au Riz. Over time, I stopped draining the grated zucchini only to add liquid back in as a later step and just used it as is. I cut back the oil and dropped the butter, finding the slick of oil oozing from each serving to be unappetizing. I tried adding various vegetables, settling on freshly cut corn kernels, minced mushrooms and a chiffonade of fresh basil as the most harmonious. Brown rice replaces white for a richer, nuttier flavor and a more intriguing texture. As for the cheese, pretty much any hard cheese works deliciously, notably Asiago and Romano, though Julia’s choice of aged Parmesan is still excellent.

Zucchini Garden Casserole

1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
1 large white or yellow onion, grated
1 teaspoon basil salt (or any salt)
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup raw long grain brown rice (or any)
About 2 pounds zucchini, grated (6-8 cups)
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
kernels cut from 2 ears of sweet corn
2 cups finely chopped brown mushrooms (about 4)
1 cup sliced basil leaves
1/2 cup milk or broth
3/4 cup grated Parmesan or any favorite hard cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Rub a 2-3 quart casserole with oil. Heat remaining oil in a wide, shallow pan over medium heat, adding the onion and 1/4 tsp salt and cook, stirring a bit, until soft and slightly golden (about 10 minutes). Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, then add rice and cook, stirring a bit, for 3 minutes. Meanwhile, toss the zucchini with flour, pepper, and remaining salt. Add corn, mushrooms, basil, the milk or broth, and half a cup of cheese, toss again, then combine with the rice mixture. Mix well, then spoon into the oiled casserole, cover tightly (use foil if you don’t have a covered casserole dish) and bake for 60 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees F, remove foil or cover, sprinkle on remaining cheese and bake for an additional 15 minutes until brown and crisp. Serves at least one, and reheats well. Bon appetite!


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