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PostHeaderIcon Cooking with Garden Veggies

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The greatest tribute a gardener can receive is to turn their harvest into meals that can be preserved for future consumption. I derive a tremendous amount of pleasure and nostalgia from harvesting and cooking from my garden.

If you don’t have your own garden, the ingredients for the recipes that follow can be purchased from your local farmer’s market, or a market that features organic fruits and vegetables.

I have two recipes to share. One is a quick meal my mother made from our garden in Columbus, Ohio.  It was a weekly meal which she called “Johnny Marzetti”. At the time, I had no idea what or who Johnny Marzetti was, but it tasted good.  As a teenager I was taxed with cooking the family meal each day, so I learned to cook Johnny Marzetti.

A few weeks ago I harvested an abundance of tomatoes and bell peppers from my garden.  I glanced over and noticed my boyfriend was snoring on the sofa, so going out for dinner did not appear to be an option.  I scoured my refrigerator and freezer for ideas on what to cook for the evening meal.  The only ingredients I had on hand were fresh tomatoes, a pound of organic ground beef, garlic, onions and fresh herbs from my garden. 

Johnny Marzetti popped into my mind.  

I don’t know how I came up with the idea of making Johnny Marzetti,  as I had not prepared this meal since 1964.  I must admit, I improvised a bit from the original recipe, but you can improvise too.  If you have young children, it’s probably best to omit the cumin and red pepper flakes (this was not incorporated in our Ohio recipe).

Curious about the origination of this Midwest recipe, I researched it on the Internet.  As is turns out, Johnny Marzetti was the owner of an Italian restaurant in downtown Columbus.  He served this dish in his restaurant in the late 1940’s and it became a favorite.  Today there are at least 100 variations of the original recipe.  Here is mine.  It got the boyfriend off of the sofa.  --JM


1 lb of organic ground beef    2 Tablespoons (or more if needed)
2 green bell peppers chopped    Virgin Olive Oil
1 onion chopped     6-7 small tomatoes or 1 large can
2 cloves of garlic chopped    ½ package (or more) of pasta
Salt and Pepper to taste    I use the short curly egg noodles
½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon of cumin

Brown the meat in a large skillet along with the olive oil, bell pepper, onion and garlic.  Cook until the meat is well browned and the vegetables are soft.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Add the red pepper flakes, cumin and tomatoes cut into quarters.  Simmer approximately 20-30 minutes, or until tomatoes have cooked down.  

In the meantime, bring water to boil and cook the pasta until almost done.  Drain well and add to the ground beef mixture.  Simmer for a few minutes.  Top with parmesan cheese and serve with warm, crusty artisan bread.


1 Quart of water

½ Cup of dried white beans

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 Cup of chopped onion

½ Cup Chopped leeks

1 Cup coarsely chopped carrots

1 Cup coarsely chopped celery

½ Cup coarsely chopped zucchini

1 ½ Cups Swiss chard

1 pound of green beans (trimmed and cut into 1” segments)

1 Cup of shredded cabbage

2 Cloves of garlic (minced)

1 Tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon of dried

1 Tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried

1 Tablespoon of chopped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon of dried

1 teaspoon of freshly coarse ground pepper
Salt to taste

2 Cups of tomatoes (preferably Roma) chopped or 1 ½ cups canned Italian tomatoes chopped and undrained

2 sprigs of parsley

1 bay leaf

1 cup of whole wheat shells or elbows, cooked (I cook my pasta separate and add it in smaller quantities to each portion of the soup I freeze.

In a heavy 3-4 quart saucepan, bring 1 quart of water to a boil.  Add beans and boil briskly for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and let beans soak for 1 hour.  Return pan to burner.  Over low heat, simmer the beans uncovered for 2 hours until barely tender.  Drain thoroughly, and reserve liquid.

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil.  Sauté onions and leeks until soft and golden.  Add carrots and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring once or twice.  Next, add celery, zucchini, swiss card and green beans.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add cabbage and cook for approximately 5 minutes.  Add garlic, thyme, rosemary, basil and pepper.  Sauté approximately one minute.

Stir in tomatoes, parsley and bay leaf tied together, and add stock from beans (add water if needed to make 6 cups).  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered for 30 minutes.

Remove and discard parsley sprigs and bay leaf.  Add beans and cook until hot throughout.

To reheat, place containers in warm water for approximately 10 minutes.  Reheat over low heat and add water if necessary.  Add cooked pasta and heat through.  Adjust seasonings if necessary.

Jody McPheeters is a retired executive who lives in San Ramon. She is a published author, freelance writer and gardening coach with a passion for sustainabiltiy and a love for nature and animals. She has been accepted into the Master Gardener Program through the University of California and expects to receive her certification in February 2011. Please visit her website at www.yourgardeningcoach.com for more ideas and a sampling of her landscapes and garden designs. 

Last Updated (Monday, 08 November 2010 20:01)

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