Looking for an easy-to-fix summer meal that’s light on calories but full on flavor? Have a ton of produce to use up from the Farmers Market or your garden? Then look no further than this vegetable packed meal that will guarantee you and your family get your five servings of vegetables a day.

Inspired by Orson Baggett’s Colonial garden in my latest culinary mystery, “The Garden Club Murder,” one can imagine Orson cooking these up for his paramour, Zadie Morris and serving them, garden-side, with a chilled chardonnay.

Baggett swung open the gate of the whitewashed French gothic picket fence and led the group into a classic, geometric four-square garden: four raised vegetable and flower beds crisscrossed by a brick pathway, at the center of which grew a circular patch of herbs, punctuated at the heart by an antique bronze sundial.

‘That’s rosemary, sage, thyme, lavender, calendula, hyssop, and winter savory in the center herb garden,’ Baggett explained. ‘The raised beds are all edged with china pinks, dianthus chinesis, and Sweet William. The second round of peas and lettuces are just finishing up and the tomatoes, summer squashes, and beans will soon be gone. That’s when I’ll swap ’em out for turnips, winter radishes, collards, kale, and cabbage. They’ll join the carrots, parsnips, and salsify I planted earlier in the season.’

Tish eyed the raised beds with more than a touch of envy. They were a cook’s dream. But just as impressive as the robust produce was the incredible attention to detail. Everything, from the choice of paving bricks to the woven willow branch trellis supporting the trails of pea plants, harkened back to colonial times. ‘This is incredible. Those vegetables are picture-perfect.’

Orson puffed out his chest. ‘Heirloom varieties. I looked specifically for seeds our forebears might have planted. Would you like to use some of my vegetables for the awards luncheon?’

‘Oh, well, I received a delivery of vegetables and other supplies just this morning.’

Baggett’s grin diminished.

‘But I could use some of those things at my café,’ Tish reconsidered. ‘And that lettuce would be fantastic in my prawn cocktail with Marie Rose sauce. That is, if you have no use for it.’

Baggett’s face immediately brightened. ‘Oh, no, Miss Tarragon. Please take whatever you like. There’s far too much here for me to eat on my own.’

‘Rumor has it you haven’t been on your own for months,’ Ainsley muttered in a clear attempt to get a rise out of Baggett.

‘You know better than to listen to rumors,’ Baggett retaliated. ‘It appears I’m not the only one who might have forgotten what it means to be a Southern gentleman.’

‘Sorry, Orson. I should have known better than to ask you to kiss and tell.’

Ainsley’s tone was apologetic, but his words – primarily the phrase ‘kiss and tell’ – had been carefully selected to incite the other man into disclosing more information. Baggett failed to take the bait. Pulling an army knife from his front trouser pocket and stepping over a row of china pinks, he set a boot down in a raised bed containing three luscious-looking heads of lettuce. ‘Miss Tarragon, if you just wait there, I’ll harvest up that lettuce for you to take back to the kitchen.’

For the Salsa Fresca

Note: Ingredient portions are approximate. What you want are equal amounts of tomato, avocado, and cucumber.

  • One large tomato, diced
  • One avocado, pit removed, and diced
  • One small cucumber or one half English cucumber, diced
  • Two green/salad onions, sliced into 1cm/1/2 inch portions
  • Two red chili peppers, seeds removed and finely minced
  • One small bunch of cilantro/coriander, stalks removed and coarsely chopped
  • Juice of one lime
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions:

  • Mix ingredients together in bowl and allow to marinate at least one hour prior to serving, but no more than four hours, otherwise the lime will ‘cook’ the salsa and it will become mushy.

For the Fritters

  • Two medium zucchini/courgettes, grated
  • One teaspoon salt
  • Four tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Four tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • Two cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • One large egg, beaten
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions:

  • Place grated zucchini in a colander over the sink. Add salt and gently toss to combine; let sit for 10 minutes. Using a clean dish towel or cheese cloth, drain zucchini completely.
  • In a large bowl, combine zucchini, flour, Parmesan, garlic and egg; season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  • Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Scoop tablespoons of batter for each fritter, flattening with a spatula, and cook until the underside is nicely golden brown, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side, about 1-2 minutes longer.
  • Serve immediately, topped with salsa.