It is neighbor’s garden and Farmers Market time, and one of the things that everyone has in abundance is tomatoes. Were I not completely incapable of growing anything, and had a garden, I would grow tomatoes. And yes, I can hear many of you saying there is no such thing as a black thumb, and of course I could grow things if I wanted.
To you I say the following:
I killed mint.
Yep, that scourge of the garden, practically a weed, everyone I know plants one little piece and end up with something akin to an acre of the stuff.
Still not convinced?
I KILLED A $300 SILK AND PLASTIC FICUS!
Fake tree. Dead. All the fake leaves fell off of the fake branches like a weird little autumnal scene in my living room, except they didn’t turn colors first. I was left with an odd fake twiggy thing with a few leaves holding on for dear life. I am not exactly sure what happened, but once it gave up the ghost, I knew my plant growing days were over. People who know me well call me The Cooler, and ask me to come over and just touch their more insidious weeds. I buy fresh herbs, and I shamelessly accept piles of garden goodness from my green thumb friends, and I go to the farmstands in the country and farmer’s markets in the city.
It is a shock to many how much I love to cook with tomatoes, especially great ripe fresh ones, since most people know I cannot stomach a raw tomato.
Ditto tomato juice. Gack.
But cooked, in pretty much every fashion, LOVE! You will surely find me picking slices off sandwiches, pushing chunks off of salads, and declining Bloody Mary’s. And in the summer I am likely to make Caprese Salad with watermelon subbing in for tomato. I like my bruschetta topping cooked and served warm or at room temp. All of my gazpachos are white.
However, bring some heat to the party and the tomato is my bestest friend. I love a good red sauce on my pasta. I think of ketchup as a major food group. I adore tomato soups of all warm varieties. I like them confit in olive oil, and even like tomato pudding, a really old school side dish that could easily be a dessert with just a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
So, in honor of the height of tomato season, I thought I would share some of my favorite ways to prepare them! After all, you can only eat so many of them raw before you get bored…
STACEY'S ROASTY TOMATO SOUP
For a hilarious read about Jen Lancaster making this soup, click here.
Can be served hot or cold and can easily be turned into a gajillion other recipes.
Approx 4 lbs. fresh tomatoes - I use a mix of plum and cherry for depth of flavor, but use whatever your garden grown…it is only essential they be fresh and very ripe.
1 medium sweet onion or 4 large shallots, diced fine
2 T Herbes de Provence
¼ c Olive Oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Cut tomatoes in half, toss in olive oil to coat, and arrange cut side down on 2 oiled sheet pans. Be sure that the pans have at least a 1 inch rim, otherwise you will have tomato juice all over your oven.
Add the onion or shallot evenly on top of the tomatoes. Sprinkle with the herbs and liberal salt and pepper. Roast approx 1.5 to 2 hours until skins are loose and the flesh is soft.
Peel skins off tomatoes and discard. Dump the contents of the sheet pans into a large bowl, being sure not to lose any juices. You can mash them with a potato masher for an extra chunky texture, but I often use my immersion blender to get a soup that is a good balance between smooth and chunky. Adjust seasonings to your taste.
I serve this hot, room temp, or cold with a dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream and some chopped fresh mint for grown-ups. Yes, basil is natural, but mint and tomatoes are a really summery combo, and unless I have been to visit, you should have plenty around.
Add alphabet noodles, mini meatballs, or cooked rice for kids. Stir in toasted croutons and drizzle with olive oil and shredded Parmesan for a classic Pappa al Pomodoro. Add fresh basil and garlic and you have a chunky pasta sauce.
Add fresh oregano and it becomes pizza sauce. Freezes beautifully, can be canned if you are ambitious, and lasts up to two weeks in fridge.
BROWN-BUTTER TOMATO VINAIGRETTE
3 sticks unsalted butter
6 T sherry vinegar
6 T tomato water (chop 2 large fresh peeled tomatoes into a large dice and cook over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes, then strain in a sieve lined with cheesecloth to just capture the juice. Can substitute one small can of crushed tomatoes strained)
2 T strained tomatoes (from making the tomato water)
12 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 T chopped shallot
2 t Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until browned but not burned, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and reserve, but be sure it does not congeal…should be barely warm, but still liquid to make the vinaigrette.
In a blender (or with your immersion blender), combine the vinegar, tomato water, olive oil, shallot and mustard. Blend until smooth. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the reserved butter and blend until thickened. Season to taste and set aside at room temperature until ready to serve. If you have to put it in the fridge, be sure to bring it back to room temp before serving.
I use this as a salad dressing (regular or pasta salad), but also as a dip for shrimp, skewers of veggies, or cooked chilled cheese tortellini skewered with artichoke hearts for an elegant appetizer.
6 slices bread, crusts removed and cubed (I recommend Challah, brioche, or soft white bread for this. NO sourdough, whole wheat or other full flavored breads here!) about 2 ½-3 cups cubes.
¾ c butter, melted
1 1/3 c packed brown sugar
½ t salt
½ c boiling water
20 oz homemade tomato puree (or canned if you do not have a garden full of tomatoes and too much time on your hands)
Scatter the bread cubes evenly over the bottom of a 1 ½ qt buttered casserole dish, and pour the butter over the cubes. Let absorb completely, about 10-15 minutes. Mix tomato puree with water, salt, and sugar and bring to a boil in a small saucepan. Let boil for 5 minutes, then pour over bread. Cover and bake at 325 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Serve hot.
To serve as a vegetable, leave as is, or drizzle with a splash of balsamic or sherry vinegar. To serve as a dessert, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, olive oil gelato, or crème fraîche mixed with a little bit of honey.
Yours in Good Taste,