Tomatoes Times 20
Last Friday was a day that I look forward to all year long: it was when the first vine-ripened New Jersey tomatoes arrived at my local Greenmarket. Before you start thinking I really need to get a life, let me defend my tomato obsession. First, for anyone who spends any time exploring The City Cook, I think it's obvious that tomato is one of my favorite flavors. And second, when it comes to tomatoes, these were the great ones: big, gnarled, and in that distinctive orange-red color that is unmistakably local New Jersey.
My weekly neighborhood Greenmarket usually has five produce farmers and on this day, they all had tomatoes. In addition to classic New Jerseys, two of the farmers had vine-ripened heirlooms and one had baskets of little, sweet cherry tomatoes -- in deep ruby red, yellow and dark purple that was almost black.
Anyway, I bought three large NJ reds having no idea what I'd do with them. But just sliced with a pinch of my best fleur de sel, I knew they'd improve any meal I'd be serving over the weekend.
If you're worried about rising prices or just want to preserve summer's flavors, stock up and put some tomatoes away for the winter. You can freeze cherry tomatoes right off their little stems (just put them in a freezer bag; they won't defrost as if they're fresh but they'll defrost tasting better than anything out of a can or in a winter grocery store). Or slow roast regular tomatoes that you've cut in half and drizzled with a little olive oil (at 200° F for three or four hours), let cool, and then slip into freezer bags.
In the meantime, take pleasure in the arrival of summer tomatoes. Eat them raw or cooked, on their own or with other ingredients. To get you started, here are tomatoes times twenty:
- Make sandwiches with thick slices of tomato, a smear of good mayonnaise, and thick pieces of soft white Pullman bread.
- Serve room temperature pasta with a raw tomato sauce.
- Panzenella is an Italian salad made with tomato, vinegar, olive oil and chunks of stale bread. See our recipe.
- Homemade tomato juice, chilled to icy cold, makes splendid end-of-summer bloody Marys. Just purée, strain, and add a little salt.
- Tomato chutney is wonderful with cold meats and poultry.
- Your own tomato salsa served with your own corn chips is a special snack. Buy corn tortillas, cut into wedges, cook until crisp in a fry pan with 1/4-inch of canola oil, drain on paper towels, and salt immediately. We've added a link to our salsa recipe.
- Bake white fish like sea bass or snapper with tomatoes, garlic and thyme. Cook chunks of tomatoes, garlic and thyme with a little olive oil in a 350° F oven for 15 minutes. Then add the pieces of fish, nestling the fish among the juicy tomatoes, and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes until the fish is opaque. Serve with a wedge of fresh lemon.
- Make your favorite burger (beef, turkey, salmon, veggie) and serve with a thick slice each of tomato and red onion.
- The classic BLT: bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich on toast with a dab of mayonnaise. Make your own mayonnaise to raise this sandwich to an even higher level of luxury.
- The variation: BLT salad. Cook 1-inch piece of thick bacon until just crisped. Don't discard the bacon fat yet. Drain the cooked bacon pieces on a paper towel and add to a bowl of lettuce greens, chunks of tomatoes, and 2 scallions, thinly sliced. Toss with vinaigrette made with 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, and 1 tablespoon of the reserved bacon fat. You probably won't need to add salt because both the bacon and bacon fat will be salty. Serve immediately.
- Whole tomatoes stuffed with rice salad. A Greek favorite, whole tomatoes are scooped out, using the pulp to flavor the rice salad, which is served in the hollowed-out tomatoes.
- Warm tomato vinaigrette spooned over room temperature green beans. See our recipe.
- Sliced Tomatoes With Lemon-Chive Cream Dressing. See our recipe.
- Ratatouille is a way to enjoy summer tomatoes and also use up some of that zucchini that your co-workers keep bringing in to the office from their suburban gardens.
- Tomato water is a way to use very ripe tomatoes before they spoil. Use it in place of stock or to make a particularly flavorful cocktail. Here's how from Saveur Magazine.
- Tomato aspic is an old-fashioned and southern dish that has been making some updated appearances. Although some call it ketchup jello, others love it for its refreshing and tangy taste.
- Speaking of ketchup, you can make your own. Author Eugenia Bone is an apartment-living New Yorker who knows as much about canning and food preservation as any country 4-H Club member. We spoke with her last summer about canning in city kitchens and her book, Well-Preserved. We've added the link below to her recipe for making ketchup that appeared in Fine Cooking Magazine.
- Tomato soup is always a favorite. Purée cold gazpacho so that it's silky smooth and can be drunk without a spoon. Serve it icy cold in small shot glasses as a starter to a summer dinner party.
- Make a classic tomato soup, the kind that's served hot. Freeze it so that when the weather finally turns cold (a little hard to imagine while in this hot summer), it will make a satisfying lunch along with grilled cheese sandwiches.
- At its simplest, when you see baskets of little cherry tomatoes, ones that have been grown locally and gently harvested by hand, buy them as a snack. I serve them in a dish as an hors d'oeuvre, to be popped into the mouth letting the taste of summer explode.
Happy August and keep enjoying summer's bounty.