Saucy Summer Vegetables

I meant to post this recipe a few weeks ago, but I couldn’t decide what it really is.  Is it a stew? A sauce? A soup? I still don’t know.

The reason I finally decided to share this:

If you have a vegetable garden, shop at the farmers market, or get  a CSA box, this combination of vegetables is bound to show up at some point, and this recipe is a really versatile way to put dinner (and then leftovers for lunch and other dinners) on the table with almost no planning at all. 
The flavor of this dish is kind of like a cross between a vodka sauce and a ratatouille.   Cook the veggies for a shorter time to leave it like a stew, and eat it with crusty bread and a salad.  Cook it for a long time, letting the moisture really reduce off, to make it into more of a pasta sauce.  Once it’s thick and saucy, you can  toss it with cooked penne, top with mozzarella cheese and bake it in the oven.  Or use it as the filling in a lasagna, alternating with layers of ricotta cheese.  I love this sauce served over a bowl of creamy polenta with mascarpone.  Fold it into some scrambled eggs and eat it for breakfast.   For something really luscious, make a batch of fettucini alfredo and then stir in some of this sauce — it’s so creamy and good, really divine.  You could even puree this and serve as if it were a plain red sauce if you’re trying to do things like trick haters into eating eggplant.

The point is, this combination of vegetables may not be all that much of a revelation. I realize lots of people know about ratatouille.  The thing is, I feel like any time you can effortlessly walk into your garden, pick some vegetables, and turn them into a dinner that everyone will love, it’s a major victory. When it’s a dish that can be transformed into several different meals and you end up using every last little scrap of it and wishing you’d made even more, it deserves to be on the internet.

Saucy Summer Vegetables 

You could absolutely add other vegetables, like green and yellow string beans, bell peppers, or a couple swiss chard leaves.  You could also substitute white wine for the vodka, other cheeses or cream for the chevre, or no dairy at all if you’d like to leave it vegan.

Cook Time: 20 minutes of active cooking, then 2 hours to simmer on the stove

Makes: a lot… but it really just depends how long you cook it


  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 5 c. cubed eggplant (1 large Italian eggplant or several smaller Asian eggplants, either is fine)
  • 7 1/2 c. sliced summer squash (from a couple medium sized squash of different shapes and sizes, sliced into bite sized pieces)
  • 10 c. roughly chopped heirloom tomatoes, cores removed (about 5 really large tomatoes)
  • 1/2 c. roughly chopped fresh basil
  • 1 c. vodka
  • 6 oz. plain chevre

  • sea salt and black pepper, to taste


In a big pot, heat up the olive oil on medium heat. Add the garlic and the cubed eggplant. Give the eggplant a liberal seasoning with salt at this point. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant starts to brown nicely.  Add a little more olive oil if it starts to stick. Add the summer squash (and any other vegetables you’d like to throw in) and saute for another couple minutes.  Crank the heat up to high and get everything flaming hot for a couple seconds (purposely trying to get some slightly caramelized bits on the bottom of the pot) then quickly pour in the vodka to deglaze the pan.  Turn the heat to medium-low, and add the chopped tomatoes, basil, and chevre. If you want this to be a soup, you can add a couple cups of vegetable stock or water.  At this point, you just turn the heat to low and cook it until it’s the consistency that you want.  It will probably need to cook for at least an hour on low heat to get the flavors tasting really awesome.

Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve… over rice/noodles/polenta/in a bowl/whatever makes you happy.

A note about tomato skins: I never peel tomatoes.  I also don’t peel carrots, potatoes, or cucumbers.  I really think the skin on heirlooms is so delicate that it’s not worth the time it takes to get it off. If you hate skin, though, feel free to blanch the tomatoes, peel them, then core them and dice them.

Shells with Roasted Summer Squash, Queso Fresco and Basil

I used to think that summer squash was gross and boring. I didn’t understand the point.  It’s not like a carrot, you know? Or a tomato.  They can kind of just be…. there, these bland tasting monstrous green things that you find hiding under huge leaves in the garden.

Over the years, though, I started discovering all these beautiful varieties of summer squash, and it completely changed my feelings about this bountiful summer vegetable.  Some of my favorites are the luminous, pale green Benning’s Green Tint Scallop from Baker Creek Seeds,  and the charming yellow and green Zephyr from Johnny’s Seeds.

My favorite squash recipe of the moment is this lightened up, summery mac and cheese.  It comes together incredibly quickly, and I really can’t get enough of this flavor combination- the nutty roasted squash, tangy queso fresco, and bright fresh basil are perfect for a hot summer night.  Of course, there’s plenty of room for playing around here; you could toss in a handful of kalamata olives, some diced heirloom tomatoes, a few leaves of kale, or some garbanzo beans.

… by the way, I end up never sharing my fresh recipes because come dinner time I don’t bother taking enough pictures to feel like it should go on the internet.   Maybe one day I’ll get around to taking a bunch of beautiful food-porny pictures of pasta and squash, but I didn’t want to wait until then to share this recipe with you.   It’s too good.

Shells with Roasted Summer Squash, Queso Fresco and Basil

Cook Time: 1 hr. (but only about 10 minutes of active cook time)

Serves: oh… 8-10?  The leftovers are great and will hold for several days in the fridge.


  • 10 small to medium sized summer squash, preferably an assortment of at least two varieties, but the more the merrier.
  • 1 large onion, cut in half and then sliced into thin half-moons
  • 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. bag of small shell pasta
  • 24 oz. queso fresco*
  • 1/2 c. bread crumbs – whatever kind you have on hand is fine
  • 1 c. fresh basil leaves – purple looks nice, if you can find that variety

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cut the squash into bite-sized pieces.  Put it in a 9×14″ glass casserole dish.  Combine with the sliced onion, minced garlic, olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for about half an hour, or until the squash is cooked through and has nice spots of golden brown where it’s starting to caramelize.

Cook the bag of pasta. Drain, and stir into the roasted summer squash.  Crumble the queso fresco over the top of the pasta and squash.  Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top of the cheese.  Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and top with fresh basil leaves.  You can leave them whole or slice them into thin strips.

*Queso Fresco is a fresh Mexican cheese that has a wonderful light, tangy flavor that’s great for the hot summer months.  If you can’t find queso fresco, you could substitute any combination of mozzarella, ricotta, feta, or chevre.