Tomato Recipes

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With all foods, the quality of the ingredients makes a big difference. That is especially true when you are using tomatoes and even more so when you are using them uncooked. Dishes like salsa, Caprese salad, fresh tomato sauce and panzella are nearly always good no matter what the tomato. Make panzella with a really excellent heirloom variety just off the vine, however, with top-notch olive oil, fresh herbs, the best sourdough bread and home-made mozzarella, and you will be sure you’ve died and gone to Paradise. It is in these cases that the simple becomes the sublime.

Tomato Corn Salad

  • 2 large chopped tomatoes
  • 1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup chopped green onions
  • 3 Tbs minced fresh basil or parsley
  • ¼ cup vinegar1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 4 cups fresh or frozen corn
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs prepared mustard

Mix first four ingredients in large bowl. Sauté corn in olive oil until tender, add garlic and stir for about 30 seconds, add mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper. Add to vegetable mixture and toss to coat. In the winter, you can make this with frozen corn; no need to saute, since the corn was cooked enough in the blanching process when frozen. Just let it defrost and proceed with the recipe.

Copy-Cat V-8 juice

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 medium-large tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 beet, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 dash Tabasco sauce
  • 1 dash Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 small cucumbers, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley
  • Celtic sea salt & pepper

Add olive oil to a large pot over medium-high heat. Add everything except cucumbers and parsley to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cook on medium for about 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally to help break down the vegetables. Season to taste with more salt, pepper, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce as desired. Allow to cool. Remove from heat and transfer to a blender or food processor. Add parsley and 1 cucumber. Pulse 2-3 times just to break up the chunks of vegetables remaining. The consistency should be like a thick, chunky soup at this point. Add the remaining cucumber and blend for about 1 minute on high to get a nice, smooth, juice consistency. Chill.

Tomato Sandwich

  • Several slices of perfectly ripe tomato
  • Sliced bread of your choice
  • Mayonnaise (if you want to really make this a gourmet delight, use home-made)
  • Lots of napkins

Slather the bread with mayonnaise, cover with tomato slices and add salt and pepper if desired. Eat immediately, as the tomato juices will quickly turn the bread into soup if you let the sandwich sit.

Fresh Salsa I

  • 1/3 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped cucumber
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes on the vine, seeded, about 3–4 tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped sweet onion
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1–2 fresh jalapeños, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1/2 bunch of cilantro, chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • Celtic sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes up to overnight. Taste for salt and acidity before serving. If it’s too acid, sprinkle on a little sugar.

Fresh Salsa II

  • ¼ small white or red onion, minced
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 pound fresh, ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 to 3 jalapeño or serrano chiles, to taste, minced (and seeded, if you would like a milder salsa)
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, more to taste
  • 1 to 3 teaspoons fresh lime juice (optional)
  • Celtic sea salt to taste

Place minced onion in a bowl and cover with cold water. Add vinegar and let sit for 5 minutes or longer. Drain and rinse with cold water. In a medium bowl, combine remaining ingredients and stir in onions. (If your tomatoes are full of flavor, you won’t need lime juice.) Ideally, let stand at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes before eating so that flavors will blend and ripen.

Fresh Salsa III

  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
  • 2 small cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 3 large ripe tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
  • 2 Jalapeño, serrano, New Mexico or Anaheim peppers, coarsely chopped
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice, more to taste
  • Celtic sea salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Put the chopped onion and garlic in a strainer. Pour the boiling water over and then discard the water. Allow the chopped onion and garlic to fully cool and drain. Combine the drained onion and garlic with the chopped tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, and lime juice. Add salt and black pepper. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to blend the flavors.

Panzella l

  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
  • 2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced
  • 1/2-inch thick
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 red onion, cut in 1/2 and thinly sliced
  • 20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed. For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together. In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.

Panzella ll

  • 1 pound rustic bread, cut or torn in 1-inch chunks
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ pounds tomatoes, cut in 1-inch pieces
  • Celtic sea salt to taste
  • 3 Tbs red wine vinegar
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, halved length-wise and sliced thin
  • 1 shallot, sliced thin
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil

Toss bread with 2 Tbs oil and toast in 400-degree oven until light golden, about 15-20 minutes. Toss tomatoes and salt, drain in colander for 15 minutes. Whisk dressing ingredients, add bread and toss to coat; let stand 10 minutes, tossing occasionally. Stir in remaining ingredients; serve immediately.

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Tomato Varieties

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What follows is the barest skimming of tomato varieties, as there are hundreds. You’re sure to find something out there that suits your soil, gardening techniques and taste buds. As you may have guessed from my previous comments on this blog, I like these tomato varieties:

  • Mortgage Lifter – I’ve never been able to decide whether I like Mortgage Lifter or Marmande best; some years one wins out, other years the other wins out. This is a big, husky plant that will grow at least six feet tall. I’ve never had the ambition and time to see just how tall it will get, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find it would reach 10 feet or more. It tends to grow a central leader (stalk) and the branches are relatively widely spaced. The central leader does make it really easy to stake, compared to bushier plants. The fruits are large, dark pink to light red, and make good salad or slicing tomatoes. Excellent flavor. Sometimes it will crack around the stem end.
  • Marmande – another excellent eating tomato, and it bears a little heavier than Mortgage Lifter, in my experience. It’s also less susceptible to cracking. The fruits are a little smaller, but still good-sized. It was first offered by Vilmorin, in France. The town where it originated holds an annual midsummer tomato festival to celebrate this and other tomatoes. This was my first exposure to the difference between hybrid and heirloom flavor; my father gave me a nursery seedling that he had left over. I was too young as a gardener to think about saving seeds, but it started me checking out heirlooms, and I never looked back. Marmande will often set fruits in cooler weather than most tomatoes.
  • St. Pierre – Like Marmande, St. Pierre is a French heirloom. The French approach growing and eating food with a passion I admire. This one has been gracing gardens and tables since 1880. It bears heavily and tastes great. It’s also a little unusual in that it makes both a good slicing tomato and a good canner.
  • Roma – Tomatoes have been grown in Italy since at least 1548, when a letter to the grand duke of Tuscany – one Cosimo de’ Medici – noted he had received a basket of tomatoes at his Florentine estate. You can slice Romas for a salad, but this is a paste tomato, and the real value is in thick sauces, tomato paste and ketchup. They also dry fairly well and can then be packed in olive oil for winter storage. Having tried both, I would say I prefer Amish Paste to Roma.
  • Rutgers – Although it was developed by scientists at Rutgers University, it’s still an heirloom. It was bred in 1934, well before the days of GMOs and gene splicing, which goes to show you that old-fashioned methods work just fine. The focus was on breeding a tomato that would be a good canning and juice tomato and I have to say I think the breeders more than met their goals. It’s also a heavy producer.
  • Yellow Pear – these were first grown in Europe in 1805. The fruits are slightly larger than my thumb, clear yellow and very tasty, with a different flavor than the red varieties. It not only bears heavily but keeps right on pumping out great quantities of tomatoes until a hard frost finally kills it. It’s so vigorous that if you can protect it from early frosts and the weather stays halfway decent, you’ll be eating these with Thanksgiving turkey. It makes a really pretty salad with a cherry tomato variety such as Chadwick’s.
  • Chadwick’s Cherry – Alan Chadwick was a Shakespearean actor who got interested in organic gardening. He was one of the founders of the organic gardening movement (and enamored of double digging, which shows how even smart people can be led astray). He spent years in the Santa Cruz area and bred this tomato sometime in the 1960s. It’s not really a sweet tomato, but still very flavorful and productive.
  • Principe Borghese – this one is a drying tomato. In Italy, they are often simply uprooted at the point of maximum production and draped over a fence or hung from a wire in the sun. You’ll get more tomatoes if you prune a stem with lots of ripe tomatoes and hang it to dry, while leaving the rest of the plant to keep growing. The pruning stimulates production of more fruiting branches, as long as you don’t get carried away and cut it back too heavily. Once dried, they store well, and can be submerged in olive oil. The plain dried tomatoes are also good for a snack, eaten out of hand like raisins.
  • Costoluto Genovese – yep, it’s an Italian heirloom, Italians being at least as passionate about their food as the French are. This one has been around since the 18th century and is still grown in Jefferson’s Monticello gardens. It’s a sauce tomato, deeply fluted and lobed, best when the skin is removed. This one is quite heat resistant, so if you live where summers are scorchers, plant it in preference to Marmande or Mortgage Lifter.
  • Brandywine – I know this is supposed to be the best of the best as far as flavor is concerned, but I would take Mortgage Lifter and Marmande over Brandywine. It’s also not as productive as the other two, so although I’ve grown it, it’s not one of my regulars. The other disadvantage of Brandywine is that it’s a potato-leafed variety. Unlike regular-leafed tomatoes, which are self-pollinated, potato-leafed varieties will cross amongst themselves; a nuisance to seed-savers.
  • Thessaloniki – obviously, it’s a Greek variety, as evidenced by the name. Just barely makes it into the heirloom category, as it was officially introduced into the US in the 1950s by Gleckers Seedsmen of Ohio. Odds, are, however, that it’s been around a lot longer than that. It’s resistant to cracks and sun scald. Like Mortgage Lifter, this one should be staked. It matures early, compared to some of the others on this list, and has a little twang of acid in the taste.
  • Amish Paste – technically, this is a plum/roma variety, meant for sauces and such. In reality, it’s a big meaty heirloom (some weigh nearly a pound) that is plenty juicy and tasty enough to use a slicer. It originated in the area of Medford, Wisconsin – site of the oldest Amish settlement in that state – supposedly around 1870, but may very well be older. However, it was seeds of the variety from Lancaster, Pennsylvania that were first commercialized. This one is indeterminate, and really should be staked, especially since the fruit is heavy enough to break down the branches. The foliage can be a little thin, which increases the risk of sunscald, but I haven’t found it to be a major issue.

Choosing the Best Tomato Varieties

If I could only have one slicing tomato, I would go with Marmande. It’s a little more prolific than Mortgage Lifter and not as prone to cracking. Marmande is a semi-determinate and doesn’t need the extra-tall stakes required for Mortgage Lifter. It also sets fruit a little earlier, although the difference is not dramatic. If I could only have one all-purpose tomato, it would be St. Pierre. It makes a good slicer and also cans well, it’s prolific and it tastes great. It also tends to be bushier than some of the others, which helps protect the fruit from sunscald. Amish Paste is another one that would make a pretty good all-purpose tomato, even though it’s supposed to be a paste variety.

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Growing Tomatoes

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Nearly everyone with a garden is interested in growing tomatoes. To my mind, tomatoes are the best reason to grow your own. There is nothing – NOTHING – like walking into the garden, picking a perfectly ripe tomato, giving it a quick sluice under running water and then eating the thing as fast as you can. OK, you can salt it if you must. Most heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate, which means they will just keep growing, unlike hybrids that typically grow a certain number of feet and stop. You can stake them, trellis them, or just let them sprawl. There are advantages and disadvantages to each method, which I discuss in the section on staking plants. This is also one of the heirloom groups that still has lots of offerings. Colors: red, purple, green, pink, white/creamy, orange, striped, black, peach-colored and yellow. Shapes: rounds, teardrops, pear shapes, fluted and pleated, and in sizes from currant tomatoes not much bigger than a raisin to two-pound or larger whoppers. They’re also extremely versatile in the kitchen.

Tomatoes and Nutrition

Color and ripeness affect a tomato’s nutritional qualities. A raw green tomato, for example, contains 2 grams of fiber and 7 grams of sugar. A raw ripe red tomato has the same amount of fiber but 4 grams of sugar. Red tomatoes have more vitamin E than green tomatoes. Tomatoes contain lots of antioxidants, like vitamin C, and other good-for-yous like lycopene. Cooking tomatoes decreases the vitamin C content but increases the lycopene content.

Growing Tomatoes – The Basics

Tomatoes are not quite as easy as summer squash, but they aren’t as finicky as something like cauliflower, either. If you have good soil, enough water and adequate sunlight, almost any tomato variety will produce for you. Tomatoes are one of the crops that really should be bought as transplants or seeded well ahead of planting time. When you see ‘days to maturity’ on a tomato seed packet, remember it usually means the days from plugging transplants in the ground. Add at least six and preferably eight weeks onto the maturity figure from the seed packet when growing from seed.

Tomatoes supposedly benefit from being transplanted more than once, as each move forces them to develop a stronger root system. That may be the case, but mine do fine with one move, from seedling container into the ground. Why do the extra work if it really isn’t necessary? When you put them in their final growing spot, you can (and should) plant them deep enough to cover part of the stem, which will send out more roots. Not only is this a good solution for the slightly-too-leggy transplants you grew on the windowsill, it increases feeder roots, which supply the plant with nutrients and water. Clip off the leaves on the section you will be putting underground.

Staking Tomatoes

Although it’s more work, I find tomatoes generally do better when staked (that includes determinate varieties). Tomatoes left to sprawl become a jungle that makes it hard to harvest. Sprawling tomatoes are also more susceptible to ground-dwelling insects, especially if they’re mulched. The effort of staking is worthwhile, but I don’t think it’s worth it to prune the plants to a single stem or to remove suckers, as some people do. I prefer stakes or trellises to cages, as it makes it easier to reach the ripe fruits. To stake, hammer the stake into the ground, plant the tomato about six inches away and you’re done. Used pantyhose make good plant ties – they’re soft and stretchy, but incredibly tough, and won’t rot. Cut the leg of the pantyhose crosswise into sections about one inch thick. As the plant grows, tie the main stem loosely to the stake with a figure-of-eight knot. Since they’re stretchy, you rarely have to go back and loosen the tie to prevent them from injuring the stem, as is often the case with plastic ties. However, they may stretch enough that the tomato will fall over unless you space them (the ties, not the tomatoes) fairly close together.

I also discovered a unique way to attach tomatoes to a stake one year when I accidentally planted what I though were bush beans next to the tomatoes. They were – ahem – pole beans. Quickly creeping across a few inches of soil, they promptly twined up the poles, snugging the tomato stems to the pole with no effort on my part (let’s all cheer for the beans!). To do this deliberately, I’d suggest you plant the tomato transplant, pound the stake in next to it, and plant four to six pole beans around the tomato a couple of weeks later (the tomato needs a slight head start).

Harvesting Tomatoes

When you get to the harvest stage, make sure you know what color your tomatoes should be when ripe. If you’re growing Brandywine, for example, it is more of a deep pink color than red. Amish Paste and St. Pierre are true deep red from top to bottom. The so-called black tomatoes seem to me to be the hardest to judge. No matter what the final color, it should be the same on all surfaces – yellow shoulders mean the fruit is not ripe. It doesn’t matter whether you pick in the morning or evening, since tomatoes don’t wilt like lettuce or other veggies. The tomatoes should be firm; if it’s starting to feel soft, pick and use immediately. For some reason, there’s a fad in gardening circles today to pick tomatoes when they first begin to color and ripen them off the vine. What the heck for? That’s what the commercial growers do, and we know how their tomatoes taste. Once you get toward the end of the tomato-growing season, decrease their water or stop watering entirely – that will push them to ripen their fruit faster and it will still taste like a real tomato.

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