Tomato season is upon us. Almost. I was more hopeful the other day before yet another heavy 3 a.m. thunderstorm. Now I'm cautious yet optimistic.
Grateful for every ripe tomato I pick, cherishing every tangy-sweet 'Sungold.' Loving each pink-fleshed, firm textured 'Stupice.' Watching for ripeness from that crazy looking mostly persimmon-colored 'Dr. Wyche's Yellow' tomato. I snipped it from the vine the other morning to protect it from the bird who is drilling holes in the 'Taxi' tomatoes.
It's a changeable summer. Right now it feels a little like early fall. Pleasant leaf-raking weather, but it's not tomato weather. It's been too cool and too wet.
In my garden, the vines have plenty of green tomatoes on them but just a few tomatoes are ripening each day.
I am happy for every blue-sky day, and I love a light breeze that dries out the water-soaked foliage.
Gardening is always a challenge. This is not a perfect tomato year, but we will have a harvest. And they will be amazing.
I have plans for my tomatoes. When I get the first juicy-ripe 'Brandywine' I will sit and admire its sexy curves. I will slice it and put it on a plate. Drizzle it with some of that fabulous cloudy Italian olive oil I bought from my friend Amy. Pluck a few leaves off the new patch of basil, shred them, sprinkle the tomato slices with salt and dig in.
For the next 'Brandywine,' I shall toast some bread, maybe crusty ciabatta or that rye we brought home the other day. Spread it with mayonnaise and top it with thick slices of tomato. A scattering of flaky sea salt. A pile of napkins to clean up afterward.
If I lived in the South, I would make that sandwich on soft, untoasted white bread and eat it while I was standing over the sink. To catch any drips of tomato juice not soaked up by the spongy bread.
This past weekend I was traveling in the South, where they don't toast their tomato sandwiches. Teaching a cooking class in Chapel Hill, N.C., and signing copies of my book, "Tomatoes." Learning more about tomatoes and meeting with old friends.
They're having the same tomato problems down here. At the "A Slice of Summer" tomato tasting conducted by the Winston-Salem Journal, there were very few summer-ripe, full-flavored tomatoes. But that didn't stop the tasters. One man man brought his own shaker of salt.
For now, we can console ourselves with these cooked tomato dishes. While we're waiting for our own tomatoes to ripen. It'll happen. I promise.
Brenda Waters' Grandmother's Special Sliced Tomatoes
I'm so proud to present this lovely old-fashioned preparation from broadcaster Brenda Waters' grandmother. Brenda gave me the recipe when I appeared on KDKA-TV talking about my tomato cookbook. I promised her I'd add it to our tomato-themed section. Brenda said that her grandmother often served it with cooked greens, which sounds wonderful to me. The tomatoes must always be peeled. Directions for doing that are in the recipe.
3 or 4 large, ripe tomatoes
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Bring medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add tomatoes one at a time and turn in the water, about 20 seconds, just until skins feel loose. Transfer to board and let cool. Core and peel tomatoes and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Arrange on plate or platter with sides.
Put vinegar in medium glass or ceramic bowl. Stir in sugar and then microwave, uncovered, 15 to 20 seconds to warm the vinegar so the sugar dissolves.
Sprinkle tomatoes with salt to taste and spoon sugar-vinegar mixture on top. Let sit for a few minutes so the flavors can blend.
Makes 3 or 4 servings.
-- Brenda Waters
Tomato and Zucchini Gratin
This is based on a recipe from Jacques Pepin. It uses what's in the garden, so it's timely and delightful. "But does it have cheese?" my husband asked.
Yes. You could even add more if you wanted.
8 medium plum tomatoes, about 1 1/2 pounds
4 medium zucchini or yellow summer squash, or a combination (about 1 pound), ends trimmed
3 tablespoons olive oil
For the topping
1 slice crusty, firm country bread, white or whole-wheat, cut into small cubes (about 3/4 cup)
1/4 cup grated fresh parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, packed
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Oil a 12-by-9-by2-inch oval baking dish or 12-by-8-inch glass baking dish.
Cut tomatoes lengthwise through the stem end into 1/2-inch slices. Cut each squash in half crosswise. Cut halves lengthwise into 4 slices each.
Arrange alternating pieces of squash and tomatoes in prepared dish, tucking them in as necessary. Drizzle with the 3 tablespoons oil.
For the topping: Put bread cubes, parmesan, basil, garlic, salt and pepper in food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Sprinkle over squash and tomatoes. Drizzle with the 1 tablespoon oil.
Bake, uncovered, until vegetables are tender and topping is nicely brown, 35 to 40 minutes.
Makes 6 servings.
-- "Essential Pepin" by Jacques Pepin (Houghton-Mifflin, 2011)
Speedy Skillet Pasta Sauce
This quick sauce can be made with any mixture of large and small fresh tomatoes. I even threw in a green tomato for a flavor boost. All simmered together to make a delicious sauce for 2 or 3. You can leave it rough and chunky if you wish, but for a smoother sauce, press it through a strainer.
Here's how I've been serving it: While 1/2 pound of a chubby pasta like ziti or rigatoni is boiling, saute a couple thinly sliced or diced zucchini and/or summer squash in olive oil in a large skillet. Add the sauce to the cooked squash and remove from the heat. Drain the pasta (saving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid). Add the pasta to the skillet; return to medium heat. Simmer a minute or so, tossing, so the pasta soaks up the sauce and is coated with it, adding the reserved liquid if necessary. Grate fresh parmesan on top and serve in bowls.
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, which can be a mixture of small tomatoes, Romas and larger tomatoes, cored and cut into rough 1-inch chunks (6 cups)
1 tablespoon butter
In large, heavy skillet, stir oil, garlic, oregano and crushed red pepper. Place over medium heat. Cook, stirring often until garlic is fragrant and just starts to turn golden, 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, tossing a few times until juices start to flow.
Reduce heat and simmer, crushing tomatoes with spoon and/or potato masher until thickened and saucy, 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in butter until melted.
Sauce is ready to use, if you like. But if you want a smoother sauce without skins and seeds, press through a fine strainer. Reheat sauce before using, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Makes about 2 cups unstrained sauce or 1 cup strained, smooth sauce. Enough for 1/2 pound chunky pasta.
-- Miriam Rubin
Sauteed Cherry Tomatoes with Garlic and Rosemary
These are good with shrimp or chicken or fish, adding rice or orzo because they are juicy. Use a colorful combo of cherry tomatoes. Supermarket ones are fine if they're ripe enough. Some garden-grown cherry tomatoes are almost too fragile and juicy.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
1 pound cherry and baby pear and plum tomatoes, halved, about 4 cups
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons finely sliced fresh chives
Heat oil and butter in large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and rosemary and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.
Add cherry tomatoes; season with salt and pepper and toss to mix. Increase heat slightly and cook, stirring often until tomatoes soften and collapse. Sprinkle with chives and taste for seasoning.
Makes 4 servings.
-- Miriam Rubin
Miriam Rubin email@example.com or on Twitter @mmmrubin. First Published August 8, 2013 4:00 AM