Gardeners who grow their own fruits and vegetables are likely to wind up with an overabundance of some items during the summer harvest months. From zucchini and tomatoes to corn and herbs, summer's cornucopia can get monotonous unless you mix it up with different recipes. Here we've gathered quick and easy dishes that make the most of inexpensive summer produce and help extend the shelf life of fresh food. Many can be frozen or canned to be enjoyed throughout the year -- and also make thoughtful homemade gifts.
25 Dishes to Make the Most of Summer Produce
This go-to staple is quick to throw together and makes the best of whatever's lying around. Whether it's fresh vegetables that need to be used before spoiling, or leftover roasted or grilled meats and veggies, all make fine choices for filling lasagna, which can be frozen cooked or uncooked, to keep for months. When on sale, stock the pantry with noodles and sauce to make this family favorite even less expensive.
Another quick and easy dish that lends itself to virtually any ingredient, quiche can easily be whipped up with staples from the fridge. Use leftover grilled asparagus or sauté mushrooms before they spoil to use as a filling. Any cheese works well, especially when combined with bits and pieces of leftovers. Skip the crust for a cheaper, quicker, and less caloric version.
Soup is a simple way to conserve a surplus of fresh vegetables. Use some to make a broth and the rest as chunky fillings. Be sure to freeze a batch to defrost later in the year, as temperatures start to drop. The corn and green beans that seem inexhaustible in summer will be most welcome when winter's chill comes knocking.
Juicy tomatoes bursting with flavor are one of the best features of summer. The season is bountiful but short, and while premade sauce is available year-round, nothing tastes quite as good (or costs so little) as making your own. Homemade marinara can be frozen or canned for later. It also makes a cheap but thoughtful gift throughout the year.
It's a shame to let ripe summer fruit go to waste, but what to do with the surplus from a day of picking? Making jam is a great way to preserve the flavor of summer berries and stone fruits such as peaches. Homemade fruit preserves are a real money saver that can also be used as cheap gifts that friends will truly enjoy. Don't forget that tomatoes are a fruit and can also be made into delicious jams.
This Croatian comfort food, made from basic ingredients, is enticingly simple yet different. A mix of garlic, oil, potatoes, and Swiss chard, this recipe works well with all summer greens, and provides a refreshing and healthy change of pace from regular mashed potatoes. Enjoy blitva as a side dish or top it with ragout for a light yet hearty meal.
Rather than let fresh fruit go unused, freeze and use it later to make fruit smoothies. Be sure to wash and cut the fruit before freezing to make it easy to pop into a blender. Making smoothies at home is a great way to save money and make the most of fruit at the peak of ripeness. Try freezing smoothies in ice pop molds for a cheap, low-calorie treat.
Fresh lima beans are a sure sign of summer, but these fiber-rich legumes can be served as a side dish or tossed in a salad only so many times before becoming tiresome. For a twist, turn them into a hummus-like dip and serve as an appetizer or a sandwich spread. Leave the lima bean dip in the fridge overnight or even a few days to allow the flavors to meld. Make a big batch and freeze what's leftover (for up to a month) and enjoy later.
There are so many uses for zucchini, from zoodles to kebabs and beyond. Summer squash grows quickly and abundantly, leaving many home gardeners wondering what to do with the bounty. Turning some zucchini into bread is an economical way to use up the supply, since the loaves can be frozen for up to three months. Defrosted zucchini bread tastes just as good as the day it was made and makes an excellent addition to bake sales, potlucks, and dinner parties.
During summer, when ripe produce is plentiful and cheap, fruit and veggie pies are inexpensive to make. Virtually all summer produce can be made into a pie, from berries and cherries to tomatoes and summer squash. Whether savory or sweet, homemade pies can be frozen after baking for up to three months.
Sometimes kids need a bit of coaxing to eat their veggies. Cloaked in a tangy sauce tossed with pasta, seemingly boring green beans and peppers become part of a delicious and familiar dish. Much like leftover lasagna or spaghetti, pasta salad becomes tastier after sitting in the fridge a few days as the flavors blend. That is, if it lasts that long.
Related:16 Cheap Pasta Salad Recipes for Summer
This Serbian pepper spread is flavorful and makes excellent use of summer's ripe bell peppers when they're cheap and in season locally. This roasted red pepper recipe captures all of the flavor of fresh bell peppers in a creamy and rich dip, which can be frozen for up to one month or canned to be enjoyed throughout the year.
This versatile, piquant dip doubles as a sauce and all-purpose condiment and makes great use of summer herbs and cucumbers. Squeezing the moisture from the chopped cucumber allows the flavor to permeate the thick yogurt without watering it down. Dill is traditionally the only herb used in this recipe, but any summer herb can be added for extra complexity.
Proper corn bisque can be made only with fresh sweet corn, because the cob is integral to a rich and tasty final product. This recipe involves a bit of work, but it's worth the effort, and it's an impressive use of one of summer's most bountiful items. This soup tastes even better after a few days in the fridge and can also be frozen for a few months to enjoy later.
Corn muffins made with fresh corn are a rather different experience than the mix that comes from a box. These simple baked morsels are dirt cheap in the height of corn season and store well in the freezer for up the three months. They are great for breakfast or as a side dish served at barbecues or summer parties.
Homemade hot sauce is remarkably inexpensive and easy to make. Chilies, salt, and water are all the ingredients needed, but garlic and onion can be added for extra flavor. Fermented chili sauce takes a bit longer, but the benefits include more complex flavor and healthy probiotics. Once fermented, the chili sauce can be stored in a cool cellar and used for gifts year-round.
Watermelon is the quintessential summer snack -- cold, sweet, and refreshing. When prices are low, it's tempting to buy a giant watermelon that can't be eaten up before it starts to sour. To preserve, simply place cubes of watermelon on a baking sheet lined with wax paper and place in the freezer until frozen. To store, place the frozen chunks in a freezer zip bag. Use the watermelon cubes instead of ice in seasonal cocktails -- or even tap water -- for extra flavor.
Tomatillos are in their prime -- and at their cheapest -- during the summer months. Take advantage and make a batch of salsa verde to use on everything from grilled meats to roasted veggies to rice, or simply as a dip with chips. Ingredients such as chilies and cilantro are also seasonal, which makes this an excellent summer recipe to freeze for later use.
Cherry picking is a simple way to buy pounds of cherries for a lot less than grocery stores or farmers markets charge. In addition to baking them in pies and preserving them in jam or by freezing, making brandied cherries is a delicious way to save (and savor) the fresh flavor. Simply combine washed cherries in a clean jar with a favorite brandy, seal, and keep in a cool dark place until ready to use. They make a great gift.
Sweet and tangy, pickled beets have a lot of culinary uses from salads and sandwiches to sauces and side dishes for barbecue. Pickled beets are also easy and economical to make. Canning is best for a large batch, but small amounts can simply be stored in the fridge if consumed within a month.
Deceptively simple to make, homemade sorbet is an oh-so-satisfying way to preserve the taste of summer. Using the season's best fruit and herbs to create unique and customized sorbet is a fun, cheap, and impressive way to entertain guests. Learn the basics of making sorbet -- then let creativity take over.
The rich mixture of butter, eggs, and corn is a no-fail dish that is welcome at any gathering, meal, or party. What it lacks in nutrition it makes up for in comforting flavor -- and it's a great use for fresh summer corn that incorporates other inexpensive and common household ingredients. A basic recipe posted on Allrecipes leaves room for add-ins such as cheese, chili peppers, or charred onions.