I want to get you as ready as possible for all the gardeny goodness coming up everywhere.

This is the magic time of year when fresh produce is everywhere you turn. It appears in your own backyard; at your favorite farmers markets; and in the baskets and bags that appear on your doorstep, thanks to a generous neighbor who has zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes and more to spare.

Since I don’t want you to be feeding all those nutrients to the compost bin, I’m sharing my summer meal go-tos: Summer Vegetables Five Ways and Chocolate Zucchini Cake.

When I put my first bowl of Summer Vegetables together many moons ago, I felt like a genius. I have to explain that it was truly out of necessity as I was up to my eyebrows in the fruits of my labors and couldn’t keep up.

I can’t wait to see what you do with this big bowl of deliciousness. I’ve started you all off on some ideas and I’m sure you’ll have more! No matter what you do, this big bowl of deliciousness will leave you with a healthy-feeling full tummy, a smile on your face, and room in your “dessert box” for a big piece of chocolate zucchini cake!

Making this moist chocolaty, no-frosting-needed dessert is a great way to rid yourself of those monstrous squashes that hide so well under the weeds and leaves. It can even be made on a winter’s day with store-bought zucchini because it’s great comfort food any time of year and makes the house smell like Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

Be careful, because it’s highly addictive, but at least you can tell yourself you’re getting in more veggies, albeit chocolate-covered. I like it best fresh out of the oven with a cold glass of milk, but we’ve been known to eat it with whipped cream and every flavor of ice cream you can imagine.

I feel healthier just writing this! So rinse off those veggies, get out your best sharp knife and cutting board and start chopping.

Summer Vegetables Five Ways
3-4 large tomatoes or 2 pints cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 red pepper, diced
1 green pepper, diced
2-3 jalapeños, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 medium cucumber, diced
1/2 small red onion or 4 scallions, diced
3 cloves garlic or garlic scapes, chopped
1 medium zucchini, shredded
Juice of 1 lemon or 2 limes (see note below)
Pinch sea salt
2 handfuls baby kale, finely julienned
1 cup chopped black olives, optional

Chop all the vegetables and herbs into a large bowl. Stir in salt and citrus juice. Let stand at room temperature to serve within a couple hours or store in the refrigerator to serve later.

A trip to Mexico
Add lime juice and 1 cup chopped cilantro. Garnish with chopped avocado and lime slices.

• Serve as salsa with chips and crudité. Spoon onto tacos or quesadillas. Yield: 12-14 servings
• To serve as gazpacho, puree half the mixture in a blender, add back into chunky mixture and serve with sour cream and avocado. Yield: 6 servings
• To drink as a powerfully vitamin-rich smoothie, whirl mixture in a blender to your desired consistency. Yield: 6 servings

A trip to Italy
Add lemon juice, 1/4 cup fresh oregano, 1/4 cup fresh parsley and 1/4 cup fresh basil.

• To serve as a bruschetta topping, spoon onto toasted rustic bread using a slotted spoon to drain off some of the liquid. Yield: 12-14 servings
• To serve with pasta, bring vegetables to a simmer and cook on low heat until everything is al dente. Spoon over hot pasta or mix into your favorite pasta salad recipe in place of salad dressing. Yield: 6 servings

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup oil
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk OR 1/2 cup milk with 1 tsp. vinegar added (let these 2 ingredients mingle for at least 15 minutes)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
8 tbsp. cocoa
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 cups zucchini, shredded
2 cup chocolate chips (1 cup for batter and one cup to add on top)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch pan. With an electric mixer, cream butter and oil with sugar in a large bowl.

Beat in eggs and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture with buttermilk. Stir in zucchini and 1 cup chocolate chips.

Pour into pan. Sprinkle the other cup of chocolate chips on top. Bake for 1 hour. Yield: 10-12 servings

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