Tomatoes

Fourth in a series of archived food columns. 

 

The best part of the summer is here – my backyard tomatoes are ripe! I wait all year for this, anxiously watching my plants as the first tinge of orange starts to appear. This year a rabbit tried to stymie my plans, eating three entire plants as soon as I got them set out – but thank goodness, the replacements survived. There’s nothing better than a tomato salad that went from garden to table in under three minutes – so that is my first recipe for you this month.

 Tomatoes, like pretty much all fruits and vegetables, are very good for you – very high in vitamins C and A, and packed with antioxidants, including lycopene and beta-carotene. Lycopene is only found naturally in red things – tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit – and I find it a lot easier to include tomatoes in my diet regularly than any of the others. Lycopene is found in cell walls, so unlike many other good things its availability is enhanced by cooking – canned tomatoes display most of the health benefits of their fresh incarnation.  Cooking with a healthful fat like olive oil actually increases the lycopene amounts even more – so try the second recipe for a great healthy (but most importantly, delicious!) reminder of summer.  

Recipes: Insalata Caprese, Roasted Tomato Sauce, Greek Blue Cheese and Tomato Spread

Tomato and Fresh Mozzarella Salad (Insalata Caprese) 

1 good-sized tomato

One small ball fresh mozzarella, or 1/3 of a large ball

Fresh basil

Choice of drizzle – olive oil and vinegar, your favorite vinaigrette dressing, etc.

  • Slice the tomato into ¼” or 1/3” slices. Poke the seeds out, so the slices aren’t so drippy. Slice the mozzarella into approximately the same number and thickness of slices.
  • Arrange the slices in an overlapping circle on a small salad plate, alternating tomato, mozzarella, tomato… until you run out or the circle meets up.
  • Add the basil. If you really like basil, and you have enough, I find it very pretty to insert a leaf into the overlapping pattern in the ring – so the pattern runs tomato, mozzarella, basil, tomato, etc. If you only have a little basil, it is also nice to cut the leaves into thin ribbons and scatter them over the ring.
  • Drizzle with a good olive oil, Italian dressing, Caesar Vinaigrette with Parmesan, or whatever catches your fancy.
  • Serve soon after making – the fresh mozzarella loses a bit of its wonderful texture after, say, sitting in the refrigerator overnight soaking up tomato juice.

 Roasted Tomato Sauce A rich and flavorful tomato sauce, without all of the fuss and attention a stove-top sauce requires. 

4 lbs very red summer tomatoes (12-16 medium-sized ones)

1 lb sweet onions

5 large cloves garlic

2 Tbls fruity green olive oil

1 tsp salt, or more to taste

3 Tbls coarsely chopped fresh basil

  • Peel the tomatoes in the usual way: cut a cross in the bottom of each one with a sharp knife and put them in boiling water for 1 minute. Transfer them from the hot water directly into cold water, then slip off their skins and trim them over a bowl, catching all the juice.
  • Cut the tomatoes into large chunks or wedges. Peel and chop the onions, and peel and slice the garlic.
  • Toss together all ingredients, including juice, and spread it all evenly over a large baking sheet with edges. You can also use a 9×13 pan, but you may have to cook a bit longer to compensate for the reduced surface area.
  • Put in a 375 oven and roast for 2 – 2 ½ hours, stirring once after the first hour, and then again every 30 minutes or so. Most of the liquid will cook away, and the tomatoes will melt into a soft, thick, slightly caramelized marmalade.
  • This recipe will make a dinner’s worth, 2-2 ½ cups. If you would like to can this sauce, I’ve found that a full 9×13 pan using these proportions (approximately two recipes) nicely fills a quart canning jar.

 Greek Blue Cheese and Tomato Spread

6-8 servings, about 2 ½ cups

2 lbs ripe tomatoes, cored, halved and seeded

3/4 c crumbled blue cheese (preferably aged gorgonzola), room temperature

3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, or more to taste

2 Tbls chopped fresh mint

  • Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  • We want to concentrate the tomatoes’ flavor a bit, while reducing their juiciness. Arrange the tomatoes cut side up in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour or until they shrink to half their original size. Let cool completely, and puree. (You can certainly do this a day in advance, and refrigerate until you’re ready to proceed.) If you have some especially flavorful Roma or paste-type tomatoes, experiment with using them as is. In the wintertime, don’t even think about using supermarket tomatoes for this – you can substitute around 16 oz. of good quality canned tomatoes, with no baking needed.
  • Just before serving, mash the cheeses in a bowl with a fork, and mix in the tomatoes. Don’t try to make a homogenous paste; it should be somewhat coarse, so you can taste a bit of the individual ingredients in each bite. Drizzle with the oil and stir to mix, but don’t try to completely incorporate it into the spread.
  • Transfer the spread to a shallow serving bowl, drizzle with more oil if desired, sprinkle with the mint and serve with plenty of fresh crusty bread or crackers or veggies.
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