Tag Archives: tomatoes

A Tomato Story

Some years I have a bumper crop of tomatoes, growing in a tangle of vines straight up their eight-foot trellis to touch the eaves on the south side of my house.  The summer heat radiates off the bricks and bathes the tomatoes hanging in heavy clusters of red, orange, and yellow.  The scent envelops me as I walk by, earthy and green and fecund.  I gather baskets of them, and make sauces and sandwiches and give the rest away to friends.

Other years, like this one, the thin vines seem to shiver all of the cold, damp summer.  I wait anxiously for a few ripe tomatoes in late August or early September.  But whether a bumper year or a disappointing one, there are always plenty of green tomatoes left on the vines when the chill of late fall hits.

I gather these late bloomers and bring them inside before the first frost.  They aren’t as juicy or fragrant as those that ripened on the vine, but they are still better than supermarket tomatoes.  I have to keep an eye on them, because there are always a few that, in spite of a nurturing environment, good companionship, and benevolent oversight, go bad and threaten to take the rest with them.  These must be firmly and swiftly dealt with.

Maybe you also have the summer’s last tomatoes, still slowly ripening on your kitchen counter.  And maybe, like mine, they refuse to ripen in orderly twos or threes, but rather in bunches that threaten to overwhelm your ingenuity.

This chutney is the perfect answer to the tomato problem.  It is a beautiful, deep garnet color that just cries out for you to taste a spoonful.  And when you do, it is sweet and spicy and sour and salty all at once.  It has a definite fiery kick from the cayenne, which brings back a bit of summer in every bite.  I’ve been spreading it on sandwiches and topping slices of cheese with a dollop.  It would not go amiss alongside roasted chicken either.

Tomato Chutney

(adapted from My Bombay Kitchen,via The Traveler’s Lunchbox)

  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped   
  • 1/2 cup thinly-sliced garlic (about one large head)
  • 1/2 cup finely-julienned peeled ginger
  • 1 1/2 cups malt or cider vinegar
  • 1/2 to 1 cup raisins
  • 2 cups turbinado/raw sugar, or half light brown and half white
  • 1 to 3 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tsp salt

First, open a few windows. Place all the ingredients (start with the smaller amounts given) in a heavy nonreactive pot and bring to a boil, stirring so everything gets well combined. Lower the heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the chutney reaches the consistency of a soft jam. This will probably take at least 2 hours; you can speed things up by increasing the heat, but then you’ll need to remember to stir much more frequently. Particularly once it starts getting thick it can burn in a flash.

Adjust the balance of sugar, salt and vinegar while the chutney is still warm. Add more cayenne if you’d like it hotter.

To can for shelf-storage, sterilize four or five 8-oz jars.  Bring the chutney back to a rolling boil for 2 minutes, then proceed with your favorite canning method. Otherwise, it will keep for a few weeks in the refrigerator.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts; recipe can easily be doubled

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End of Summer Casserole

Hello, anxiety, my old friend.  So you’ve come to pay me a visit.  Sit down.  Have a cup of tea (It’s herbal—neither of us needs any extra caffeine).  Will you be staying long?

Life is full right now.  My head is full.  Too much to think about, work is nutty, lists swirl in my head like dust devils, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day for everything I want to accomplish.

And when I’m feeling stressed, I don’t tend to cook very interesting things.  Meals are reduced to a formula: Big vegetable, medium protein, small carb.  Shuffle those cards again for the next meal.  Bonus points for cooking enough to last for three days.

Finally, after a very long week, I got my tuckus down to the farmer’s market on Saturday morning (and let me clarify that by morning I mean noon) for some hard core therapy.   I guess you could call it retail therapy, but with vegetables instead of shoes.

The sun came out and did magical things to piles of bumpy winter squash and peppers and sweet corn and potatoes.  The heirloom tomatoes beckoned, then sort of jumped into my bag: one pear-shaped red one with a dark green bump on top, a craggy orange one, an oblong yellow one like a big fat thumb, and a red, perfectly round tomato the size of a baseball.  And there were zucchini the size of those little baseball bats the bad boys used to keep in their cars.

Somehow, by the time I hauled my precious loot to the car, I had regained some perspective.  I was breathing a little more deeply, maybe even smiling.

The end of summer is a time of bounty at the farmer’s market, when the tastes of summer mingle with the flavors of fall.  The ripe produce needs little more than a nudge to become a warm, comforting meal.

This layered casserole does justice to the simple, earthy flavors of fall.  The onions and tomatoes provide sweetness, the zucchini slumps softly, and the potatoes soak up all of the juices but remain pleasantly chewy.  The flavors marry, but retain their own identities in spite of the union.

End of Summer Casserole

(adapted from Whole Living magazine)

  • 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 medium tomatoes, sliced ¼ inch thick
  • 1 medium zucchini, sliced ¼ inch thick
  • 2 medium potatoes, sliced ¼ inch thick
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 tbsp grated pecorino cheese

Heat oven to 375 Fahrenheit.  Heat 2 tbsp oil over medium heat and sauté onion until soft and golden, about 10 minutes.  Spread the onions on the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish.  Overlap tomatoes, potatoes, and zucchini in two layers on top of onions.  Sprinkle with thyme, salt, pepper and pecorino, drizzle with remaining tbsp of olive oil.  Bake covered for 30 minutes.  Uncover and bake until golden, about 40 minutes more.

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There have been picnics

There have been picnics, but not enough.

There was an afternoon at the beach with the setting sun unfurling a spangled ribbon across Puget Sound, and lazy Sundays watching the sailboats on Lake Union, and time spent lying on a blanket staring up into the fluttering leaves of summer trees.  We ate on restaurant patios every chance we got.

But I haven’t gotten full use out of the hammock for this year, and we haven’t grilled enough, and frankly, I am not ready for fall just yet.

I need just a few more weeks of sunshine.

At the farmer’s market this Saturday, it was obvious that we are teetering on a razor’s edge between summer and fall.  The sunshine warmed the top of my head.  There were still berries, but more apples and pears.  Boxes of gourds cozied up next to piles of sweet corn.

This is the time of year when tomatoes come into their own in Seattle.  After a long, cool summer, we finally have tomatoes of every color, heavy and fragrant, filled with warmth and sunlight.

These juicy heirloom tomatoes are fragile.

The utmost care is needed to get them home without splitting, and they will not tolerate long storage.  The simplest preparation is the best way to enjoy the range of heirloom tomato flavors—some tart, others sweet or mild.

These tartines are made with only a few ingredients, so don’t skimp on the quality of the bread and mozzarella.  And hurry before tomato season is over.

Late Summer Tartine

  • Close grained French bread, sliced
  • Sliced Heirloom Tomatoes
  • Fresh Mozzarella
  • Basil leaves
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper

Run bread under the broiler to toast lightly on the top side only.  Layer slices of tomatoes, thinly sliced mozzarella cheese, and basil leaves.  Stir oil and vinegar together, then drizzle lightly over tartines.  Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.

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Gazpacho 2

Gazpacho

Gazpacho has been on my mind lately.  As I’ve waited for my tomatoes to ripen, I’ve been perusing recipes and mentally rejiggering them to suit my own requirements.  I wanted to reproduce the gazpacho I had in Spain last summer at a back-alley outdoor café in the shadow of the Alcazar, with the sun shining just beyond the sharp shadows of the table umbrellas, a Toledo alley cat winding around my ankles, the clatter from inside the kitchen, the smell of baking breading and cigarette smoke, and a first sip that was so cold and refreshing I could feel it all the way down to my hot, dusty toes…in short, I wanted to do the impossible.

Never have I seen such a terrible summer for tomato lovers.  I’ve harvested a few cherry tomatoes, but the rest of my crop remains steadfastly green.  If they could move indoors with me, out of the damp chill, I’m sure they would.

At the Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning, I perused zillions of beautiful organic tomatoes, grown in sunnier parts of the state.  They were gorgeous, and no doubt worth the four or five dollars a pound they were going for.  But then!  Then I happened upon a corner in which rested box upon box of the unlovelies.  I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for bargain rate cosmetically challenged tomatoes all summer with no luck.  At last, at last…here they were.  Organic tomatoes, $2.00 per pound.  A crowd jostled around the crates, one person even squatting over a box of tomatoes like a territorial lioness protecting her kill from hyenas.  A little overripe, or misshapen or cracked, all different sizes and colors, they really were beautiful in their own way.

This gazpacho may not be exactly the same, but it’s darned close to the one I had in Spain.  Cold, crisp, bright with vinegar and tangy with fresh vegetables, it is a taste of summer.  If you should be so fortunate as to have ripe tomatoes in your garden, you are already half way there.  Serve in mugs for an easy walk-around first course, or in bowls garnished with chopped hard-boiled egg and a hunk of crusty bread on the side.

 

Gazpacho

  • 4 cups seeded, diced tomatoes tomatoes
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 red pepper
  • ¼ cup finely diced red onion
  • 1 3-inch long piece of baguette, crust discarded
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp Sherry vinegar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ cup olive oil

Soak bread in water for 1 minute, then squeeze dry, discarding soaking water.

Combine bread, garlic, vinegar, salt, sugar, cumin, peppers, and cucumber, and half of tomatoes.  Blend until smooth.  Add remaining tomatoes and olive oil, blend until tomatoes are finely chopped.

Transfer to a glass container and chill until cold, approx. 3 hours.  Season with additional salt and vinegar as needed before serving.

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Amazing Race/Amazing Dinner

I enjoy a civilized dinner party with carefully set table, candles, smoothly orchestrated courses, and clean forks for dessert as much as the next person.  But those more subdued pleasures in no way detract from the satisfaction to be found in a more free-form feast, with a constant stream of buzzes from the front door intercom, shrieks and hugs, piles of shoes kicked off in the entryway, an uncertain headcount for the night, surprise contributions of wine, and dinner eaten cheerfully from sweatpant- clad laps around the TV.

Sunday night marked the beginning of the new season of The Amazing Race, and thus the resumption of my boyfriend Michael’s hostly duties.  For years, a group of reality TV aficionados has made their picks, ponied up their cash, and gathered at Michael’s place for a biweekly dinner and viewing party, heavy on the catcalls and trash-talk.

Michael gave serious consideration to the menu for the premiere, and decided on penne in two incarnations, with salad, garlic bread, and freshly baked cookies for dessert.

He started his traditional meat sauce mid-afternoon, and it simmered peacefully away on the stove while we attended to the serious business of a Sunday afternoon–lounging, that is.  At zero hour minus 30, the kitchen already filled with the rich scent of meat sauce goodness, I started the second dish–Penne with Spicy Sausage and Broccolini.

I was still finishing up my culinary efforts (and Michael was updating his spreadsheet for the betting pool) when people started to arrive.  Rob was first and promptly enlisted as sous-chef in charge of parmesan grating.  As I wielded the garlic press and threw red pepper flakes with reckless abandon, the place filled up with nine or ten members of the crew, Niki and Lacey bearing freshly made bread and bottles of booze, everyone jockeying for position with glasses and bottle opener, loudly catching up with each other, and just generally being festive.

It is a satisfying feeling to engage in a successful collaborative cooking effort, then serve the results to such an appreciative group.  In very short order, plates were loaded and the raucous conversation had moved to the living room.

Michael made a mad dash into the kitchen with his iphone, and was able to get some photos before the pots were completely scraped clean.  It was too late for the salad with four kinds of tomatoes, fresh-picked outside my backdoor hours before.

penne with meat sauce

Then we settled down to some serious eating, and not-so-serious TV watching.  We sized up this season’s contestants, came up with ridiculous nicknames for the teams, cheered, booed, and shouted at the TV.  Warm cookies were eaten, and a good time was had.

By the time I was finally home and snuggled in bed with my hot water bottle and cat, it was after eleven o’clock, long past my bedtime.  When I started my work day at 6:30 am on Monday, I’ll admit to a moment of regret for having lived la vida loca the night before, but as Michael is fond of saying: I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

Penne with Sausage and Broccolini

Penne with sausage and broccolini

(Adapted from Everyday Italian by Giada DeLaurentis)

I have made many variations on this same basic dish, which goes together quickly, and is so salty/spicy/chewy/ satisfying.  This can also be made vegetarian by using a meat-substitute sausage, for those so-inclined.

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch broccolini, stems trimmed, and cut in one-inch pieces
  • 1 pound penne or other small pasta
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound spicy Italian sausage, cut in rounds
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-2 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Directions

Cook the broccolini in a large pot of boiling salted water until crisp tender, about 1 minute.  Remove the broccolini, saving the cooking water. Bring the reserved cooking water back to a boil.

Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook, until browned and juices form, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, onions, and red pepper flakes, and saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, when the reserved cooking water is boiling, add the penne and cook until al dente, tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about11 minutes.

Strain the penne, reserving one cup of the cooking water.

Return the broccolini to the pan with the sausage mixture and toss to coat with the juices. Add the pasta to the skillet, with enough of the reserved cooking water to moisten.  Stir in the Parmesan and serve immediately.

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