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Sunday, July 21

Gapers Block

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I'm fortunate to have a small corner of land in my yard in which I can plant. Most of what I've chosen to grow are herbs, but I have one pepper plant, one tomato plant, and one tomatillo plant. Because I spent so much time procrastinating about getting the plot of land ready for planting, my plants went in the ground rather late, which means that only one of my tomatoes has started to turn from green to yellow.

But while talking with Michelle, who is probably one of the most amazing Michelles I've ever met, I came to realize how behind my garden is. It seems that she's been taking in a bag of tomatoes to work every few days. Thankfully, she works with some amazing people who all seem to really like food so they've helped her take them off her hands. But it seems that they're getting tired of helping her eat her produce so she asked if I had any ideas for what she could do with them.

And since tomatoes happen to be my favorite vegetable that is actually a fruit, I offered to help her come up with a few recipes that she could make for herself — or, if she's feeling extra generous, she could make to share with her coworkers. One of the best things about tomatoes, and one of the reasons why they work so well with Italian cooking, is that they don't need many other ingredients to make them tastier. Simple combinations of ingredients, combined with quick preparation, equals tasty tomato eats.

If you're lucky enough to have a dozen tomato plants coming ripe at the same time, then you might be interested in viewing a column I wrote three years about about how to turn a bushel of tomatoes into jars of tomato sauce. I did this two years in a row but due to lack of time, I didn't last year, but I'm looking forward to it this year.

But if you've just got a few tomatoes every day, then you're probably looking for something else you can do with them that will keep you from getting bored with them. Because there are so many varieties of tomatoes, I'll describe some generalities on how to know what type of method is best suited for yours.

If your tomatoes are small, thin-skinned, and have a lot more pulp (the juice around the seeds) than meat (the part of the tomato just under the skin), then eating them raw or just lightly cooking them is your best bet. Grape and cherry tomatoes fall into this category. If you've got tomatoes that have a smaller amount of pulp than meat, you're going to be able to really cook them through, but you'll also be able to make great raw dishes as well. One of my favorite varieties are roma tomatoes. They're more oval or oblong than round and they have fewer seeds and pulp than they have meat. These are the tomatoes that are most frequently cooked and turned into sauces. Not surprisingly, the meat has much more flavor than the pulp.

If you like salsa and have about a pound of tomatoes, (4 large, 6 medium, or 7-8 small), then Bill's Salsa from Dallas, Texas may just do the trick for you.

One of my favorite non-cooking recipes for tomatoes was one that I got from from my favorite Italian grandmother. It's the simplicity that I adore just as much as the flavor. And it just tastes like summer to me now.

Anita's Tomato Salad
2 medium sized tomatoes, sliced in 1/4-inch thick slices
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon of orange zest
1 tablespoon of high-quality olive oil
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
rounds of fresh or toasted French or Italian bread

Place the slices of tomatoes in a rectangular baking dish or deep platter. Sprinkle the basil and orange zest over the tomatoes. Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar over top, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Cover and let sit on the counter or in the refrigerator for 1-3 hours before serving. Serve family style so each person can place a slice of tomato atop a slice of bread.
Serves 4-8 as an appetizer.

Baked Creole Tomatoes
Creole tomatoes are often referred to as tomatoes that are grown in the alluvial soil of the Mississippi River. New Orleans has a creole tomato festival during the beginning of each June. Those tomatoes are now out of season and are rarely found outside the South, but with a good heirloom variety this recipe will still be mighty tasty.

4 large tomatoes
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of salt
chili powder
4 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of flour
1 cup of milk

Preheat your oven to 425° F. Cut the tomatoes in half crosswise from the stem end and place the tomatoes cut side up in a rectangular baking dish. Sprinkle the chopped onions and peppers over top of the tomatoes. Sprinkle with the salt and chili powder. Pour 1/2 cup of water in the bottom of the dish and place 1/2 tablespoon of butter on top of each tomato. Place the dish in the center of the oven and bake the tomatoes for 20-30 minutes or until the tomatoes are tender. Remove the tomatoes to a platter and keep warm. Pour the liquid remaining in the pan into a skillet placed over a medium-high flame. Add the butter to the pan and once it has melted add the flour to the skillet and whisk briskly until it is well-combined. Continue to cook for several minutes while whisking constantly to brown the flour. Once it just starts to smell lightly nutty and is the color of a light carmel, slowly stir in the milk and let it cook for a few minutes until it turns into a gravy. Pour some of the gravy over each tomato and serve.
Makes 8 servings.

Cherry Tomato with Pasta
2 cups of cherry or grape tomatoes
3 tablespoons of basil
1 clove of garlic
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/4 cup of black olives pitted
8 ounces of dried spaghetti
pepper to taste

Place a large pot of water on to boil. While it comes to a boil slice the tomatoes in half, chop the basil and mince the garlic. Pour the olive oil into the skillet and place it over medium heat. As soon as the water comes to a boil, place the tomatoes, basil, garlic and olives in the skillet and toss the pasta into the water. Stir the tomato mixture frequently while the pasta cooks. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and toss it into the skillet to combine it with the pasta. Sprinkle with pepper to taste and serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.

Grilled Dijon Tomatoes
2 medium tomatoes
1 tablespoon of dijon mustard
1 teaspoon of salt
large pinch of black pepper
3 tablespoons of melted butter
1/4 cup of panko or finely crushed and dried bread crumbs
1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese

These can be cooked on the grill over non-direct heat, but they're also tasty when broiled in the oven. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise from stem-end. Combine the mustard, salt, pepper, butter, bread crumbs, and parmesan cheese in a bowl. Place 1/4 of the mixture on each tomato and pack lightly. Place on the grill, cover and cook for 15 minutes. If you're lucky the mixture will turn lightly brown. Or you can cook them about 4-5 inches under the broiler for 3-5 minutes, or until the mixture just turns brown. The tomatoes are likely to be more tender when cooked on the grill and they'll have a great smoky flavor, too.
Makes 4 servings.

Tomato and Basil Pesto
If you grow tomatoes in your garden, you may grow basil, too. If you find yourself with a bumper-crop of basil just as your tomatoes start winding down, then this might be the perfect way to combine them both.

4 small tomatoes
4 cups of basil leaves (stems removed and discarded)
1/2 cup of sunflower seeds or cashews (almost any nut would work)
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese (optional)
1/3 cup of olive oil
3 large cloves of garlic

Place the nuts in a heavy-bottomed skillet placed over medium heat. Shake the skillet every 30 seconds for about 4-5 minutes. The nuts should just get lightly toasted. While those toast, cut the stems out of the tomatoes and quarter them and remove the stems from the basil. Place all of the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until everything has a paste-like consistency. Taste to see if more salt is needed. This tastes great as a topping for pasta, spread on bread, even spread on a burger with a slice of tomato from Anita's Tomato Salad above, or anywhere else where you would normally use pesto sauce.

Tomatoes are great for this time of year since they can require no cooking and still result in a healthy, filling and delicious dinner or lunch. And these recipes really are just a sampling of what you could do with this delicious fruit. I've even been known to just cut a tomato in half, sprinkle it with salt and pepper and eat it. The perfect summer lunch or snack. The perfect addition to any, no every, summertime dinner.

Got a favorite tomato recipe you'd like to share? Leave it in the comments. Got something showing up regularly from your CSA, or have a bumper crop of something from your own garden? Leave it in the comments.

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Porsha / August 24, 2008 11:14 AM

Hi Cinnamon,
I love your recipe for tomato sauce and am planning on making a bushel myself this afternoon. How long do you normally process your jars for? I accidentally threw out the box before I found your website :(



About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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