Tomato season is here. So is their fragrance. Their colors and their flavors also lead us to appreciate the abundance of our harvest. Yet appreciation may not be enough. There are so many types and culinary uses for tomatoes that we often times are at a loss as to what to do. Friends and relatives and neighbors are only too enthusiastic to take some of these fruits off our hands but only to a point. After this threshold is reached we are left to our own devices. And of course the quality is heads and shoulders above the grocery store varieties which are usually round and red as can be with thick skin and virtually no flavor. Visually these store bought tomatoes are beautiful and exceptional to look at but less than ideal to eat.
Recently a member of my family sent away for mail order New Jersey tomatoes based on her experience eating these wonderful beauties. Unfortunately they were like winter grown tomatoes in Florida that were sent out of state— lovely to look at but not very tasty, lacking in culinary brilliance. But that still leaves the bounty of our backyard or the wonder of buying fresh and delicious at the farmer’s markets.
Here are a few of the many ways we can enjoy this wonderful vegetable which is technically the fruit of the tomato plant. For example beefsteak tomatoes are magnificent for slicing on sandwiches —made with thick white bread, mayo, salt and pepper. It is one of my absolute favorites. Simple, sublime, and almost decadent. Or, plum or roma tomatoes are terrific for sauces. Heirlooms are wonderful for those special saturday afternoon salads with a glass of Fume Blanc. Or sweet cherries are terrific for snacking, appetizers and decoration. Here are some specific recipes that may assist in cleaning up your gardens.
1) Caprese Salad with Beefsteak, Mozzarella, and Basil— This combination of delights can be prepared in minutes. You merely cut and layer the ingredients in raw form or pan fry them with salt and pepper and extra virgin olive oil.
2) Fresh Plum or Roma Tomato Sauce—3 Lbs ripe tomatoes; 3 T chopped basil or marjoram; salt and pepper and Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVO).
Procedure:Add tomatoes and basil to a heavy pot over medium heat. When tomatoes have broken down pass through a food mill or lightly puree in a food processor.Thicken if you wish by reheating over low heat until thick as you want. Add salt and pepper and EVO.
3) Roasted “Sun Dried” tomatoes— This simple process gives you scores of dried tomatoes to cook with or snack on at a fraction of the cost you would pay at the market. Further you can control the amount of juice you allow to be left in the tomato by drying your own instead of purchasing a bag of overly dried virtually scorched and blackened tomatoes.
Ingredients: Romas or Plum tomatoes are so plentiful this time of year that you can expect prices to be plummeting. They can be kept for over a week in your fridge. Buy about 5 pounds and set aside half of them. Wash those you are using and cut each one in half from top to bottom. Using parchment paper or spraying with vegetable oil place each half on a sheet tray. Expect to be able to dry about 24 halves.
Procedure: Heat your oven no more than 180F - 200 F. Leave the oven door ajar with a wine cork for about 2-3 hours. Check them every 30 minutes after 1 hour. These little morsels are delicious, good for you and a wonderful addition to roasts, braises and sautes. They are easy to make and fun to do with your family and friends. Bon Appetite.
4) Red or Golden Tomato Gazpacho, This was usually only known as a simple soup, created in Andalusian Spain. Alissa Green, the cookbook author, tells us that originally in the 15th century, the dish was primarily made of mashed up bread, garlic, and vinegar which is not too shabby either. Today it’s more frequently a refreshingly cold soup made of 1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads; chopped up vegetables, like the New World tomato brought to Spain from Peru. Not surprisingly the Aztec name sounds familiar, Tomatl.
Here’s one particular list of ingredients to include which makes 2 Qts. It’s also good to know that there is no one correct recipe here: 1/4 cup croutons; 2 t red wine vinegar; 2 1/2 lbs golden or red tomatoes- cored and chopped; 1 seeded and chopped yellow bell pepper; 1T chopped garlic; 1/2 c chopped red onion; 1 t smoked paprika (Pimenton); 6 T EVO; 2 kirby cucumbers peeled, deseeded, and chopped.
Procedure: Soak the croutons in the red vinegar and set aside. Combine tomatoes, EVO and the rest of the ingredients in a blender. Add sea salt and ground pepper. And add croutons on top. I like to some times add a cup of V-8 to the other ingredients in the blender and then chill for 2 hours. Delicious!
5) Tomato, cherry salad with soft tofu and shiso is another special salad created by Chef David Chang in his thoughtful cookbook and restaurant in Manhattan, Momofuku. You can grow the Japanese plant shiso or look for it in farmer’s markets that specialize in Asian greens and vegetables.
Ingredients: Serves 4. 1 block silken Tofu,drained; 2 pints cherry tomatoes; 1/4 sherry vinegar; light soy; Asian sesame oil; 1/2 cup grape seed or other neutral oil; salt and black pepper; shiso leaves, torn or rolled into a tight cigar and thinly sliced.
Procedure: Cut the tofu into 1 inch pieces; cut the tomatoes in half; Stir the vinegar, soy sauce, seame and grape seed oil and mix in a large bowl to coat the tomatoes. Add pieces of tofu and sprinkle with salt. Top each person’s portion with dressed tomatoes and the shiso chiffonade.
6) Roast Beets, Avocado, Heirloom Tomatoes, Pear slices, and Watercress
This popular salad provides wonderful mouth appeal. And is appreciated by all. It’s a bit time consuming but worth the trouble.
Procedure: Thoroughly rinse the beets , remove a thin slice at each end, and carefully cut them into quarters or eights if large. Cover the slices with aluminum foil. Roast the beets in the oven at 450 F. Remove from the oven to see if a knife easily pierces the vegetable after 45 minutes.. Return to oven for another 15-20 minutes if not. Remove from oven, open the foil and place in a small bowl in the refrigerator. Slice the Heirloom tomatoes 1/2 inch wide and set aside.
Next open a can of pears in their juices. Make a “Pear Vinaigrette” by pouring the pear juice into a small bowl, while placing the pears in a separate bowl. Combine 2 parts EVO, 1 part pear juice and 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard. Mix the oil, juice and mustard together and taste. Add a pinch of sea salt if too sweet. Plate a small handfull of watercress in the middle of each salad plate. Place the tomato slices on top of the greens overlapping one another. Do not dress the salads until you serve your guests or simply place the dressing on the table for guests to dress their own salads. Enjoy.
7) Fried Green Tomatoes— Fall can be upon us faster than we expect which leaves many a tomato left with insufficient warmth and sunshine. I am told many people feel the same way. I am one who loves the Fall but i may not be in the majority. The result of such weather change can be green tomatoes. Often too many to mention . But don’t suffer too long because they are delicious fried and made into chutney as two simple examples.
Frying green tomatoes are best to my taste if you add one or more tasty herbs and spices like oregano, sage, thyme, cardamon, and marjoram. A light dusting of Italian bread crumbs is particularly nice as well. If you don’t have the time to make your own, i recommend Progresso’s version. You can also leave any egg wash out and merely wet the tomatoes and dunk them in bread crumbs. Fry with EVO and an ounce of unsalted butter with salt and pepper to taste.
These several recipes can enable you to take advantage of all that extra tomato produce you can’t give away or may not want to given the options you may not have considered. Each recipe employs another type of tomato or another way to prepare delicious sauces, condiments, salads and possibly entrees you hadn’t considered. Enjoy and send me your special way of capitalizing on your bumper crop of tomatoes so we can all benefit.
Contact Chef Zox with questions or comments and new recipes at www.zoxkitchen.com or email us at [email protected] Eat well while eating alone or with others.