As I reported earlier this month ("The Mighty Tomato," Aug. 3, 2006), we're having a bumper crop of tomatoes hereabouts, and our FoodLovers Discussion Group participants have been sharing ideas and recipes and wine pairings for the luscious red globes all month.
I think the true measure of the tomato's worth, as opposed to the much-maligned zucchini, is that it's almost impossible to get tired of tomatoes no matter how many of them come in. We've given a few away, but have either eaten most of the crop or preserved them as thick tomato sauce, frozen in tubs, to hold us through the winter.
Let's spend today talking about a few simple but tasty things to do with tomatoes. Then I'd like to invite you to share your own favorite tomato dishes in our online forum.
In general, my attitude about fresh garden tomatoes is "keep it simple." When you've got something that comes this close to perfection, there's no real need to tweak it. Dice fresh tomatoes into a bowl of lettuce to make a <b>tomato salad</b> - the natural tomato juices alone make a pretty fair salad dressing, with only a dash of olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar needed to finish it up. Thick-sliced tomato turns a simple sandwich into something special. In my opinion, a <b>BLT on rye</b> is the king of sandwiches, but some fanciers even go for just-plain <b>tomato sandwiches</b> <i>au naturel</i>, dressed with nothing more than salt and pepper and maybe a light touch of mayo.
You can hardly call it a recipe if you don't do <i>something</i> in the kitchen, though. Here are a few of my favorites, with links to previous FoodLetters in which more detailed recipes appeared.
<B>Caprese</B>, a classic Italian salad, features thick rounds of perfectly ripe tomato, flavored with olive oil and garlic, topped with rounds of creamy fresh mozzarella and fresh basil. (July 10, 2003 FoodLetter.)
<B>Salsa cruda</B>, an Italian summer favorite, features fresh, uncooked tomatoes (and perhaps a bit of chopped onion, parsley or basil) tossed with hot spaghetti just until the tomatoes warm through. (For a somewhat more yupped-up Asian-accented version, see the recent Aug. 3, 2006 FoodLetter.)
<B>Tomato sauce</b>, Italian style, is my preparation of choice when the plum tomatoes start coming on by the bucket. Although there's a lot to be said for the traditional long-simmered, caramelized Italian-American style version with its roots in Sicily and Calabria, I generally prefer to treat fresh summer tomatoes more gently in the northern style of Liguria, simmering the tomatoes only briefly, just until they soften, with a little onion and garlic and lots of fresh basil. Frozen in single-serving tubs for later use, it brings a touch of summer into the house when winter's winds are blowing outdoors. (July 25, 2002 FoodLetter.)
Even when tomatoes star in a meatless main course, nowhere is it written that an all-tomato dinner has to be, well, healthy. The <B>Beefsteak tomato stack</B> that I created last summer - a tower of thick tomato slices and a curried cheese filling, plated on a rich cream sauce - is just about as filling as a <i>real</i> beefsteak. (Aug. 4, 2005 FoodLetter.)
<B>Stuffed tomatoes</B> are widely regarded as the quintessential "ladies who lunch" dish, not that there's anything wrong with that. Today's recipe stuffs tomatoes with a savory cheese-based filling that won't ring the calorie-meter at a scary level. Extra points for a quick, cool summer presentation that requires no cooking.
INGREDIENTS: (Serves two as a main dish, four as an appetizer)
4 fresh, ripe medium-size tomatoes
4 slices pistachio-studded mortadella (optional)
4 ounces (120g) <i>fromage blanc</i> or similar soft, fresh cheese
2 ounces Greek green olives
1. Use your best, freshest heirloom tomatoes for this dish. I used just-picked Brandywines, still warm from the garden. Cut off the tops, and use a spoon or melon baller to scoop out the interior, leaving thick walls. Reserve the tomato meat in a small bowl.
2. Lightly season the inside of each tomato with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a small amount of olive oil. Push a thin slice of mortadella (the original Bologna sausage) down into each tomato. (Feel free to skip this step if you prefer a vegetarian dinner.)
3. Chop the tomato innards coarsely and drain them briefly in a large strainer. (Catch the resulting "tomato water" in a measuring cup and drink it later ... the other day, playing around, I mixed equal parts tomato water and club soda, seasoned with salt and pepper and a dash of Cholula hot sauce, to make a fine if offbeat non-alcoholic aperitif, a reward for the chef.)
4. Remove the olive pits and chop them coarsely. Mix the <i>fromage blanc</i> with the drained tomatoes and olives. Check seasoning, but chances are the olives and salt will have provided all the salt you need. (NOTE: I used the excellent Bellwether Farms brand cheese from Sonoma County, but you can substitute any soft farmer's cheese, ricotta or even cottage cheese or cream cheese.)
5. Stuff the cheese, tomato and olive filling into the mortadella-lined tomatoes and serve on a bed of lettuce.
The tomatoes and cheese would support a light, fruity red, but an aromatic white seems better suited; a Riesling should go fine, and it was right on with a good, light Austrian Grüner Veltliner, the Schloss Gobelsburg 2004 "Gobelsburger" Grüner Veltliner ($13.49)