Did you know the tomato was once called
the "Apple of Paradise"? I fully understand the reason
why since one of the most tempting treats in life is the taste
of a ripe--just plucked from the vine and still warm from the
sun--summer garden tomato. Add just a sprinkling of sea salt
and I'm in heaven. This, in my opinion, is truly one of life's
simplest pleasures. Of course, there's no need to wait until
this fruit of paradise ripens to enjoy it, because there's always
fried green tomatoes or a baked green tomato pie to delight the
There's almost an endless variety
of tomatoes available to us, from the tiniest cherry tomatoes
to giant beefsteaks, to even a pear-shaped yellow tomato. Tomatoes
are rich in vitamins A and C, calcium and iron, with homegrown
tomatoes having nearly twice as much of these nutrients as commercially-grown
tomatoes. Studies have also found tomatoes to be rich in an anti-oxidant
called lycopene, a compound that protects cells from oxidants
that have been linked to cancer.
So what can you do with a bounty
harvest of summer garden tomatoes other than canning them? Here
are 10 delicious ideas suggested by Laurann Claridge, renowned
chef and Food Talk columnist for the Houston Chronicle, that
are practically guaranteed to please the tomato lover in all
- For a Rustic Tomato Sauce: chop Roma or Plum tomatoes--skin, seeds
and all--toss with lots of extra virgin olive oil, fresh chopped
garlic, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Cook over medium
heat until the tomatoes have broken down and softened quite a
bit, about 10 minutes. Toss with hot cooked pasta and fresh basil.
Serve with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, if desired.
- Make the Classic Summer Soup:
Gazpacho: Use copious
amounts of tomatoes along with garlic, a yellow bell pepper,
an onion chopped, cucumber, some wine vinegar, extra virgin olive
oil and tomato juice. Leave some vegetables chunky and puree
others with tomato juice. Serve with crostini, toasted bread
slices spread with butter, olive oil and rubbed with garlic.
- Start off the Meal with a
Crostini: Grill thick
slices of sourdough bread or a rustic country loaf then brush
with extra virgin olive oil. Meanwhile, toss chopped fresh Roma
tomatoes with minced kalamata olives and fresh oregano. Season
with freshly ground pepper and, if you desire, fresh or roasted
garlic, finely chopped. Serve atop grilled bread.
- Slice a Ripe Beefsteak Tomato: Into pieces about 1/3-inch thick, season
with fleur de sel (a gray tinged sea salt available at gourmet
stores) and freshly ground black pepper. Top with homemade blue
- Vary the Classic BLT. Using challah or brioche bread thickly
slice then toast bread. Layer with mayonnaise, (flavored with
basil, garlic or red pepper if you wish) seasoned tomatoes and
applewood smoked bacon. Or try sourdough bread, toasted and layered
with mayo, bacon, butter lettuce, seasoned tomatoes, and avocados.
(Of course, by seasoned I mean seasoned to taste with salt --
preferably sea salt -- and freshly ground black pepper.)
- Of Course, We Can't Forget
the Classic Tomato Meal:
A grilled cheese sandwich made with gooey melted American cheese
and served along side a steaming cup of fresh tomato soup.
- Speaking of Tomato Soup: Making that standby cream of tomato
soup is a cinch. Start by cooking down Roma tomatoes, skin, seeds
and all with some chopped yellow onions and a lump of unsalted
butter. Cook 10 to 15 minutes depending on the amount of tomatoes
you're cooking. Add heavy cream or half-and-half. If you need
to thin it out add vegetable or chicken stock. Season to taste
with salt, freshly ground pepper and, if desired, a pinch of
sugar. Puree then strain soup. Last, if desired add freshly torn
basil or mint leaves.
- Make Salsa: Chop garden fresh red, yellow, and even
orange hued tomatoes. Then add finely minced red onion, jalapeno
peppers to taste, fresh squeezed lime juice and fresh chopped
cilantro leaves to tomato mixture. Season with salt and pepper
and serve with warm tortilla chips or alongside grilled fish
- Make a Cool Pasta Salad: Cook pasta, drain, and while it's still
very warm toss with chopped and seeded Roma tomatoes, olives
and crumbled ricotta salata cheese. Add extra virgin olive oil
and red wine or balsamic vinegar to taste. Season with salt and
pepper. Cool then serve.
- Oven Dried Tomatoes: If you have more tomatoes on your hands
than you can ever possibly eat stockpile some for a rainy day
by oven drying them. Start with plum or Roma tomatoes, cored
and cut in half lengthwise. Sprinkle them, cut side up with kosher
salt. Let sit 1 hour. Then bake the tomatoes in a preheated 250°F
(120°C) oven for 5 to 6 hours or until they are almost dry
yet still slightly soft and plump. To store layer in a jar or
freezer bag with extra virgin olive oil and refrigerate or freeze.
- To enjoy fresh tomatoes at their
peak of flavor, use when fully ripe. Ripe tomatoes should be
completely red, reddish-orange or even a bright yellow, depending
on variety. They will have a sweet, subtle aroma and will give
slightly to gentle palm pressure.
- When purchasing, select tomatoes
at various degrees of ripeness and store them at room temperature
stem-side down in a basket or bowl on your kitchen counter or
table. The tomatoes will continue to ripen, improving both their
flavor and texture. Use the ripest fruit first, just as your
do with bananas and avocados.
- Never refrigerate a tomato that
is not fully red or ripe! Cold temperatures destroy flavor and
stop the ripening process. Once fully ripe, a tomato can be refrigerated,
but only for a few days; any longer results in flavor deterioration.
- To hasten ripening, place fresh
tomatoes in a brown paper bag with an apple. The apple gives
off a natural gas called ethylene. This gas speeds up the ripening