What's In Season: Tomatoes
New Ways to Enjoy New Jersey Tomatoes
September is peak time for local tomatoes. I know that heirlooms are all the rage, but for flavor, to me a New Jersey tomato is the gold standard. I appreciate the seed-scholarship that's necessary to cultivate and grow heirlooms and I respect the gardener's obsession to produce these gnarly red/yellow/orange/purple/white tomatoes. But all too often I've been seduced by their glamour only to get them home and find them tasteless.
So I may live in New York but when it comes to tomatoes, I'm a Jersey girl.
With piles of local tomatoes filling our produce markets, Greenmarkets and farm stands, some of us have become a little bored by the tomato combinations that thrilled us only two or three weeks ago. Am I the only one who is close to having enough tomatoes with fresh mozzarella? Or bowls of cold Gazpacho?
Knowing that all too soon it will be mid-winter and summer tomatoes' bright, acidic taste will be a longed-for memory, I went looking for new ideas for what to do with the pounds of tomatoes that our CSA share gave us this week. I pulled off my bookshelf my loved copy of Lee Bailey's Tomatoes. It's a tidy volume, five-by-seven, 80 pages with only 35 recipes. But each is perfection.
Lee Bailey was one of my all-time favorite food writers and cookbook authors. When he died in 2003 at the age of 76 he had written 18 books, each of them a treasure for how they put everyday cooking into real life but still making it stylish. Although his titles included City Food and Cooking for Friends, his life wasn't always like mine: he also wrote of cooking southern cuisine and plantation houses, and he built an entire book about living and cooking in California wine country. But he was a home cook who was always realistic about cooking for others, making things special without adding stress, using the ingredients at hand, and making meals something to look forward to even if he were dining alone.
In the introduction to Tomatoes, Lee Bailey wrote that a friend suggested: "Lee, why don't you do a little book about tomatoes for me?" And so he did. You get the feeling that it was all that effortless for him. A friend would ask and he would answer with something as perfect as this volume. Or dinner for 6 on a weeknight.
The tomato book is out of print so you can envy me having this collection of recipes that include ideas for using the last of summer's fresh tomatoes, heirloom or not. Recipes include tomato soufflé, bread pudding, salsa, and aspic with crab salad, plus a popular Italian salad called Panzanella that's made with fresh tomato, chunks of other vegetables, and cubes of stale bread. We're added a link below to an appealing version of Panzanella from Martha Stewart.com.
My current favorite way to eat tomatoes, in a recipe adapted from Lee Bailey's book, is in a warm tomato vinaigrette that I pour over tender haricots verts. It could be just as wonderful on green or yellow beans, chunks of zucchini, or broccoli florets.
Green Beans With Warm Tomato Vinaigrette
2 pounds green beans or haricots verts
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup finely minced red onion
2 medium garlic cloves, finely minced
1 1/2 cup peeled, seeded and finely chopped tomatoes (local in-season NJ tomatoes are ideal)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup dry white wine
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely minced cornichons or baby gherkins
3 tablespoons small capers, rinsed and drained
- In a small saucepan, heat the oil and add the finely minced red onion and garlic. Cook over low heat until the onions are wilted and the garlic is soft. Do not brown.
- Add the tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add the vinegar, wine, salt and several grinds of black pepper. Simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes until the mixture is reduced to a thick sauce.
- Remove from the heat and add the minced cornichons and capers. Stir to combine.
- Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Do not add more salt until after adding the cornichons and capers since these will also add salt.
- While the vinaigrette is reducing, rinse and trim the green beans, leaving them whole.
- In a large pot of salted boiling water or in the microwave, cook the beans until they are tender.
- Drain and let cool to room temperature.
- Place the room temperature beans in a serving bowl.
- Drizzle the warm vinaigrette over the beans.
Makes 6 servings of beans and about 1 1/2 cups of vinaigrette. Have pieces of your favorite bread handy to mop any any leftover dressing.