READERS: Do you have a favorite, off-the-wall sandwich combo like Rebecca Sodergren's dad's? If so, tell us about it! Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and include your full name and the municipality where you live. Your comments could end up in print. Given that it's almost back-to-school brown-bag-lunch time, this seems like the perfect time of the year to share some creative sandwich ideas.
Gretchen McKay: I didn't grow up in a family that ate a lot of fresh tomatoes, so I came late to the summer tomato love fest. It wasn't until I took an anniversary trip to Italy's Amalfi Coast a few years back, in fact, that I came to appreciate how truly wonderful a sun-ripened, fresh tomato can taste. For a week, I ate plate after plate of insalata Caprese, a simple salad made from sliced mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. And what can I say? I was hooked.
Now, it seems, I can't eat enough tomatoes when they're in season -- often right off the vine, because I've started to grow them, too -- and am always on the lookout for the next great flavor combination. The following recipes are just a few that sparked my imagination this summer.
Thanks to the addition of beef stock, this classic cocktail -- perfect for brunch -- is technically a Bloody Bull. Chef Michael Chiarello suggests serving it in small rice bowls instead of cocktail glasses so the final taste is one of crunchy, raw vegetables. I'm more of a sipper, so used tall collins glasses. For even more kick, add a teaspoon of prepared horseradish.
1 1/2 ounces vodka
2 1/2 ounces Grilled Tomato Bloody Mary Blend
1 1/2 ounces reduced beef stock
3/4 teaspoon finely diced heirloom tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon finely diced celery
3/4 teaspoon finely diced cucumber (peeled and seeded)
In a cocktail shaker, pour the vodka, tomato blend and beef stock over ice. Shake until cold. Add diced vegetables to a small bowl and pour the drink through a strainer onto the vegetables. Serve right away.
Makes 1 cocktail.
-- "Michael Chiarello's Live Fire: 125 Recipes for Cooking Outdoors" by Michael Chiarello (Chronicle, May 2013, $35)
Grilled Tomato Bloody Mary Blend (for Bloody Matador)
Grilling tomatoes instead of cooking them on the stovetop gives this juice a wonderful smoky, rich flavor. Use the ripest tomatoes you can find.
If you don't have a juicer, no worries: You can process the tomatoes in a blender or food processor. Just be sure to cut the vegetables into chunks and puree the heck out of it. Pour it into a fine-mesh strainer and discard pulp.
4 pounds ripe tomatoes
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 juicy lemon, halved
2 cups celery pieces cut in 1-inch lengths (preferably from inner stalks)
2 teaspoons Worchestershire sauce
4 dashes hot pepper sauce, or to taste
Heat gas grill to high or ignite charcoal. When grill is hot, clean your grill rack. For gas grill, decrease heat to medium-high and brush or wipe a little olive oil on the grill rack.
Core each tomato and cut an X in its base. Season very lightly with salt and pepper. Place the tomatoes on the hot grill, X-side up and away from direct heat. Cover the grill and cook for 8 to 10 minutes. With tongs, turn tomatoes X-side down and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes. During the last few minutes of cooking, add lemon to the grill, cut-side down. With tongs, transfer tomatoes and roasted lemon off the heat and into a large heat-proof bowl. Let them cool to room temperature.
Take lemons out of the bowl, and add celery and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Toss tomatoes and celery and then put the contents of the bowl with all the juices through a juicer and squeeze the lemon juice from the lemon halves into the juicer, as well.
Stir the Worchestershire sauce and hot pepper sauce into the juice blend. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or until ready to serve. Stir before serving, taste and add more salt, pepper, hot pepper sauce or lemon juice as needed.
Makes 31/2 cups.
-- "Michael Chiarello's Live Fire: 125 Recipes for Cooking Outdoors" by Michael Chiarello (Chronicle, May 2013, $35)
Rebecca Sodergren: I grew up with a big honkin' garden right outside the kitchen window, with corn as high as an elephant's eye and red-ripe tomatoes glistening in the sun -- and a whole lotta weeding and watering to do.
My parents and my brother's family now own and operate Triple B Farms in Forward, but when I was little, Triple B was not a glimmer in anyone's eye. My dad was an engineer with U.S. Steel, and he kept a few beef cattle on the side and baled hay every summer on what he then called "West Bend Stock Farm," named after the westward, horseshoe-shaped bend in the Monongahela River in which the property is situated.
Back then, we didn't grow the acres and acres of vegetables and fruits that my hardworking family grows now.
But every spring, my dad plowed up a big ol' patch behind the house, where we always planted sweet corn, green beans, cucumbers and zucchini and sometimes lettuce or chard. The most important crop, however, was tomatoes.
Dad fashioned tomato cages out of chicken wire, and by the end of their first summer in use, they had rusted solid brown. We used them anyhow for many years. They were wider and taller than the average cages you can buy at the hardware store today, and it was a good thing, too -- it seemed those plants would fill as much space as you gave them. Nowadays, the men of the family grow the crops, but back then, Mom was chief gardener. I can remember sprinkling lime on the plants to keep the rabbits away and lugging sprinkling cans full of water to the garden, but the truth of the matter is that Mom surely did more work than my brother and I did.
The reason tomatoes were the most important crop was what happened to them after they ripened: We picked them by the bushel and made dozens of gleaming quart Mason jars full of home-canned tomato sauce.
Gretel, our kooky farm dog, ate tomatoes on occasion, so she generally made off with a few. (She was born near Three Mile Island, and we always wondered if she was some sort of nuclear accident. Tomato-eating was not her only weird quality.)
But the vast majority of those tomatoes ended up in the saucepot.
Our family of four gathered in the basement -- it was cooler down there -- and clamped the Squeezo strainer onto my wooden kiddie table. Mom washed tomatoes in the sink, Dad cranked the machine, and my brother and I traded off -- one fed tomatoes into the hopper on top and pressed them down with a wooden paddle, and the other used a table knife to scrape off the mesh strainer periodically and keep the sauce flowing down a ramp and into a saucepan. When the saucepan or "junk pot" (skins and seeds that the machine automatically filtered out) overflowed, everything came to a halt while a pot got dumped. Once the big pots on the stove were full, they cooked down overnight, overwhelming the house with pungent tomato smell. The next morning, Mom jarred the sauce and put the jars through the water-bath canner to seal them.
This all sounds like sort of a fun family project, but like any good kids, my brother and I did our fair share of complaining about this. What we didn't complain about was the spaghetti Mom made all winter from that homemade tomato sauce. Mmm-mmm good.
Don't make the mistake of thinking every tomato went into the pot, though. Nothing beats the juicy acid taste of a fresh, homegrown tomato. We often plucked a couple off the vines and carted them inside to slice for supper with a sprinkling of salt.
And my dad had another favorite way to use a ripe garden tomato -- on his favorite sandwich: Chunky peanut butter, Miracle Whip, crisp iceberg lettuce and a thick tomato slice on white bread.
OK, it was weird. He caught a lot of ribbing from the rest of us. But I'll still catch him eating that concoction every once in awhile.
Marlene Parrish: My brother, Wayne, and I were kids back in the 1940s. We lived in a rural Mt. Lebanon you would not recognize today. There were open fields where we picked wild strawberries, heavy wooded areas for hideouts and exploration, and a nearby farm where Mother picked cherries and apples for pies. World War II was drawing to a close, but most of the neighbors still planted victory gardens.
During the summer, all the neighborhood kids pretty much lived outside. We played dodgeball and hide-and-seek, staged plays and, when it was really hot, ran under lawn sprinklers. In the name of science, we caught and cooked crawfish from the creek (crick) to see them turn red. But mostly we played Army.
Fort Wayne (because he was the oldest) was built in an old overgrown lot with a couple of trees (lookouts). We built it with stones, mud, grasses, an old tarp and scraps of wood. It had high walls, sort of a roof and ditches in front (foxholes) to protect us from the enemy. Wayne and I even had miniature army suits given to us by our Uncle Art who was a captain in the Army Corps of Engineers at the time. The troops, both boys and girls, were roughly ages 8 to 12. The littlest girls were not welcome because every time they got a scratch, they'd cry.
Our mission: Conduct raids on the enemy. Our goal: Loot and pillage. Our target: Victory gardens.
Here's how it worked. We'd head into the woods and scope out a target under the cover of brush and branches. Our "lookout," Frank was good at that, would whistle when the coast was clear. We'd crawl on our bellies or "stoop walk" into the garden. We'd each nab a couple of tomatoes off the vine and pull up green onions. Then we lit out for the woods and race back to the fort laughing like crazy.
Back at the fort, we'd yank out the mini-salt shakers we always kept in our pockets. And feast. Green onions, their crisp texture and sharp flavor the perfect foil for those contraband tomatoes, so red, warm and juicy, a little sweet, a little tart.
I've never tasted better.
Nancy Hanst: When I told Julia Child that I loved her coulis de tomates because it was every bit as delicious as a canned tomato sauce as it was fresh, I got her long, straight look, one eyebrow slightly raised in the start of a question mark, and her fluty response of something like, "Well, that's interesting."
She didn't exactly say that, upon my suggestion, she was going to hurry home and do some canning for herself. But I can't help wondering.
We were together at a food writers' gathering at The Greenbriar. She was a celebrity speaker, I was an acolyte. Someone did me the favor of seating me next to Julia at dinner and we had plenty to say to each other, but this is the exchange I remember clearly.
Julia's Provencal-style sauce is the very best sauce in a refined French way. It's not a forward Italian type to heap on pasta but a subtle addition to vegetables, meats and eggs. I can a few jars every summer and sometimes give it as gifts.
Incidentally, knowing that I'll be making coulis later on, I peel and dry a few strips of rind from blood oranges in the winter. They have a special, flowery quality. Julia's recipe is written for dried herbs, but I use fresh ones when available and often add a stalk of lovage for a bit of celery taste (remember the formula: 3x fresh = 1x dried). When juicing the tomatoes, I save the juice in case I need liquid later in the recipe. I cook in my enameled cast-iron pot; any heavy saucepan that holds about three quarts is OK.
COULIS DE TOMATES A LA PROVENCALE
1/3 cup finely minced yellow onions
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons flour
3 pounds ripe, red tomatoes, peeled, seeded, juiced, chopped (plum tomatoes usually win the contest)
1/8 teaspoon sugar
2 cloves mashed garlic
Herb bouquet: 4 parsley sprigs, half a bay leaf, 1/4 teaspoon thyme tied in cheesecloth
1/8 teaspoon fennel
1/8 teaspoon basil
Small pinch of saffron
Small pinch of coriander
1-inch piece of dried orange peel
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 tablespoons tomato paste, if necessary (never if the tomatoes are the right ones)
Salt and pepper
Cook the onions and olive oil slowly together for about 10 minutes, until the onions are tender but not browned.
Stir in flour and cook slowly for 3 minutes without browning.
Stir in the tomatoes, sugar, garlic, herbs and seasonings. Cover pan and cook slowly for 10 minutes, so tomatoes render more juice.
Uncover and simmer for about half an hour, adding spoonfuls of tomato juice or water if the sauce becomes so thick it risks scorching. (I'm usually making about 4 times this recipe which takes several hours of simmering.) The puree is done when it tastes thoroughly cooked and is thick enough to form a mass in the spoon.
Remove herb bouquet. If adding tomato paste, simmer 2 more minutes. Correct seasonings.
Strain the sauce, if you wish (I do and I don't).
If canning the sauce, pour into sterilized jars and process in a hot water bath, 10 minutes for half-pints, 20 minutes for pints.
Sauce also can be refrigerated for a short time or frozen.
Makes 2 cups.
-- "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" Vol. I by Julia Child et al.
Tomatoes Glazed with Balsamic Vinegar
As Deborah Madison says: "(This is) a VERY easy thing to do with tomatoes. The vinegar reduces with the butter, leaving the tomatoes glistening with a shiny glaze." Your work is waiting for the best tomatoes. That's all.
-- Virginia Phillips (email@example.com)
1 1/2 pounds ripe but firm tomatoes
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 plump shallot
Salt and freshly milled pepper
Core the tomatoes, then cut them into wedges about 11/2 inches across at the widest point. In a skillet large enough to hold the tomatoes in a single layer, heat the butter until it foams. Add the tomatoes and saute over high heat, turning them over several times until their color begins to dull, about 3 minutes. Add the vinegar and shallot and shake the pan back and forth until the vinegar has reduced, leaving a dark thick sauce. Season with salt and plenty of pepper. Serves 4.
-- "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" by Deborah Madison (Ten Speed, 1997)
Rebecca Sodergren: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @pgfoodevents. Marlene Parrish: 412-481-1620 and email@example.com.Freelancer Nancy Hanst: firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published August 8, 2013 4:00 AM