top of page

What's in Your Garden?

Lila's illustration of zucchini and tomato


This week, I’m happy to present my second collaborative blog entry with Lila Volkas, illustrator extraordinaire. (Our first entry is here.) This blog will celebrate the companionship of zucchini (and other summer squash varieties) and tomatoes, both currently at the height of their season and flavor.


Some vegetables are enhanced during their growing season by being in close proximity to each other in the garden patch.

“Plants need good companions to thrive. Except for growth and fruiting, plants are relatively idle objects. They are rooted in one spot and may not seem to have much control over their environment. In fact, however, relationships between plants are varied - similar to relationships between people”


Other vegetables only reach their full potential when combined with a compatible member of the fruit or vegetable family in the kitchen by a clever cook. One hates to admit that in regards to the family of summer squashes, as resplendent as they appear in all of their intensely hued and varied forms, they are intrinsically bland and in need of "companions" to perk them up.

“Zucchini is the Cinderella of the vegetable world. Unadorned, it is tasteless. Serve it raw in a salad and it isn’t noteworthy. But have faith. Like a lot of unflashy things, zucchini will reward those who recognize its potential and treat it well."

- Bev Bennett, Los Angeles Times Service

On the other hand, the tomato is equally luscious on it's own, eaten raw with just a little coarse sea salt and fresh black pepper. Introduce a tomato to other vegetable friends and let the magic relationship transform to something ambrosial.

A little about the history of this savory fruit; “...first cultivated by the Aztecs, once feared and later embraced by Europeans, the tomato has an intriguing legacy. History demonstrates the perseverance of the tomato. The tomato is native to Mexico, was brought to Europe by the Spaniards, and then boldly conquered the world despite early misgivings over its placement in the nightshade family. In the face of all opposition, the tomato has not only survived, but thrived. Its dominance over the the fruit scene grew until now, it is foremost among fruits. The tomato reigns supreme.”

- From the book, Tomato Slices (Paperback or Kindle),

The zucchini and tomato are not just a random hookup. They have been simmering in stews, fricassees, fumes and gratins for centuries on numerous continents. Let's celebrate their deep-rooted indelibility!


Here are a few unflashy recipes celebrating the harmonious, far-reaching relationship between the tomato and the zucchini.

Summer Squash Conserve, a Greek inspired recipe.

If you read my blog which included the eggplant recipe for Kapema (Blog post titled, Eggplant melt down and cooking with my sister) you will recognize the similarity to this recipe; I simply replaced the steamed eggplant with raw zucchini or summer squash. The tomatoes and zucchini are simmered slowly on top of the stove or in the oven until they become something that is a true demonstration of their campanionship.

Vegetable Muffaletta, a new take on the New Orleans legendary sandwich, exchanging the layers of deli meats with zucchini, tomato and peppers.

Summer Vegetable Relish, the perfect accompaniment to a summer meal eaten as prepared, with crusty bread and good cheese, or served atop grilled fish or meats.


Summer Squash Conserve

A Greek-inspired recipe

Serves 6


5 summer squash (use a variety)

3-4 soft tomatoes




Salt to taste


Slice a variety of summer squash into thick slices. Cut tomatoes into bite sized pieces and layer tomatoes in skillet. Arrange squash slices neatly on top. Add oil. Sprinkle with paprika, oregano and salt.

Cook on top of the stove until oil has boiled out. If preparing a large amount, you can bake in a 300 to 350-degree F. oven. Finish under the broiler.

Serve at room temperature with a good crusty bread.


Vegetable Muffaletta

A new take on the New Orleans legendary sandwich

Lila's illustration of Vegetable Muffaletta

Serves 4


1 large loaf ciabatta (1-pound size) 2 or more large ripe, juicy tomatoes (such as Brandywines, Striped Germans, Carmello or Costoluto Genovese) 1 large yellow or red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and sliced

6 very thin sliced zucchini (or a combination of summer squash varieties for color)

4 oz. fresh mozzarella, goat or other favorite cheese, sliced Sea salt and ground pepper

1/4 cup basil leaves

Herb Vinaigrette Ingredients 1 T chopped marjoram

10 pitted olives of your choice, chopped

1 tsp capers, rinsed and chopped 1 T chopped parsley 1 clove garlic, minced 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil 4 tsp aged red wine vinegar 1/4 tsp sea salt and freshly ground pepper


Slice tomatoes into ¼ inch slices and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Brush the whole bell pepper with olive oil and place under the broiler until the skin blackens, turning to blacken all sides. Using tongs, hold the pepper and remove the skin, then cut in half to remove the seeds. Cut the pepper into thick 1-inch wide pieces. Season the sliced squash with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Prepare the Vinaigrette: Finely chop herbs with the garlic, then add the chopped olives, capers and olive oil. Add the vinegar and salt and season with pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

Assemble the Sandwich: Slice top third off loaf of bread and set aside. Pull out inside bread. (You can use it to make bread crumbs.) Paint inside of ciabatta with vinaigrette. Layer sliced tomatoes, basil leaves, pepper, squash and cheese inside the loaf, bathing each layer with dressing and seasoning with salt and pepper. Add top of loaf, press down and wrap tightly in plastic. Allow sandwich to rest for a half hour or more, then cut into hearty slices.


Summer Vegetable Relish

A great vegetable accompaniment to a summer meal

Serves 20


2 cups diced zucchini

2 cups diced yellow zucchini

2 cups diced tomatoes

2 cups packed Italian parsley leaves

5 cloves garlic

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

½ cup minced red onion

½ cup red wine vinegar

4 T. water

2 tsp salt

¼ tsp red pepper flakes


Season the diced zucchini with olive oil, salt, garlic and pepper and place on sheet pan; roast until golden brown. Set aside. Chop the parsley and garlic very fine in robot coupe. Transfer to a medium bowl and whisk the remaining ingredients in until blended. Add the roasted zucchini and tomatoes to the sauce.

Eat the relish by itself with crusty bread and good cheese, or serve it atop grilled fish or meats.


More tomatoes and zucchini to use up?

Try these recipes:

Lila Volkas with big smile and watermelon slice

Meet Lila!

Check out Lila's website at

Subscribe below to get next week's blog post.

If your restaurant or institutional foodservice operation is looking for a consulting chef to lead a class or a workshop, assist in assessing, planning and/or implementing recipe changes to modernize your menu, improve quality, boost flavor or increase environmental sustainability, please contact me here for a free 30-minute consultation.

This page may contain affiliate links.

Recent Posts
bottom of page