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Plant Veggies Now for Spring and Summer Eating

Suggestions on sowing your seeds today — and recipes for enjoying the produce later

En español | Recently our lawn was still snow-carpeted, but these last few weeks I've noticed dusky light outside my kitchen window as I prepare dinner. Longer days and brighter light remind me it's time to start planting — seeds, that is. So allow me to share a gardening colleague's tips for starting certain vegetables from seeds, and offer a few of my favorite recipes that feature them.

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Braised Cucumbers with Dill and Sour Cream

Plant cucumbers and enjoy them this spring and summer "braised" with dill and sour cream.

Why start from seeds? Daria Price Bowman, coauthor of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegetable Gardening, makes the case. "For one, it's much cheaper," she says. A package of basil seeds costs about $2.50 and you'll reap bucketfuls of beautiful, fresh basil. That same $2.50 might buy a basil plant that will yield a couple of nice bunches — or a small handful of basil at your local produce department.

As Bowman talks about the variety of herbs and vegetables available in seed form, her voice brightens: You're unlikely to find white cherry tomatoes, purple and white striped potatoes or watermelon radishes in plant form at the local gardening center, she points out, or in any form at the grocery store.

Besides the lower cost, Bowman says, growing from seeds also means "you're in complete control of the process. You know the water, the soil, the food, the fertilizer."

Finally, growing vegetables from seeds is fun. "When a seed pokes its head out a few days after planting, there's a tremendous sense of satisfaction," she says. It's also a great way for grandparents to connect with grandkids, especially during planting and harvesting. Sometime this spring consider planting seeds with a favorite young person (eggshells set in egg cartons make great compostable seed containers), and then invite them to join you as you harvest throughout the summer.

Vegetables Bowman recommends starting from seeds include tomatoes, peppers, summer and winter squash, eggplant, cucumbers, lettuce and herbs — especially the soft ones such as parsley, cilantro and basil.

The following recipes feature most of them:

Roasted Ratatouille — that wonderful summer vegetable mélange — will help use up bumper crops of zucchini, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes, and making herb oil is a clever way to make the most of a bountiful herb bed. You can drizzle this fragrant oil over freshly picked lettuce or grilled meat, poultry and seafood, with a little squeeze of lemon juice.

Much like zucchini, cucumbers are in abundance in late summer, and there are never enough opportunities to eat them all. Here's one you've probably never thought of — Braised Cucumbers With Sour Cream and Dill. That's right, they're cooked. And a recipe for four calls for two large cucumbers — just the kind of recipe you'll be wanting when all those seeds you're planting now magically morph into gigantic vegetables in just a few short months.

Roasted Ratatouille

Makes about 5 cups

Serve Roasted Ratatouille over toasted European-style bread, as a side dish or tossed with pasta or hearty greens.

  • 1 medium eggplant, trimmed and cut into one-inch dice
  • 1 large sweet onion, peeled and cut into one-inch dice
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into one-inch dice
  • 2 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut into one-inch dice
  • 12 peeled garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 2 cups (1 pint) cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Combine eggplant, onion, pepper, zucchini and garlic in a large bowl. Add olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper; toss to coat. Turn vegetables onto a large-rimmed baking sheet and roast until golden, about 20 minutes. Remove pan from oven, stir in cherry tomatoes, then continue to roast until tomatoes start to collapse and release their juices, about 10 minutes longer. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. (Can be covered and refrigerated up to 5 days.)

All-Purpose Mixed Herb Oil With Lemon and Garlic

Makes 1 generous cup

Toss this mixed herb oil in a salad, and drizzle it over seafood, poultry or meat. If you add 1/4 cup each of ground almonds or pine nuts and finely grated cheese, you'll have turned this oil into pesto.

  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 cups packed soft herbs such as basil, parsley, cilantro, dill
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced chives
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

Heat a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic cloves and toast them until spotty brown, about 5 minutes. Add them, along with herbs, chives, oil and lemon zest to a food processor; process until pureed. (Can be refrigerated in a lidded container for several weeks.)

Braised Cucumbers With Dill and Sour Cream

Serves 4

  • 2 English (seedless) cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill leaves

Place cucumbers, salt and 1/2 cup water in a large skillet. Cover pan and turn burner on high; steam until nearly all the water has evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes. Uncover pan and stir in garlic, sour cream and dill; continue to cook until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Serve.

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