Monday, September 13, 2010


Today, on this blog: tomatoes. Tomatoes are truly a blessing. I don't care how hot and sticky your east coast summer was, or how how cool and unsummer-like our California summer has been. On either coast, we still have had access to tomatoes, that most delicious of fruits, and though the harvest may not have been the easiest or most abundant, there has been plenty of deliciousness in your local markets. Somehow, life is always better with a regular supply of fresh, locally grown tomatoes around.

We grew our own this year, in a pretty big way. While our seven cherry tomato plants have been very slow growers in our cool Bernal Heights community garden plot (the plants are still flowering and only a few green tomatoes are on the vines), the leaves are still verdant and healthy, the vines only three or so feet high but still thick and sprawling. I know that these will likely be the tastiest of our tomatoes, despite the long wait to pick ripe ones.

In Sacramento, where my girlfriend's parents live a few blocks away from the American River, we have found that the tomatoes love the combination of fertile soil, warmth and sunshine, growing taller than six feet and spreading all over. On Friday we harvested at least 8 lb of cherry tomatoes, eight heirlooms, and about 3 lb of san marzano tomatoes. Prior to that, we have enjoyed a few smaller harvests. There likely will be one more big harvest ahead.

What do we do with this bounty? We have given a lot away. But we have also cooked a lot of simple dishes, or snacked on the tomatoes in some time tested ways. Here is a quick list of ways we have been enjoying:

Taking out the tomato, "apple style."

This one is pretty self explanatory. Add a bit of maldon sea salt, if desired.

Tomato on toast.

Good for breakfast or lunch. I like to rub a raw garlic clove on a toasted slice of levain, something with a good tang and nice, large crumb. Pineapple heirlooms have been a recent favorite. Add olive oil (Frantoia is my long-time brand of choice) and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Cherry tomato sauce.

In good olive oil, cook a bunch of cherry tomatoes until they soften and can be fairly easily squished with a wooden spoon. I have been doing this one somewhere between a fresh, uncooked tomato sauce and a fully cooked one. Add minced raw garlic at the end, stir while still over heat for a minute or so, then add to pasta with some additional olive oil. Great, fresh sauce. Try it over orecchietti with grated cheese.

Classic gazpacho

Here is your ratio: 2.5 lb fresh tomatoes, 1/2c olive oil, 2 slices bread, 1 clove garlic, 2 tbsp sherry vinegar, 1 tsp sugar, salt and pepper. It's very simple. Use a cuisinart or if you're lacking this gadget, you can use a hand-held immersion blender. That's how I do it. I prefer san marzanos since they are less sweet and more likely to be what is used in Spain. Be sure to refrigerate the gazpacho for several hours. This is one of Penelope Casas' recipes so you know that it will be tasty.

a la Chinese

Stir fry kale or mustard greens in olive oil. Season lightly with salt. Add slices of heirloom tomato, along with some soy sauce and a bit of balsamic vinegar. Pepper would be a good addition, as would ground sichuan pepper and possibly fermented black beans. Add a few cloves of minced garlic at the end and stir in well. A few tablespoons of chopped parsley is also tasty on this dish. Serve with scallion pancakes.