Make Central Coast Produce the Star of Your Next Holiday Party

By Randy Graham

When you think of fruit and vegetables from California, you may think about produce harvested in the Salinas or San Joaquin valleys. Me? I think about the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables grown on the farms of California’s Central Coast and valleys.

Most fruits and vegetables are low in calories and high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Pistachio nuts, for example, are high in potassium; two ounces of pistachios contain more potassium than a large banana. Plums are rich in antioxidants, which fight free radicals, helping to prevent heart diseases and stroke. Pumpkins have a low-calorie count, making them a weight loss-friendly food. Zucchini is a nutritional, power-packed veggie high in vitamins A, B6, C, and folate.

Bonus — all four are grown on the Central Coast!

With the holidays coming up, so too will the holiday gatherings. Why not ditch the chips-and-dip routine and bring along a healthy, locally-grown dish instead?

Here are a few of my recipes that feature some of our region’s best fare. They’re sure to be the talk of your holiday potluck!

Granita, Watermelon Cubes, 
and Pistachios

Granita is a frozen dessert made from sugar, water, and assorted flavors. That’s all there is 
to it.

The key to good granita is to use the freshest 
of ingredients. In this recipe, the combination 
of fresh ginger, fresh jalapeño, and fresh-squeezed lime juice explodes on your palate. 
The flavor of the watermelon is a bonus. 
The bold flavors in this granita linger a little too long on the palate to use it as a palate cleanser between courses, as is sometimes done. It does, however, make for a beautiful dessert!

Visit the Santa Barbara Pistachio Company 
for farm-fresh pistachios. They are located at 
3380 Highway 33, Ventucopa. See them also 
at the Ojai and Santa Barbara Certified 
Farmers’ Markets.


1 cup sugar

3 1/2 cups water

2 tablespoons fresh ginger (peeled and chopped fine)

1 jalapeño (seeds removed, chopped fine)

Zest of 1 lime (chopped)

3/4 cup fresh lime juice

4 cups watermelon (1-inch cubes)

4 teaspoons pistachio nuts (shelled, roasted, 
and chopped)
2 tablespoons fresh mint (chopped coarsely)


Combine the sugar, water, ginger, and jalapeño in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer 5 minutes, remove from the heat. Cool then strain into a bowl. Stir in the lime 
zest and juice. Pour into a flat container that will hold the mixture 1 inch high and fit into your freezer. Freeze for 2 hours, stirring every 
30 minutes to form a slush.

Place watermelon cubes in a large bowl and toss with the mint. To serve, put a half-cup of granita in a glass, add a cup of the watermelon, sprinkle with a teaspoon of pistachios and top with a 
small spoonful of granita. Garnish with a small sprig of mint and serve immediately.

Savory Pumpkin Soup

I make a similar soup with butternut squash. So, one day last year I thought maybe I could substitute fresh pumpkin for the squash and have an entirely new soup recipe. I experimented until I got the herbs and spices just right, and before you could say “Bob’s your uncle,” my wife and I were enjoying this savory soup. It is the perfect fall/winter belly-warmer-upper.


4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 white or yellow onion (chopped)

2 cloves garlic (peeled and minced)

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage

1 tablespoon fresh parsley (chopped)

8 cups fresh pumpkin (peeled, seeded, 
 and cut into cubes)

2 cups vegetable broth

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/2 cup heavy cream (plus extra for garnish)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper


In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the garlic, turmeric, ginger, curry, and parsley. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute more.

Add the pumpkin and vegetable broth. Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes, or until the pumpkin has softened completely.
Transfer the soup (you may need to do this in batches) to a blender and process until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and add the lime juice, cream, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine and cook until warmed through. To serve, ladle into bowls and drizzle cream on top. I like to serve this with a fresh loaf of crusty rustic bread.

Tip: This recipe makes enough soup for four adults. It can easily be doubled if you need more!

Squash Stack Appetizers 
with Chèvre

This is a simple grilled appetizer featuring zucchini and yellow squash with olive oil, salt, and pepper. When topped with chèvre and mozzarella cheese — and then drizzled with a thick balsamic glaze — it looks and tastes fantastic. This is an easy and flavorful way to 
use that end-of-the-season squash in your vegetable garden.


2 medium zucchini squash (cut into 1/2 inch rounds)

2 yellow squash (cut into 1/2 inch rounds)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

6 ounces mozzarella cheese (cut into 1/8-inch round slices that are the same width as the veggie rounds)

6 ounces chèvre cheese

12 teaspoons thick balsamic glaze


Preheat grill to medium-high heat (about 500 degrees). Prepare a baking sheet with 
parchment paper.
Place squash rounds in a large baggie. Add oil, salt, and pepper. Shake to coat evenly. Grill squash rounds for 2 minutes on one side. Turn rounds over and grill for 1 minute more.

Lay a zucchini round on the parchment paper. Top with a slice of mozzarella cheese, then a piece of yellow squash. Top with a teaspoon of chèvre cheese, then another piece of yellow squash. Secure stack with a toothpick. Repeat for other stacks. You should get about 12 stacks with this recipe — enough appetizers for six adults.

Place baking sheet with stacks in an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Bake for about 2 minutes to soften the cheese. Remove from oven and transfer to a serving platter. Drizzle with balsamic glaze. Serve while still warm.

Sausage and Mushroom Lasagna with Red Pepper Sauce

This recipe makes enough lasagna for six hungry adults. It takes about an hour and a half to prep and get into the oven, and then another 40 minutes or so to bake, but the time you take will be well worth the effort! Although I make this with a vegetarian sausage, any Italian sausage will do.

Serve with a round of French bread and a fresh garden salad for a complete meal. Pair this with a dark, full-bodied red wine such as Syrah.


4 Italian sausages (remove casing)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (divided)

1 pound fresh cremini mushrooms (cleaned and sliced)

2 cups white onion (chopped fine)

3 large garlic cloves (minced)

2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves (chopped)

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

4 red bell peppers (sliced thin)

2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes (drained)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

7 ounces fresh porcini mushrooms (cleaned and chopped)

1 1/2 cups hot water

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup flour

3 cups whole milk

Pinch of nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste

1 9-ounce package Barilla Oven Ready Lasagna Sheets

8 ounces whole milk mozzarella cheese (grated)

6 ounces Parmesan cheese (finely grated)


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a 9×13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
Red Pepper Sauce Directions:

In a large skillet, brown the sausage slices over medium-high heat. Be sure to brown both sides of sausage slices. Transfer sausage to a bowl and set aside.

Using the same large skillet, add 1 tablespoon oil, cremini mushrooms, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook mushrooms over moderate heat until most of the liquid evaporates. Remove from heat and add to the sausage mixture.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet and cook the onions with the garlic, rosemary, pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Cook until onions are soft. Stir in peppers and tomatoes and cook over moderately low heat, occasionally stirring, until peppers are very soft, about 20 minutes. Set sauce aside.

Purée pepper sauce. Transfer sauce to a large saucepan and stir in balsamic vinegar. Add sausage to sauce and simmer, uncovered, for 
5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Porcini Mushroom Directions:

In a heavy saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk flour into the butter and cook for 
2 to 3 minutes. Add milk, whisk, and bring to a boil. Stir in porcini, nutmeg, and salt and 
pepper to taste and simmer over low heat, occasionally whisking, until thickened, about 
5 minutes. Set aside.


Add mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses to a small bowl and stir to blend. Set aside.

Spread enough pepper sauce in the prepared baking dish to coat the bottom. Add 3 lasagna sheets to cover the sauce, a third of the porcini mushroom mixture, a third of the cheese, and a third of the remaining pepper sauce. Repeat twice, reversing the order of pepper sauce and cheese at the end (so that cheese is on top). You will have a few lasagna sheets leftover.

Bake uncovered for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.