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Bumper Crop: Tomatoes

The second in our end-of-summer blog series on ways we like to celebrate the summer's bounty.

Pulp happens each year during the Tomatina festival in Buñol, Spain, on the third Wednesday in August. (Andrea Comas – Reuters)

While the scene above does not look like something I’d want to partake in (so don’t get any big ideas, editor Joe), it did give me pause: Would getting caught in a barrage of red, ripe projectiles lessen my enthusiasm for tomatoes great and small?

I doubt it.

To date, just about any recipe I run across that calls for tomatoes (fresh, mostly) still rates at least a thorough perusal. It’s been that way for 30-plus years. No single moment in my food history comes to mind, but instead I recall a juicy jumble of BLTs and cascades of chunky sauces, each made to slightly different specifications. Tomatoes are the Freddy Astaire of summer cuisine, you see, and when I find a treatment that’s of Ginger Rogers or Cyd Charisse quality, it goes into my tomato folder; dance steps to follow on the warmest days.

Thanks to some fine cooks and chefs, bits and pieces of tomato craft have sifted into my kitchen routines that do not need clipping or saving to a file folder. From Mitchell Davis, author of “Kitchen Sense” (Clarkson Potter, 2006), I learned that brown butter (richness) with a tablespoon of capers (saltiness) is a pretty nice way to dress thick slices of ripe beefsteak tomatoes (acidity). A sprinkling of flaked sea salt, cracked black pepper and chopped flat-leaf parsley completes the 10-minute prep for a lovely salad course. I follow Marcella Hazan’s advice (from “Marcella Says…,” Harper Collins, 2004) and use one of my newfangled, swivelly vegetable peelers to remove the skins from fresh tomatoes for salads. She finds the fruit tastes riper that way; I think she’s onto something. Same goes for when she has to saute Roma tomatoes.

A slow-roasted cherry tomato, arugula pesto and crisped pork belly together on a skewer make one fine hors d'oeuvre. (Kevin Johnson)

Ripe farm-stand specimens that have remained suitably firm get the stuffed treatment; once they’re hollowed out, I usually fill them a la Julia Child, with a mixture of ground lamb, spices, pine nuts, toasted bread crumbs, and minced onion and parsley. Stripes of olive oil that slip between the pour spout and thumb will work their way down through the stuffed tomatoes as they bake, melding the flavors in a glorious way. At the Charleston Food and Wine Festival last April, it took only one bite of Anson chef Kevin Johnson’s hors d’oeuvre of slow-roasted cherry tomatoes, arugula pesto and crisped pork belly to remind me that small and simple can taste large and luscious. I’ve tried something similar, using pancetta.

Of course, I’m privileged to add to the Food section’s roster of tomato recipes as well as scan the archives. Allow me to complete my tomato reverie with some favorites:

You don’t need a hangover to appreciate the Vampiro, a morning-after cocktail that Jason Wilson touted in a recent Spirits column. A bloody mary’s a bloody shame in comparison. This updated Vampiro is a bright blend of citrus juices, onion, jalapeño, honey, Worcestershire sauce, silver tequila and tomato juice – no celery garnish required.

Soups and sauces:
You’ll find that Domenica Marchetti’s Zuppa Per Settembre (from her 2006 “Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy”), served warm or cold, marries late-season produce and can see you through the busiest back-to-school month. It achieves the right balance of roasted tomatoes and peppers, with basil and a touch of cream. Homemade croutons on the side turn it into a meal. Tomato Mojito Sauce and Tomato-Basil Relish are standards with upgrades and multiple applications.

Appetizers and entrees:
I was quite impressed with Athens Pork Tenderloin With Tomatoes, a finalist from this year’s Top Tomato contest – and not just because I was the one who tested it. Pounding the tenderloins thin enough to encase a Greek-inspired filling of tomatoes, olives, feta and mushrooms was a technique I hadn’t tried before. The dish can be done on a weeknight in less than an hour, and it’s just as good served as cold slices for lunch. In a similar ethnic mode, Jose Andres’s Domatokeftedes are small tomato-egg white patties that won’t spoil anyone’s party, as they are no-cholesterol, low-fat, low-sodium, low-calorie and a cinch to make.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention (yet again) Ann Marotto’s Fresh Tomato Pie, a Staff Favorites recipe that ran in 2005. It’s practically foolproof; the cottage cheese in the pie dough is a nice touch. I’ve made it for a few decades now, and never tire of it once the real tomatoes hit town.

Desserts, etc:
Tomato-Nut Crunch is for those folks who like fruit crumbles but find themselves just out of peaches and berries. A mixture of bread crumbs, softened butter, vanilla sugar (yes!) and pecans or walnuts becomes the streusel for layers of baked tomato slices. This is heaven with mango sorbet or aged pecorino Romano cheese. You must trust me on this.

Finally, Freezer Tomatoes is the route I choose to follow to employ all those discounted tomatoes – you know, the unlovelies in boxes under the farmers market tables. Ten pounds’ worth, some salt, sugar, onion and a little kitchen time yields four quarts of impossibly fresh-tasting tomatoes I can use year-round – and the effort’s a fraction of what you’ll expend when canning them.

-- Bonnie Benwick

By The Food Section  |  August 21, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Bumper Crop , Recipes  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, Bumper Crop, tomatoes  
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Next: Lions and Tigers and Beers -- Oh, My!


Hey Bonnie -- nothing to add on the tomatoes, but I did want to say thanks for the tipoff on the Hatch green chile (and btw, it is "chile," not "chili"). We lived in NM for several years, and while I'm hugely glad to be back home, I really miss the green chile. So I called the Wegman's near me (Baltimore), and apparently they had gotten 10 cases in and were more than glad to sell me one! I also discovered that, if you don't have a chile roaster, a few minutes on a really hot grill, then into a trash bag, works -- it just takes a lot longer!

Posted by: laura33 | August 21, 2009 8:14 AM | Report abuse

Bonnie, what a wonderful article! Love all your suggestions and recipes for this wonderful fruit!

Yesterday I spent 12 hours making heirloom tomato sauces and tomato chutney and canning it all! Here's one of the recipe:

It is not for sissies... But I just adore doing it and will be doing this once/week until the season winds down.

I've also been experimenting with different ways of roasting tomatoes and also smoking them. Now you've inspired me to tackle desserts...

Thank you for celebrating this amazing fruit so beautifully!


Posted by: VivianeBauquetFarre | August 21, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

I look forward to August soley for the tomato sandwiches. For food snobs, it's merely sliced fresh tomatoes on bread with mayonnaise, salt and pepper, preferably eaten over the kitchen sink because it can get drippy. My dad always planted a big vegetable garden every summer (he had built-in garden workers -- his kids) and we'd often head down to the garden with a salt shaker and eat sun-warm tomatoes off the vine. Now I buy them from farmers' trucks along the highway and eat my fill of fresh tomato sandwiches for as long as I can.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | August 21, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

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