Tag Archives: Tomatoes

Tomatoland

DSC_6774Some weeks are crazier than others around here, and I will just say that this week, I was pretty darn happy to see Friday arrive.

It’s also easy, this time of year, to look around a farm and get discouraged. Weeds are ravenous, pests are ravenous, farm stand customers are ravenous. (And our egg supply isn’t keeping up with demand.). The pretty green frilly stuff of spring has fled, replaced by dying pea vines (piled on the picnic table, below) and bolted lettuce and plants ravaged by potato beetles.

DSC_6713 But wait. That’s only one way to look at it.

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Despite what I consider to be a lot of messy, less-than-ideal aspects to the current state of things (like this entire row of weed-smothered arugula, above), there is, by far, much more to celebrate.

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For instance, the sunflowers are just killing me—they are so gorgeous, it hurts. And cheery? Nothing cheerier. And don’t even talk to me about the zinnias! (Okay, I realize that I’ve talked about the sunflowers and the zinnias for like the last three blogs in a row. I’m besotted.)

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And I think it is safe to say now, that barring a true tragedy (not just one that I imagine or one that calls itself a hurricane), we will have a bountiful tomato harvest this year, and far more tomatoes than any other year.

DSC_6777DSC_6788 Just look at all the fruits on these plants.  And there are 230 plants!

DSC_6793DSC_6798 This tomato thing is not to be under-rated. Everybody waits all year for these quintessential summer goodies, but not everyone is arranging their yearly budget around the tomato harvest. We have a lot to be expectant about.

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We’ll be harvesting tomatoes every evening now. They’re just trickling into ripeness—Roy picked this quart of Sungolds and Sweet 100s last night—but soon we will be looking for surfaces all over the place to put them on.

There’s plenty of other good stuff, of course. (I can’t believe we’re actually getting to the ripe black raspberries before the birds do! With any luck, Libby and I will make that berry ice cream this weekend. )

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Now that my pep talk is over, I can go back out and keep weeding. Underneath all those weeds are still some pretty nice vegetables!

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How to Make a Savory Rustic Tart with an Easy, Flaky Dough

xroastedtomatotartxTART DOUGH 20

My affection for buttery, flaky crusts and sweet, caramelized vegetables came together one magical day many years ago. I realized that the wonderfully easy food-processor tart dough I had learned as a young cook at Al Forno restaurant wasn’t just for dessert. As much as I like a good rustic fruit tart (and there is one to die for—Little Pear Crostatas with Hazelnut Crisp Topping—in Fresh from the Farm), I am always looking for a good destination for roasted or sautéed vegetables, too. And these fun-to-make, free-form tarts (no special pan needed) are perfect for showcasing all kinds of veggies.

xTARTS Ratatouille 2I really played out this idea in The Fresh & Green Table with four delicious recipes—Roasted Ratatouille Tart with Goat Cheese & Mint; Seven-Treasure Roasted Winter Veggie Tart; Roasted Butternut Squash, Cranberry, Shallot & Pecan Tart; and Savoy Cabbage, Apple, Onion & Gruyere Tart (pictured here). And, not being able to help myself, I’ve done it again in Fresh from the Farm with one of my favorite ingredients, roasted tomatoes (see photo at top.)

I’ve never blogged about the tarts, though, because the recipes take up a lot of vertical space. With both the tart dough and the completed tart recipe needing to run together, your eyes would get tired!

But today I was organizing some old photos and came across a series of decent test photos that Roy and I took while developing the tarts for The Fresh & Green Table. I realized that publishing them would go a long way towards illuminating the technique of making the dough and assembling the tarts, so I’ve decided to go ahead and post these photos here today. (Therefore, if you’re looking at one of the tart recipes in my book, you can now get a little idea of what the process is like by looking here. Next I should probably do a video!)

You’ll also find the tart dough recipe after the photos. And I will put the recipe for the Savoy Cabbage, Apple, Onion & Gruyere Tart (the one in these process photos) in a separate post so that you can print it out on its own (and make it right now, while winter cabbage reigns supreme). One of these days I will also finally get my recipe formatting software working—and then the recipes will truly be print friendly. It’s on the list, I promise.

By the way, rustic tarts are also variously called crostatas and galettes.

Making and Assembling a Savory Rustic Tart

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xTART DOUGH 1After pulsing the flour, salt, cold butter and a little ice water together in a food processor until the mixture looks like small pebbles, dump the mixture into a large mixing bowl. Use your fingers and the palm of your hand to knead the loose dough together into a mass.

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On a floured surface, pat and shape the dough into two flat disks, each about an inch thick. Wrap well in plastic and refrigerate for an hour or up to two days. Or freeze for a few weeks.

 

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Remove dough from fridge 30 to 45 minutes before rolling. Flour a large surface, get out a ruler, and begin rolling the dough disk out, lifting the dough up, tossing a little more flour underneath, and giving it a quarter turn after every roll. The lifting and flour help prevent sticking; the turn helps with shaping a rough circle. (I like a French pin with tapered ends, which also helps to keep you from rolling over the edges of the dough, which will squish it.) Continue to roll the dough until you have a circle roughly 12-inches wide.
xTART DOUGH 6Transfer the dough to a parchment- lined heavy duty baking sheet.

Make an egg wash by combining an egg yolk and heavy cream.

Arrange all your filling ingredients around your baking sheet to make assembly easiest. (In most tart recipes, you can cook the filling ingredients during the time it takes for your dough to come back up to cool room temperature.)

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Arrange your first ingredient (usually cheese; in this case gruyere) in the center of the dough, leaving a 2-inch border all the way around. (Note, I could have done a much better job on this one–looks like 2 inches on one side and 4 on another! Maybe it was the camera angle.) Top with your next layer (in this case, sautéed cabbage).
xTART DOUGH 11xTART DOUGH 10Continue layering your filling ingredients until you are done.

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However you are most comfortable, pleat the edges of the dough up and over the filling.

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I often use the thumb and fingers of one hand to pinch while using the other hand to pull the dough up and begin the fold. (Okay, folks, by now you realize I don’t stand a chance at a career as a hand model. Yes, Roy took these pictures and those are my big hands!)

 

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I find one pleat about every three  inches works well.  Continue pleating until the tart is contained. If cracks develop, don’t worry—you can pinch the dough together to seal it.

Brush the edges of the tart (and underneath the pleated folds) with egg wash. Sprinkle with herbs, a little cheese, or a bit of coarse salt.

xTARTS Cabbage 5

 

 

Bake until golden all over (see top photos) and brown and crisp on the bottom (check with a spatula). Depending on the size of the tart, this usually takes about 40 to 45 minutes at 400 degrees.

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Let cool for several minutes and cut into serving pieces. Salad or soup optional!

 

xTART DOUGH 4 xTARTS Ratatouille 2Savory Rustic Tart Dough Recipe

Easy, make-ahead, absolutely delicious. I swear, you no longer have to be afraid of pastry dough—of making it, rolling it out, shaping it—any of that. Yes, you’ll need a food processor (my favorite tool for making pizza dough, too), but oh, will you be happy with this ultra-buttery flaky crust.

The one thing you should keep in mind when making this dough is timing. It really works best to make the dough ahead. While it only takes 10 minutes to make, the dough needs to rest and chill in the fridge for at least an hour (and up to 2 days), and then, after taking it out of the fridge, it will need to warm back up to “cool” room temperature*, which will take about 45 to 55 minutes. So it’s a great idea to make the dough some morning or evening when you have just a few spare minutes. Pop it in the fridge and then when you’re ready to make a tart, you’ll only need to set aside the time it takes to warm it back up—and that’s the perfect amount of time to make your filling. It’s also really a joy to be able to reach in and grab that little wrapped present of dough already made up. (The dough will also keep in the freezer for 3 or 4 weeks.)

Makes enough dough for two 8- to 9-inch Rustic Tarts.

2 cups (9 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon table salt

1/2 pound (16 Tbsp.) very cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes

1/4 cup ice water

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour and salt. Pulse briefly to combine.

Add the cubes of butter. Pulse quickly about 20 times, or until the butter particles are quite small (like tiny pebbles). With the motor running, add the ice water in a steady stream. (This will take about 10 seconds). Stop the motor. Then pulse quickly six or eight times—just until the mixture begins to come off the sides of the bowl and clump together. The mixture will still be somewhat loose and crumbly—that’s okay. You will bring the dough together in the next step.

Turn the mixture out into a big mixing bowl and knead it briefly against the sides of the bowl to finish bringing it together into a dough. (Once you have incorporated all of the crumbs, knead once or twice to smooth out the dough just a bit. While you don’t want to over-handle the dough, you also don’t want to be afraid to handle it as much as you need to in order to bring all the bits of the dough together, as it will ultimately be easier to roll out.)

Divide the dough in half. (If you have a scale, you can weigh the dough pieces to make sure they’re of equal or close-to-equal weight. They should each weigh about 9 1/2 oz.)

Shape each piece into a disk about 1-inch thick (and about 4 inches across). (Again, don’t be afraid to handle the disk just enough to smooth out cracks and make a tidy disk.) Dust lightly with flour, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to two days. (You will need to remove the dough from the fridge 45 minutes before rolling it.)

Alternatively, you can freeze the dough for up to a month. Defrost it in the fridge overnight before using.

*NOTE: Depending on how long your dough disk has been refrigerated, it will most likely be between 50 and 42 degrees when you take it out. Anything in this range is rock hard. You’re looking for the dough to warm up to about 60 degrees. Don’t worry, you don’t have to take its temperature—it will be ready when it is still slightly cool but somewhat pliable. Again, depending on the temperature the dough was chilled to, and the temperature of your kitchen, this will take anywhere from 40 to 60 minutes—leaving 45 or so minutes is a good bet, but also don’t worry if you get behind. There is a decent window of time, and on all but the hottest of days (or kitchens), it can usually sit for up to 30 minutes more before it gets too warm.

 

 

Super-Fresh, Super-Fast, Super Bowl Salsa & Guacamole: Recipe Preview, Fresh From the Farm

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It’s hard not to dream about summer when your teeth are chattering.

Goodness, this cold weather is certainly getting to be a drag, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could walk outside right now, tip toe across the hot grass, swing open the garden gate, and tug a ripe juicy tomato off the vine? Uh, sorry. Not going to happen. I realize it’s not very nice of me to be teasing, and on top of that, I’m going to cheat, too. Because today I am offering you two recipes that are from the Summer section of Fresh From the Farm. So sue me.

guac 3It just so happens that my Lazy Day Summer Salsa with Serranos, Cilantro & Lime (a spoonable, dippable, versatile Mexican-restaurant style sauce) is pretty darn good made with store-bought plum tomatoes—especially if you let them sit on the counter for a few days. Paired with my Double-Cilantro Guacamole (the real deal here, no pureeing or added fillers), these are two of the freshest, healthiest, liveliest additions you can make to your Super Bowl spread. Really clean and fresh-tasting. (And yes, this may be one of the only times you see two Vegan and Gluten-Free recipes together on Sixburnersue at the same time!) Even if you’re not into the whole football thing (and here in New England, with the Patriots now out of it, we suddenly have a lot of people who’d rather shovel their sidewalks than watch the Super Bowl), I bet you’ve got a taco night planned, or you need a good way to liven up a fish or shrimp dish.

Honestly, these two recipes are repertoire essentials.

So I made them both yesterday in order to take pictures (alas, neither of these recipes is among the 200 photos in the book!), and I ate an entire half-batch of the guacamole myself. And the way this salsa comes together in the food processor so fast and easily makes me feel efficient every time I make it. We’re eating leftovers tonight on pork tacos.

cilantro flowers cilantro leavesA Sidenote About Cilantro

Both of these recipes use a good amount of cilantro (and a bit of ground coriander, the seed of the cilantro plant), and now is the time to plan for growing your own this year.

It’s very easy to grow, so order some seeds and plant early. It loves cool spring weather and tends to bolt around the summer solstice. One way to end-around this is to sow seed continuously (once a week or so). This way you can continuously harvest young plants before they bolt.

Once the plants bolt, though, all is not lost. The lovely flowers and fine foliage are just as tasty as the regular-sized leaves, if a bit more delicate.

The plants will also eventually form seed-heads, and at least some of them will drop and self-sow. I always have volunteer cilantro plants in my garden. If you leave the seed-heads on, they will dry and you can harvest coriander.

salsa 2Lazy Summer Day Salsa with Serranos, Cilantro & Lime

Recipe copyright 2014 from Fresh From the Farm: A Year of Recipes and Stories

This fast, easy restaurant-style food-processor salsa is just as great with chips as it is with grilled steak or on top of a quesadilla. It will have a loose, not chunky, consistency.

Yields 1 2/3 cup

 

1/2 cup lightly packed cilantro (leaves and any upper stems—just lop the top off a bunch)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar, plus more to taste

1 large clove garlic, peeled

1 small serrano pepper, roughly chopped

2 cups cored, seeded and roughly chopped very ripe plum tomatoes (about 14 to 15 ounces or 4 to 6 large plum tomatoes)

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice, more to taste

2 to 4 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions (white and as much of green part as you like)(optional)

Put the cilantro, salt, sugar, garlic and serrano in the bowl of a food processor. Process until finely chopped. Add the tomatoes and pulse six to eight times again until very finely chopped. (Don’t overprocess. The salsa will have a very loose consistency but should still have visible small chunks of veggies.) Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the olive oil and lime juice. Pulse once or twice until combined. Taste for seasonings, adding more salt, sugar, or lime juice if desired, and process briefly again if necessary. Transfer the salsa to a bowl and stir in as many scallions as you like (or none at all). Serve right away or store in the fridge, well-covered, for several days.

guac againDouble Cilantro Guacamole

Recipe copyright 2014 from Fresh From the Farm: A Year of Recipes and Stories

I like my guacamole bright, fresh, and a little bit chunky. I don’t add tomatoes or onions or sour cream, and I don’t pulverize the avocado, but I do think of guacamole as the perfect destination for our garden cilantro. I call this “double cilantro” guacamole because I add a little ground coriander to the mix, too. When you buy cilantro at the grocery, give it a sniff to make sure it is fragrant. Some grocery-store cilantro can be devoid of flavor during certain times of the year. You can easily double this recipe.

Yields 1 1/2 cups

1 large clove garlic

1 serrano pepper

kosher salt

2 medium ripe Haas Avocados

1/8 teaspoon ground coriander

big pinch ground cumin

2 teaspoons lime juice, more if needed

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, more if needed

On a cutting board, roughly chop the garlic and the serrano. Sprinkle them with a big pinch of salt and continue to chop until the garlic and serrano are very finely minced. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Peel and pit the avocados. Cut them into rough 3/4-inch dice or pieces and add them to the mixing bowl. Sprinkle a generous 1/4 teaspoon salt, the coriander, the cumin, and the lime juice over the avocado. Using the back of a fork, gently mash and stir the avocado just until everything is well-combined but the mixture is still a bit chunky. Add the cilantro, stir again, and taste. Add more salt or lime juice if needed.

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No More Whining–The Tomatoes Are Here

Proof positive that my patience (or lack of) is worsening by the year (and my memory, too): I checked our records (record-keeping nerd that I am), and, in fact, we picked the first of this years Sungolds and Early Girls EARLIER this year than last year–and the year before! (That’s tomatoes from the garden, not the hoop house. The hoop house ones came almost a full month ahead of the field tomatoes.)

So I must officially stop complaining about the tomatoes (and everything else) being late this year, especially because now they’re officially here! Or at least some are; beefsteaks are still mostly green.  And I have nothing further to say on the subject; I simply offer the proof: Sungolds, Sweet 100s, Yellow Pears, Black Cherries, Early Girls, and Juliet Plums above. Ripening now and soon to be taste-tested:  Cherokee Chocolates, below. Time for salsa and bruschetta. Finally.

Favorite Soups and A Recipe for Zesty Tomato-Ginger Bisque

Apparently I jumped the gun a bit on posting about the weather last week, but it’s just as well. You really don’t want to hear about (or see) the nasty slush, mud, snow drifts, ice floes, and dangerous flying detritus (icicles, tree branches, etc.) we are dealing with here as we lug food and water to the chickens and cart their eggs back.

Fortunately, on a much more pleasant note, an artist friend of ours who has smartly vacated the Island for Santa Fe, New Mexico, is painting by day and cooking from Fast, Fresh & Green and The Fresh and Green Table by night. Don McKillop has been posting on my Facebook timeline about his favorite dishes, and the other day he mentioned the Zesty Tomato-Ginger Bisque. It seemed to provoke a lot of yums and mmmms from other Facebook friends, which just reminded me how much everybody (including me) loves soup. And that of course, tomato soup is a quintessential chill-chaser. (I’ve shared the bisque recipe below.)

Over the years I’ve developed a lot of soup recipes, and it’s kind of fun to look back and see the variety. At Finecooking.com (where several of my soup recipes reside!) you can take advantage of a cool “Create your own recipe” format and make one of my creamy soups with your favorite vegetable and favorite pantry ingredients. (Or you can go straight to Carrot-Ginger Soup, Butternut Squash Soup with Garam Masala, Yogurt & Lime, or Broccoli Soup with Bacon.)

If you’re in the mood for a hearty chowder but are cooking for a vegetarian crowd, visit Vegetariantimes.com for a story I did last year. Recipes include Roasted Butternut, Squash, Apple, and Farro Chowder; Many Mushroom Chowder with Yukon Gold Potatoes and Rosemary; Caramelized Onion and Savoy Cabbage Chowder with Thyme; and Root Veggie Chowder with Collard Ribbons. And right here on Sixburnersue.com, I’ve posted a few of my favorites from The Fresh & Green Table, including Asparagus & Leek Bisque, Spicy Noodle Hot Pot with Bok Choy, and a variation on my Farmers’ Market Minestrone. I’ve been working on more soups over the winter, too, and I have to say, they’re as satisfying to make as they are to eat.

A tasty soup builds layers of flavors by starting with lots of aromatic vegetables (onions, carrots, leeks, garlic, ginger, celery, fennel—sautéed until golden, of course) and finishing with a few bright herbs and a splash of acid (vinegar or citrus). In between, broths get savory flavor from bits of meat, earthy green veggies and roots, bright tomatoes, hearty beans and noodles, and even the occasional rogue ingredient like a Parmigiano rind or a whole star anise. Understand where the flavor comes from, and you’re more than halfway to making a brilliant soup. And to forgetting about the damp and cold outside!

Zesty Tomato-Ginger Bisque

Recipe copyright Susie Middleton from The Fresh & Green Table (Chronicle Books, 2012)

I have made tomato soups every-which-way, and honestly, they’re all pretty comforting. But this one has a special zing and warmth to it that I love. I start with leeks and fennel, add lots of ginger and a bit of garlic, and then season with a combination of orange, coriander, honey, and balsamic (just a small amount) to give those bright tomatoes a sturdy backbone. The magic of the blender produces a smooth, comforting puree, and just a little half-n-half gives the soup a silky finish. Garnish with crunchy rustic croutons or a dollop of crème frâiche.

Serves 4, Yields 8 cups 

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2 tablespoons orange juice

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon tomato or sundried tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

2 28-ounce cans whole, peeled tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)

1 cup water

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups (5 1/2 ounces) thinly sliced leeks (about 3 medium or 4 small leeks), well-washed

1 1/2 cups (5 1/2 ounces) thinly sliced quartered and cored fennel bulb (about 1 small fennel bulb)

Kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

Freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup half ‘n half

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In a small bowl, combine the orange juice, honey, tomato paste, and balsamic vinegar. Set aside.

Empty the contents of both tomato cans into a mixing bowl. Gently break up the tomatoes into smaller pieces with your hands (effective but messy!) or a pair of scissors. Add 1 cup water to the tomato mixture and set aside.

In a 4- to 5-quart Dutch oven or other wide saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-low heat. Add the leeks, fennel, and 1 tsp. salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to medium, and continue cooking, stirring frequently and scraping browned bits off bottom of pan, until the vegetables are all browned in spots and the bottom of the pan is browning a lot, another 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the ground coriander and stir well. Add the garlic and the ginger, and cook, stirring, until softened and fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the orange juice/tomato paste mixture and the tomatoes and stir well to incorporate. Bring the soup to a boil and immediately reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 17 to 18 minutes. (You will notice on the inside of the pot that the soup has reduced a bit.)

Take the pan off the heat and let the soup cool for 15 to 20 minutes.

Puree the soup in three batches (fill the jar only about half way or just a little more) and cover the blender lid partially with a folded dishtowel (leave a vent opening uncovered to let steam out) to prevent hot soup from splashing on you. Combine the three batches in a mixing bowl, then return to the (rinsed) soup pot. Whisk in the half ‘n half. Taste the soup for seasoning and add more salt or pepper if needed.

Reheat the soup very gently. Serve hot garnished with the Rustic Croutons.

 

All photos by Susie Middleton except asparagus soup, Annabelle Breakey; tomato soup, Jessica Bard

Labor Day Already? Five Things To Do With All Those Tomatoes

How does it happen that it’s Labor Day weekend already? I don’t know where the hour, the day, the week, the month, the summer went. I just know I’m exhausted.

This week I spent two days recording 50 new 1-minute “recipe-lets” for WGBH Boston and Fine Cooking magazine. (You can listen—and giggle if you want—to one I recorded last spring here.) This time I recorded them at the lovely WCAI Cape and Islands NPR radio station in Woods Hole. That meant just a short hop on the ferry for me, without the drive to Boston added on. Nevertheless, those two days came and went in a blur, and then I jumped on some overdue recipe developing—and forgot completely about my blog this week!

Now here it is Friday and, already, the afternoon. Um, correction, evening. I tried to start writing this about six hours ago, but got a call to return to the clinic (waiting lines are long for doctors around here, especially in August, so you get on a list, they take your number, and call you back.) I have a nagging cough mixed with horrendous seasonal allergy. (As luck would  have it, I am allergic to my favorite place in the world—the outdoors—especially this time of year. And breathing is becoming an issue!)

It would have been smarter to get up early and make a beeline for the clinic, but of course I’m busy every morning harvesting and getting the farm stand set up. Probably I could do a much faster job of setting up if I didn’t stop to fuss over the veggies like I do—or run inside to get the camera to take pictures, like I did today. The farm stand looked so pretty this morning that I had to snap a few pics before putting the sign out. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before a stream of cars came down the driveway (traffic is certainly up for the holiday weekend), and the flowers were gone and most of the green beans. I wish I had a magic hat from which to pull more green beans.

But there are still plenty of tomatoes, and I thought I’d better explain that our tomatoes were not a total disaster this year. My friend Eliza read last week’s blog and called me up, worried that the tomato problems were catastrophic. Really, with all the things that have befallen the plants, it’s amazing that we’re still harvesting a lot of fruit. I’m not sure what we’d have done with them all if we’d gotten a bigger yield. As it is I have two sheet trays of tomatoes on the kitchen table that aren’t sellable, but aren’t quite chicken food yet. I’ve been meaning to make and freeze marinara, but I need a clone or a kitchen assistant in order to get that done. (I’m kinda thinking, well, Libby’s ten now, maybe handling a sharp knife would be okay. Nah, I think not. Besides, she’s on egg patrol. Actually, she’s waiting for me to finish this so we can all go get lobster rolls for dinner up in Menemsha!)

I am thinking maybe there are more than a few of you out there with a glut (or just a bounty) of tomatoes on your hands this Labor Day, so I thought I’d pass along five of my favorite things to do with them. In short, they are Bruschetta, Bread Salad, Pasta, Veggie Gratin and Roasting. (And more roasting, of course.) I’d offer up more ideas (many favorites over at finecooking.com), but the sun is setting, August is almost over, and one last lobster roll is calling.

Mom’s Favorite Fourth of July Veggie Recipe – A Gratin with Tomatoes and Zucchini, Of Course!

It’s always a good sign when your mom tells you she’s dog-eared the pages of your new cookbook. When I sent my mom, Pauletta, an early copy of The Fresh & Green Table, she sat down and went through every page, marking all kinds of recipes she wanted to try. Yay! I thought. I must have a hit on my hands if Mom likes it. First she made the Tuscan Kale and White Bean soup for my Dad, and then… well, I had to laugh at her next choice. It’s a variation on something I’ve made and she’s made many times over since I started creating veggie dishes after culinary school so many years ago. In fact, it’s a dish that is unsurpassed in popularity among my friends. Even my cookbook editor, Bill LeBlond at Chronicle Books, who has edited hundreds of cookbooks over the years, makes my recipe from Fast, Fresh & Green frequently for parties.

What is it? It’s basically a layered vegetable gratin, but in France it is called a tian for the type of shallow baking dish it is baked in. A tian often features zucchini and tomatoes in the summer, but I also make them with eggplant and tomatoes, with potatoes and tomatoes, and with lots of different herbs and a variety of cheeses and crumb toppings. I take special care with a bottom layer of sautéed onions, leeks, bell peppers, garlic, fennel or other aromatic vegetables so that when the tomato juices seep down to the bottom of the pan during cooking, they combine with those aromatic veggies and herbs to make delicious flavor. My other tip for the best tasting tian is not to undercook it! During the first half of cooking, the tomatoes shed a lot of liquid, but then the liquid begins to reduce and becomes incredibly flavorful, so the dish needs time in the oven for this to happen.

The variation I included in the new book is especially tasty (Mom and Dad loved it), so I’m offering it to you today in case you’re in the throes of planning your fourth of July menu. Also, I am feeling kind of sentimental, wishing I could be with my family this holiday. Many years we gather in Delaware this time of year to celebrate all our family birthdays together, but this year, of course, Roy and I are too busy to go anywhere! I’m happy that my sister Eleanor will be with Mom and Dad on this holiday and I bet you I know one thing they’ll be cooking!

P.S. The beautiful photo (top)—one of my favorite, in fact, of the many lovelies Annabelle Breakey took for The Fresh and Green Table—actually shows the tian being assembled a little differently than my directions call for. (There’s a funny story there, but another time.) It really doesn’t matter, but in case you’re trying to compare the directions to the photo, know that I arrange the veggies in rows going across the pan, not up and down the pan. Either way you do it, it will be delicious.

Mediterranean Zucchini, Tomato, and Bell Pepper Tian with Pine Nut Crumb Topping

I love to cook this in my enameled cast-iron Le Creuset oval gratin dish, because I think the cast iron conducts heat so beautifully that the juices get extra caramelized. But other 2-quart shallow baking dishes, like a 9 x 7 Pyrex, will work fine, too. Take this dish to a potluck or picnic. It will be a hit, I promise. But if by chance you wind up with any leftovers, you’ll love those too, as it tastes great the next day.

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5 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, more for the pan

3 tablespoons chopped toasted pine nuts

3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs

3/4 cup coarsely chopped grated Parmigiano-Regianno

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons honey

3/4 pound zucchini (about 1 1/2 small zucchinis), sliced thinly on the diagonal (about 1/8- to 3/16- inch thick)

1 1/4  pounds small to medium red and orange ripe tomatoes (about 4 or 5), cored, sliced about 3/16-inch thick (cut medium tomatoes in half first, then slice)

kosher salt

2 small onions (about 8 ounces total), thinly sliced (about 1 3/4 cups)

1 small or 1/2 large red or yellow bell pepper (about 4 ounces), cored and very thinly sliced

2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic

3 tablespoons finely chopped oil-packed sundried tomatoes (drained)

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Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Rub a shallow 2-quart baking dish with a little olive oil. In a small bowl, combine the pine nuts, the bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons of the Parmigiano, 1/2 teaspoon of the thyme, and 2 teaspoons of the olive oil. Mix well.

Whisk together the balsamic vinegar, the honey, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Put the zucchini slices in one bowl and the tomato slices in another. Add a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon thyme to each bowl, and drizzle half of the balsamic mixture over each. Toss gently. Let sit while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

In a medium (10-inch) heavy nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, the peppers, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions and peppers are limp and the onions are golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the minced garlic and cook until softened and fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer the onions and peppers to the baking dish and spread them evenly in one layer across the bottom. Let cool slightly. Sprinkle the sundried tomatoes and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of the thyme over the veggies.

Starting at one narrow end of the baking dish, arrange a row of tomato slices across the dish, propping the slices up against the end of the dish at an angle as you go.  Sprinkle a little Parmigiano over the row of tomatoes, and then arrange a row of zucchini slices, slightly overlapping each other and slightly overlapping the row of tomatoes. Again sprinkle Parmigiano on that row, and continue to arrange rows of tomatoes and zucchini, each sprinkled with Parmigiano, until you get to the end of the dish. You should have just about the right amount of zucchini, but don’t worry if you have extra slices. You will definitely have extra tomato slices (and ones that you’ve chosen not to use because they’ve fallen apart!) But as you are going along, if it looks like you will have a lot of extra, gently push the rows back up towards the end of the dish you started at to make room for a few more rows.

Scrape any remaining seasoning and juices from the bowl the zucchini was in over the veggies. (Leave the extra tomato juices behind or use them in a gazpacho!) Sprinkle any remaining Parmigiano over the veggies. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the veggies, and top with the bread crumb-pine nut mixture.

Bake until well browned all over and the juices have bubbled for a while and reduced considerably, about 65 minutes. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Serves 4

It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

The farm stand fell over on Saturday. Tipped by a terrific gust from the nor’easter, it fell backwards, impaling itself on a small rock in the process. Just a little damage to the roof, no big deal. But it’s funny. Seems the farm stand somehow knew the season was over. Only an hour earlier, as the rain began to fall harder and colder, a customer in a small white station wagon pulled up, bought everything left on the stand (the last green beans, two bags of arugula, a dozen eggs, an onion and an eggplant) and neatly pushed the baskets to the back of the stand to keep them dry. (Thank you, whoever you were.) Seeing the car pull away, I dashed out and carried the cooler and baskets in. We were all in the living room playing Monopoly when we heard the bang.

I’ve been reluctant to say goodbye to the growing season, so maybe I needed a little encouragement from the universe. A day after the nor’easter, I got some more: The first heavy frost fell, turning the 5-foot tall zinnia plants, the bushy eggplants, the spindles of leafy pole beans—just about everything still green in the garden—into a ghastly scene from Beetlejuice. Frightful skeletons of their former selves, the plants said goodbye in a single night.

I should be so courageous, I thought, rummaging around the dead foliage, harvesting random peppers and eggplants that clung hopefully to the blackened vines. I was thinking about the daunting project that awaited me inside—a different kind of rummaging, this time through old memories.

We’d just hauled a load of cardboard boxes over from my storage unit—my goal to empty the thing out and quit paying the ridiculous $200 a month to store my tchotchkes. But our little farm house, charming as it is, can only hold so much. Built in 1895, it has no closets. We’ve turned an upstairs bedroom into a storage closet, but between clothes, linens, coolers, and extra pots and pans, there ain’t much more it can take. Time to lighten my load.

In the end, it was much easier than I thought to part with many of the old photographs and school reports and scrapbooks and diaries. (Being a 13-year old girl was hard enough—no need to relive it. All these many years later, and I still winced. I had to laugh, though—judging from the reams of notebooks, apparently I was highly verbal from a very young age!) The best memories drifted out of an old trunk my mother had packed up long ago with a few of my most precious toys and dolls and little-girl clothes. Raggedy Ann and Peter Rabbit—such good friends. I couldn’t let them go.

Why, I wondered, did letting go of the garden seem just as hard? (Or letting go of most of it—those darn rutabagas are alive and well, as are the kale plants—for now. And the lettuce and arugula we’ve protected under row cover and cold frame are thriving.) I think it’s only partly about how much I enjoy the gardening. The other part is that I seem to be extremely sensitive to two big issues these days: waste and expense. Why should we blithely ignore good food in our back yard, when we ourselves are on a tight budget, and the world at large—those who have enough to eat—is, too. Because despite the frost and the storm, every time I go out to the garden, I discover something else that’s still alive, still edible. Even the darn cherry tomatoes (hundreds of them) are still ripening. Inside, every surface in my office (while Roy puts new windows into the mudroom) is covered with trays of green tomatoes—rapidly turning red—that we picked during the last couple of weeks.

So I am hell-bent on still making our meals from the garden. (Not the whole meal, just some of it.) I made a delicious kale soup the other night, which I sold to Roy by including a good amount of andouille sausage and potatoes, along with some of those salvaged peppers, a late carrot, our stored onions, and plenty of garlic and spices. Sort of a Stone Soup with kale. I made a green tomato, gruyere, and leek gratin yesterday (good, but not the perfect match I was looking for with the tartness of green tomatoes).

This morning I messed around with fried green tomatoes. And, actually, fried red (and reddish-green) tomatoes. And realized again how powerful childhood memories are. Some of them will be forever with us, no matter how many trunks we lock up or boxes we throw away. Growing up, summers in Delaware, we ate fried red tomatoes (not green tomatoes) on a regular basis. (A regional thing, I guess.) Seasoned with lots of salt and pepper and dredged simply in flour, the big  cross-sections of beefsteaks cooked in butter or a little bacon fat took on a deep, umami-ish, almost stew-y flavor (with some sweetness, yes), and while I don’t remember absolutely loving them then, they were one of my Dad’s favorites. And tasting them this morning was a hugely familiar sensation, a reminder of my grandmother Honey and days at the beach. And I loved them. They’d be perfect with sausage and eggs for breakfast or sautéed flounder and garlicky spinach for dinner.

Turns out I don’t really love fried green tomatoes, though once I stopped being lazy (they require a commitment of several bowls—one for flour, one for egg, one for cornmeal and flour), I realized they are best with a crunchy coating, achieved by the three-part dredging. The cornmeal in the final coating is essential not only for texture and flavor, but also to help make an-extra firm coating that keeps steam inside while the green tomato fries. That steam, in turn, helps tenderize the green tomato and soften the tartness, too.

I tried the fried green tomatoes with a soy-lime-ginger dipping sauce like this one, thinking that would be a fun spin, sort of tempura-esque. But I wasn’t so crazy about that—even the little bit of lime was too much with the tartness of the green tomatoes. Because of the cornmeal, I also thought to try them simply drizzled with (you guessed it) maple syrup. Hmmm. Actually quite yummy. Well, I am predictable at least. I’ve had that sweet tooth all my life, too, and I don’t think it’s going away.

Droppers, Splitters, Honkers & Roasters

It has come to our attention that our hens are, ahem, robust. Not fat or anything. Just happy and healthy—and, okay, a tad bit bigger than the rest of the birds that arrived at the post office together last April. (We split a day-old-chick order with friends, as the hatchery ships a minimum of 25 chicks.) Our friend Mary told us the other day that Perky, our Sicilian Buttercup, is at least 50 percent bigger than the other Buttercups in the batch. This is probably why our ladies have started laying eggs a little earlier than expected. So far only Sugar (the Aracauna) and Chippy (one of the Partridge Rocks) are making regular appearances in the nesting boxes, but we have a nice clutch of little blue and brown eggs to show for it. (The hens will be laying full-size eggs in a few weeks.)

So the question is, what gives? Maybe since they’re only eight of them and they have lots of room to move around, the hens are just spreading their wings. But more likely it’s something they’re eating (or drinking—one theory is that maybe it’s our mineral-heavy well water). I think it’s the garden compost we give them—especially the Droppers and Splitters (left). These are the cherry tomatoes we can’t sell because they fall off the plants or split with too much moisture (like after a good rain—ugh.) I once had a black Lab who loved cherry tomatoes so much that he would stand on his puppy tippy-toes (or tippy-paws) to snarf the fruit off the plants through the garden fence. But I think these hens have Scout beat. They love those darn cherry tomatoes—especially the pulpy, seedy insides. Libby collects the Droppers from the garden and tosses them to the girls, who peck them open. And this week, alas, I’ve had more Splitters than I’d like to admit. We also feed the hens Honkers – the gangly green beans we find lurking in the shadows, beans that have grown so scary big that they look like witches’ fingers.

It makes me feel good that these tomatoes and beans don’t get wasted. In fact, since we collect the chicken manure for the compost pile, the hens are doing us a great favor by processing all this stuff. (Same goes for Cocoa Bunny, who is a greens-eating machine. Someone nicknamed her The Shredder for the way she eats leaves. The hens won’t touch mustard greens or kale, but Cocoa will devour them. And we collect her manure, too, so it’s all good. This whole circle of life thing makes me very happy. In fact, I just wrote an essay about it for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine.)

Don’t get me wrong, we also eat a lot of the funky vegetables. I slice the Honkers very thinly crosswise and stir-fry them. I pop the Splitters in my mouth while I’m harvesting. And then of course we also have to eat the veggies that have languished on the farm stand (thankfully, not so much). For instance, I’ve had trouble getting people to cozy up to the little baby plum tomatoes I’m growing (left). The variety is called Principe Borghese, and apparently it is used in Italy for sundried tomatoes. So I decided to try oven-drying them (or very slowly roasting them at low temps to approximate sun-drying), both to preserve some and to get a method down on paper to pass along at the farm stand.

They came out well—very intensely flavored and sort of semi-dried, still with a bit of moisture.  (Everyone knows I am stupidly crazy about oven-roasting tomatoes, so I will just say right out, it wouldn’t be summer if I didn’t roast some sort of tomato! Click here for quick-roasted (“caramelized”) plum tomatoes or here for slow-roasted beefsteak tomatoes.)

The problem was, in my attempt to sell these “Roasters”, I wrote up a little index card with directions for the oven-drying method and tucked it into a pint of the tomatoes on the farm stand. Only I suggested a six-hour cooking time instead of four hours. One of my friends took the bait, bought the tomatoes, cooked ‘em for six hours and found them to be very brittle! Oops. I screwed up. Should have been four hours. I did another batch to make sure and liked the four-hour result.

Of course, if you had a very low oven setting (or even better, a solar dehydrator), you could fully dry these tomatoes out and store them at room temp. With the  method I used (below), you’ll need to refrigerate or freeze them. One sheet tray (which holds a couple pounds) gets you a nice stash, though, and I’ve been using them in everything from soups and pastas to salads and even the pot roast I’ve got in the oven right now. I think this method would also work well with large cherry tomatoes, though the cooking time would need to be shortened somewhat. I haven’t yet tried the bigger plum tomatoes this way. (Though next year I will grow them instead of these boutique-y things!)

Here’s the method for Oven “Semi-Dried” Baby Plum Tomatoes: With a serrated knife, cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise. Place them, cut-side-up, on a parchment-lined heavy-duty baking sheet. Cook in a 250-degree oven for about 4 to 4 1/2 hours, or until they are shrunken and intensely colored. They will have lost most, but not all, of their moisture. They will collapse a bit more when you get them out of the oven.  Let cool and refrigerate or freeze.

A Video of the Farmette, A Paella Dinner, and A Recipe for Unsellable Tomatoes

Darn it all, wouldn’t you just know it—this is the time of year when there’s so much going on at the farmette that I could write a blog every day. Except, ironically, there’s no time to write—too busy!

So today I’ll just have to give you a quick update on the goings on around here, because tomorrow I’m off to Boston to sign books at the Dewey Square Farmers’ Market, and I spent this morning cramming in the last bit of proofreading I needed to do on the galley of Fresh & Green for Dinner in order to get it off to Fed Ex in time to reach San Francisco by tomorrow. (It’s very exciting to see the design of the new book shaping up, even though publication is still many months away.)

First, great news: My friend Katie Hutchison, who kindly took care of the farmette with her husband Chris Hufstader while we were in Delaware, secretly made a video of their farm-keeping experience here at Green Island Farm and posted it on her website. Katie, who is an accomplished architect, photographer, and writer, is admittedly new to gardening and occasionally posts about her “Idjit” garden plot in a Salem, Mass., community garden. As you can tell, Katie’s not afraid to poke fun at herself, and her sense of humor is evident in the video—you’ve got to see it!

More good news: The garden is thriving (see photos) and so is the farm stand. In fact we’re pretty much selling out of everything we can harvest every day, now that the August visitors have arrived on the Island. (Obama will be here soon!) It’s killing me that we don’t have more to sell (can’t wait ‘til next year), but I’m also getting an invaluable sense of what the market wants. We’re dead on with our cherry tomatoes—all the varieties are producing well, we’re harvesting several pounds a day, and folks love the colorful pints. I just wish the beefsteak tomatoes would speed up. They’re big and fat—and very green. Our green beans are definitely getting folks to drive down the driveway, but again, it’s frustrating that we don’t have more of them (the beans, not the customers). It takes Roy and I (and sometimes a house guest!) at least a half-hour to pick them in the morning, and then we only wind up with a few pounds. But that’s how it goes.

It’s been fun to watch the farm stand traffic pick up, and I’m meeting all kinds of interesting people. One friendly couple from San Francisco (yes) has stopped by three times this week, and I had a nice conversation with two ladies from Southern Italy the other day. Sometimes an old friend who is visiting the Island will unexpectedly come down the driveway and surprise me (it happened this morning—hi Margo!).

And speaking of friends and visitors…August on the Vineyard means lots of both. And since the farmette is such a welcoming (and entertaining) place (most popular: the bunny and the rope swing), we seem to be a central gathering spot. Last week I almost cried when I stood in the backyard with two of my dear friends and former staff members from my Fine Cooking days, food writers Tony Rosenfeld and Sarah Jay. Tony was only on the Island for a day, but stopped to say hello and brought some Italian friends along with him. After touring the garden, the Italians convinced me that my arugula wasn’t too spicy!

Fortunately Sarah and her two daughters were here for the better part of last week and we had lots of time to catch up—and to cook together. Sarah is an expert in Spanish cooking and runs a successful business importing paella pans and selling all kinds of Spanish goodies from her terrific website, paellapans.com. Not only did she bring me a wonderful bottle of sherry vinegar, as well as piquillo peppers, olives, and chorizo, but she made us a seafood paella while she was here. I’m a huge fan of Sarah’s paella (recipes here), which she learned to cook while living with a family in Spain, but it was Roy’s first really authentic paella. And he loved it.

The day after Sarah left, I missed her. Right about lunch time, I started thinking about those Spanish ingredients she brought me. Hmmm. As it happens, I was also staring at a damaged Cherokee Purple (heirloom) tomato from the garden that needed to be carved up and eaten right away. (Ironically, this happens a lot – we have a garden full of lovely vegetables, but we wind up eating the overgrown beans, the holey greens, the deformed carrots, and the over-ripe tomatoes because the good stuff goes to the farm stand!) I’ve also been on a grilled bread kick, so I decided to make a grilled bread-tomato salad with olives, sherry vinegar, feta cheese (left over from a delicious salad Sarah made while she was here) and lots of fresh herbs. I guess it was an Italian-inspired salad with Spanish ingredients and a Greek twist! Whatever it was, it was delicious. So I’m passing the recipe on to you in honor of good friends and summer visitors and farm stand customers everywhere. It makes enough for two, but if you’re like me and a juicy heirloom tomato falls into  your lap, you might not want to share it.

Spanish Grilled Bread, Tomato & Fresh Herb Salad

You can use any variety of juicy tomatoes in this salad—as long as they’re juicy. (Did I mention juicy?) When you grill or toast the bread, don’t overdo it—leave it a little chewy so that it will soak up the dressing and all those tomato juices. This recipe makes a generous lunch for one or a supper side dish for two, but you can easily double or triple it to serve a crowd. I like lots of basil and mint in this (I pick the tiniest leaves from my plants and throw them in whole), but parsley, chives, or a judicious amount of fresh oregano can go in the mix, too.

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1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons good-quality sherry vinegar

3/4 pound (or a little more) juicy tomatoes (a combo of beefsteak and cherry is nice), cut into small chunks or quartered if small

2 ounces feta cheese, cut into small cubes

2 1-inch thick slices ciabatta or other narrow loaf artisan bread, brushed generously with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, and grilled or broiled until toasty, cut into small cubes

8 to 12 Spanish green olives, smashed and pitted

1/4 teaspoon minced fresh garlic

1/4 cup small whole herb leaves (basil and mint)

kosher salt

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In a small bowl, combine the olive oil and sherry vinegar. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, feta, bread, olives, garlic and half of the whole herbs. Sprinkle with salt and pour over the olive oil-vinegar mixture. Toss and mix well. If desired, toss and let sit for 15 minutes to let the bread absorb the tomato juices (but it isn’t necessary). Turn out into a pretty shallow serving bowl and garnish with the remaining herbs.

Serves 2