Thursday, October 4, 2012

You say "tomato" I say "tomahto" ...

Tomatoes ... so many types - so little time! Nothing says "summer" to me like a ripe juicy tomato. Not the uniform red variety in the grocery store - the lumpy odd shaped colorful "heirlooms" you find at the farm stand in July, August and September. Just pick one up at the Farmer's Market and take a long deep inhale. Earthy, fresh ... then taste it ... tangy and tart.  (sigh ... )

I love eating them and cooking with them. Tomatoes are another of those ingredients that can be used in a myriad of ways ... raw, baked, fried, stewed, dried, crushed; in soups, pasta, salad and sauce - as the star of a dish or the supporting cast.

Tomatoes are a hearty plant and one of most popular vegetables grown at home, aside from perhaps basil and rosemary. You can plant them in your yard or even in a pot on the patio. As a matter of fact I have a cherry tomato plant growing on my patio. I think we will be lucky to have a dozen little tomatoes when all is said and done - but who cares? I think it's fun growing them.

Tomatoes are high in Vitamins A & C, low in calories and a great source of lycopene, an antioxidant that fights free radicals. Tomatoes were first cultivated in South America and then made their way to Europe in the 1500's thanks to the Spanish explorer Cortes. They quickly spread to Italy and Britain in that same century; then off to Asia in the early 1800's. It's hard to pinpoint when we first started growing tomatoes, but it seems that the first mention of the fruit (as it botanically known to be) was around 1700.

This week I have three easy ideas for your farm stand tomatoes: raw, baked and sauced. First, the simplest and completely up to what you want in it: a salad. I joined Larry this past weekend on his trek across the county to meet up with a friend, and took a side track to the Ossining Farmers Market. It's a small market with a nice selection of vendors. Everyone had tomatoes of course, so I bought a few from each.

I also picked up some pretty peppers and cucumbers.

While I was walking around I came across a farm selling various proteins and noticed smoked kielbasa on the list. One of Larry's favorites. Great! I had our lunch mapped out!

For the salad I simply cut up a variety of ingredients: tomato, cucumber, pepper and red onion.

I picked a little fresh basil from the patio and thinly sliced (chiffonade) a few leaves. Place all in a big bowl with a good sprinkle of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and squeeze of fresh lemon. Toss and let it sit for a few minutes. As soon as the salt hits the tomatoes they will start to release their glorious juices. Just before serving give the whole thing another gentle toss.

This salad along with the kielbasa that we grilled for just a few minutes was a perfect lunch on Saturday afternoon, al fresco.


Digging around in the freezer I found a box of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry and decided to do a little tart for dinner. There is really no recipe for this one either, it's totally up to your taste.. I just rolled out the pastry and cut it into individual size portions. You could make one big one too, which I'm sure would look really pretty. I covered the pastry with a thin layer of grated parmesan cheese and gently pressed it down into the dough.

After placing them on a non-stick sheet I gave the squares a little chill in the freezer. Puff pastry always cooks better when its nice and cold. While that was happening I pre-heated the oven to 400 degrees and sliced up my tomatoes.

Give them a little pat dry on a paper towel before placing on the pastry. Make any design you want and season with a little salt and pepper.

I baked these for about 20 minutes - but keep checking yours. You want the pastry to be puffed and golden brown. Once out of the oven I topped with a drizzle of olive oil, a little cracked black pepper, fresh basil and thinly sliced scallions.

My last idea for you is a quick tomato sauce. (Recipe is below.) It's literally a 5 ingredient sauce: fresh tomato, red onion, garlic, fresh parsley and basil. I sautéed the onion and garlic in a little olive oil seasoning with salt and pepper. Then added my roughly chopped tomatoes.

Sauté over medium heat for about 5-10 minutes until the tomatoes break down. I used my wooden spoon to break them up a little. Keep stirring so the bottom doesn't stick. Then add your parsley and basil, check the seasoning and thats it!

I used this sauce two ways: once with Gaia's Breath Farm Veal Meatballs 

and the other using their Garlic Scape Pesto Ravioli. Both completely outstanding!

I hope this inspires you to go out this weekend and pick up a few beautiful tomatoes at your local market. Even if you just get a couple, slice them and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper - it's totally worth experiencing the amazing flavor. This year's crop is just outstanding!

Buon Appetito!

Simple Fresh Tomato Sauce
Makes about 4 cups

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, 1/4" dice, about 1 1/2 cups
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 lbs of tomatoes, assorted colors and sizes, roughly chopped
3/4 lightly packed chopped fresh herbs, parsley, basil and/or thyme
Kosher salt
Freshly grated black pepper

Over medium heat saute the red onion, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Saute until the onions are soft and just start to take on a little color. About 5 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and another 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and cook until the tomatoes break down and become a rustic looking sauce.  Add the fresh herbs and set aside. I used a combination of basil and parsley in mine, but use what you prefer. Thyme and rosemary or even oregano and parsley would be great combinations.

Serve warm with pasta or meatballs and a nice slice of crusty bread to soak up the juice!

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