My zucchini plants keeled over last week. I had so much hope for them, cared for them, and resisted eating the flowers so that they could produce fruit. Alas, after battling off fungus gnats, aphids, and even maggots, it was stem rot that finally did them in. I stared sadly at the orange fungus that had eaten halfway through the base of the plant and knew there was nothing I could do to save them.
The zucchini plants weren’t the only ones I mourned last week. I’m also growing an heirloom cucumber known as Lemon Cucumbers (when they’re ripe they are the color and shape of lemons). For a while now they were looking kind of sad too. The leaves had developed spots of dusty white mildew, and while the fruit was getting bigger and ripening, they weren’t producing any new flowers or tendrils. So I pulled the vines out of the pot. It was just in time, it seems – there was a little stem rot on one of the plants too. I sowed new seeds and they’ve already germinated, so maybe I’ll have a second chance at some late season cukes.
I was able to salvage a few ripe cucumbers though, and it’s amazing how quickly they start to shrivel up without the commercial wax coating that you get on store-bought produce. So what to do with them? Inspired by an heirloom tomato salad we served while I was at “Restaurant BB,” I paired slices of cucumber with two kinds of home-grown basil and fresh tomatoes.
I’ve been growing both Greek Basil, and the more commonly seen Genovese Basil. You may have seen Greek Basil at the Farmer’s Market, but for those of you who are not familiar, it’s a bushy compact plant. It produces pretty little leaves that are smaller, rounder and more densely grouped than the Genovese variety. I tucked a bunch of seedlings into my tomato pot and they’ve grown so well, they actually need regular pruning.
Unfortunately the homegrown heirloom tomatoes weren’t ripe yet, so I had to settle for store bought. Still, a simple drizzle of olive oil and white balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper was just enough to bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes without overpowering the delicate flavor of the cucumbers.
Boyfriend and I enjoyed this salad with a simple pan seared rib steak and oven roasted potatoes. If you’re not a gardener, you may find Lemon Cucumbers and Greek Basil at your local farmer’s market. White balsamic vinegar adds just the right amount of acidity and sweetness, but if you can’t find that you can substitute sherry vinegar.
INGREDIENTS (serves 2, generously):
2 lemon cucumbers
2 medium tomatoes
a handful of fresh Greek Basil, picked
a few leaves of fresh Genovese Basil, chiffonade
2 Tbsp. good olive oil
1 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Slice the cucumber and tomatoes. I like to use a combination of slices and wedges.
Combine the olive oil and vinegar, and a pinch of salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Gently toss the cucumbers in the bowl first, then remove them and dress the tomatoes.
Arrange the cucumber and tomatoes on a plate. If desired, drizzle some more of the dressing over them. Then top with the fresh basil and a sprinkle of sea salt.