Tag Archives: Tomatoes

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

Today’s Tomato Destination: Easy Bruschetta

It blew like crazy last night. The garden is pretty disheveled—flattened in fact. The pole bean trellis (with all of its Jack-and-the-Beanstalk vines) is face down in the zinnias. The cosmos are hugging the ground like a dog that’s been chastised. And the little zucchinis on the new plants are bare and naked, exposed to the world after their protective leaves and stems snapped off like flimsy toothpicks.

No matter; we will clean it all up this weekend. In the mean time, with the rain still coming down (and traffic at the farm stand sluggish), harvesting seemed like a silly idea today. We’ll have to go back later in the afternoon and get the beans; they grow too big if left for more than a day, and we have about 4 pounds coming in every day. (Bean picking is hard on the back and time-consuming, too, but if you just go with it, it can be Zen-like.)

Fortunately we brought a ton more tomatoes in yesterday, as Mr. Rat is still on the loose. I was relieved to read on Facebook (yeah, what a source!) that real farmers are also bringing their tomatoes inside at first blush. Bad summer for pests, they say. Whew, this makes a start-up grower like me feel not so silly about the number (now in the hundreds) of under-ripe and semi-ripe tomatoes in our apartment.

However, the under-ripe tomatoes don’t scare me nearly as much as the ripe ones, as I don’t think there’s any way we will sell them all at the farm stand. (A good rainstorm like this comes along—and yesterday being Monday, too—and we only sell 2 pounds of tomatoes in a day, out of the 12 we put out on the stand!) I’ve given some to friends, and roasted a bunch this weekend, but deadlines (and life!) prevent me from spending time marketing them elsewhere. I’ve already told Roy that we’ll be eating green beans and tomatoes every night now for the next millennium, but I’m trying to make lunch out of this stuff, too.

So yesterday I had my V-8 moment—Oh, Bruschetta! I remembered how good and easy bruschetta is to make with ripe summer tomatoes, and I had a nice rustic loaf of bread on hand. So voila—here’s what came of it. Easy, easy. Tasty, tasty.

Summer Tomato Bruschetta

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2 to 2 ½ cups diced, cored ripe summer tomatoes (3 to 4 medium tomatoes; no need to skin or seed, just chop)

1 clove garlic, peeled and minced

10 to 12 medium-large leaves sweet basil, finely sliced or chopped

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for bread

few drops balsamic vinegar

few drops honey

kosher salt

4 to 6 slices rustic bread (each slice about 1-inch thick; I like a baguette cut on a sharp diagonal)

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In a small mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, the garlic, the basil, the 2 tablespoons olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, the honey, and about ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Stir well to combine and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Rub or drizzle the bread slices with a little more olive oil and toast them in a toaster oven or brown them under the broiler. Arrange the slices on two plates, sprinkle them with a tiny bit of salt, and spoon the tomato mixture over them. Let sit for a few minutes so that the bread soaks up a bit of the juices.

Serve for lunch or as a first course to dinner. You could also add some chopped grilled or sautéed shrimp to the tomato mix, and call this dinner.

Serves 2

A Tale of a Thousand Roasted Tomatoes

My friends will most definitely give me a hard time about this. Here I am, writing about roasted tomatoes—again. I love roasted tomatoes so much that I’ve written about them every chance I’ve gotten. If you want to slow-roast big, juicy beefsteaks or heirlooms, read how I do it over at Fine Cooking magazine’s website. (I even include lots of suggestions for ways to use roasted tomatoes.) But if you want almost-instant gratification, read on.

The recipe I’m posting here is a quicker version of roasted tomatoes, one I developed for Fast, Fresh & Green. It uses seeded plum tomatoes (which contain less moisture) and a high oven temp to get quicker caramelization. The reason I’m posting this recipe today is to thank all of the folks (like my best friend Eliza’s Mom, Bran Johnston, with me at Stonewall Kitchens, right) who’ve showed up at all my book signings this summer and gobbled up hundreds and hundreds of these things.

Early on in the whole book-publicity strategy plan, I decided that making the same recipe for every signing would keep my life a little simpler. Plus, I don’t have a lot of options for finger food in Fast, Fresh & Green, which is mostly side dishes. These roasted plum tomatoes conveniently fold up around a little piece of fresh mozzarella and a leaf of fresh basil to make “sandwiches” that I skewer with a toothpick (photo and recipe below). I can’t say that they’re the ideal finger food (caterer to the stars I am not), as they’re a little unwieldy and a bit messy. But they taste so intense that I absolutely don’t know anyone who hasn’t liked them on first bite.

Fortunately, Roy likes them, too. (Actually he likes roasted tomatoes better than fresh tomatoes—that’s a good thing, because judging by the burgeoning pile of tomatoes at our windowsill (left), I’m going to have to roast a lot of tomatoes pretty soon.) Roy has not only been a huge help with assembling the sandwiches at the last minute, but he has been lugging the cooler and several other heavy bags of tools and ingredients up and down the East Coast in an effort to make my life easier. For that he gets a lot of roasted tomatoes!

If you’re not sure what all the fuss is about, take the 15 minutes to cut a few plum tomatoes in half, pull out the seeds, season them with salt, a little sugar, a few thyme leaves, a bit of garlic, and lots of olive oil and throw them in the hot oven, and enjoy the aroma while you wait to taste.

By the way, the Ag Fair (officially called the 149th Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show & Fair) starts on Thursday here on the Island. (The Obama family arrives on Thursday, too, so yes, it’s pretty much a circus around here.) We’re entering our black cherry tomatoes and a few other veg and flowers, so we’ll let you know if we win a ribbon!

Roasted Tomato, Basil, and Mozzarella “Sandwiches

These make great hors d’oeuvres or antipasto, but they’re also delicious on a dinner plate or tucked into a green salad, too.

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1 recipe Caramelized Plum Tomatoes in an Olive Oil Bath (recipe follows), any excess oil drained

20 fresh basil leaves

8 mini-mozzarella balls (1 inch in diameter), each sliced into 3 to 4 pieces

kosher salt

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Have ready a serving platter or shallow dish and twenty toothpicks or cocktail skewers.

Lay the plum tomatoes, cut side up , on a cutting board. Place a basil leaf, shiny side down, on each tomato half. Put a piece of mozzarella on one end of the tomato and sprinkle a little salt over it. Fold the other half of the tomato over the cheese and put a skewer through the “sandwich” at an angle, so that about 3/4 in of the skewer comes out the other side . It’s best to skewer through the folded-over ends of the tomato (and the cheese ), but not the middle , to prevent the “sandwich” from flopping open. Arrange the tomatoes on a serving pla tter in diagonal rows, tucking them close to one another.

Yields 20 sandwiches; serves 6 to 8

Caramelized Plum Tomatoes in An Olive Oil Bath

I’m always amazed at how a hot oven turns even the most pathetic, pale plum tomatoes into deeply flavored beauties. The generous amount of olive oil in this recipe has a purpose—as the water in the tomatoes evaporates, the oil replaces it and gently simmers and preserves the tomato flesh. When the tomatoes are finished cooking, you can lift one end and a good bit of the oil will spill out. Don’t be alarmed if the edges of some of your tomatoes (or some of the juices in the pan) look a little black ened. They will still taste delicious.  These tomatoes aren’t just a great side dish; they also make perfect crostini toppers, salad ingredients, or hors d’oeuvres (see page 42).

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10 plum tomatoes

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

kosher salt

sugar

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (4 to 6 sprigs)

balsamic vinegar

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced crosswise into 10 to 12 slices each

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Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Line a large heavy-duty rimmed sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper. (I like to cover the sheet pan with aluminum foil, first, for easier clean up, but it’s not necessary.) Cut each tomato in half length wise, and, leaving in the core, scrape out the seeds and ribs with a tomato shark or a serrated spoon. Brush 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over the parchment.

Arrange the tomato halves, cut side up, on the parchment.

Season the cavity of each tomato half with a pinch of salt, a good pinch of sugar, and some of the thyme leaves. Drizzle a few drops of balsamic vinegar inside each tomato half. (An easy way to do this is to pour some vinegar into a small bowl and use a 1/8 tsp. measure to distribute it. Or just hold your thumb over the vinegar bottle opening to dispense drops!) Drop a slice or two of garlic in each half , and pour 1 teaspoon of the olive oil into each half. It will look like a lot of olive oil; that’s okay.

Roast the tomatoes until they collapse and are brown around the edges, the garlic is browned, and the juices are somewhat caramelized on the sheet pan, 30 to 40 minutes. (At this temperature, you can roast them up to about 55 minutes before the bottoms get too dark. Some of the really hefty—and underripe—plum tomatoes may want to go this long to be tastiest.)

Let the tomatoes cool for a few minutes on the sheet pan. Carefully transfer them to a serving plate. (If the juices are very caramelized, the tomatoes may stick a bit; take care not to rip the skin.) Serve warm or at room temperature. They will also keep in the fridge for about a week.

Yields 20 tomato halves; serves 6

Who’s Eating the Tomatoes? Call in CSI, please!

There is a scene in the Nutcracker ballet where the evil Mouse king dances with his mouse-followers beneath the giant Christmas tree at midnight. When I look at our tomatoes every morning, I envision something like this having gone on the night before. There are tomatoes strewn everywhere, little bites taken out of just-ripening cherry tomatoes, and big bites taken out of bigger tomatoes. Mr. Mouse or Mr. Rat is, apparently, also joined by his close personal friends, Mr. and Mrs. Hornworm (and all their prodigy), and a flock (or several flocks) of sparrows, all of whom enjoy illicit tomato-tastings under the light of the moon. It’s not hard to imagine how fun this is—we planted our tomatoes way too close together, so the two big rows form sort of a hedge. It’s really more like a forrest, and even I can appreciate the magical wonder of that leafy canopy when I am crawling around on my hands and knees in there looking for signs of invaders. It’s like a cool fort, stocked with candy.

Today Roy bought an inflatable owl. A big one. And stuck it right on top of one of the tomato stakes.

Last night, we strung monofilament line between the bamboo stakes, and hung shiny CDs and yellow streamers from it.  I also hung a few red Christmas ball ornaments around, which are supposed to lure birds into pecking at them instead of tomatoes (and thereby discourage further pecking).

Discouraging the rats and birds might work (will keep you posted). But we’ve yet to capture a hornworm. Normally, if you look hard enough, you can spot these big, ugly (and I mean UGLY) caterpillars, but we’ve looked and looked and haven’t seen one yet.

All this is incredibly frustrating, as we have 40 tomato plants, hundreds (maybe thousands because of the prolific little Sun Golds) of tomatoes ripening, and so many visitors (including POTUS, of course) coming to the Island in August, that we are looking at missing our best opportunity to make a little bit of real money at the farm stand.

In the short term, I’ve taken the advice of several farmers and started harvesting tomatoes that are just starting to blush. Apparently once they’ve started coloring, the quality will not be affected by ripening on a windowsill. (This doesn’t work with rock hard, dark green tomatoes that haven’t begun the ripening process.) This is hardly ideal, but right now, leaving anything with any color on the vine seems to be an automatic death sentence for the tomato.

Roy remembered that putting tomatoes in a bag with an apple will help ripen them, too, so we tried that with a batch of Sun Golds.  We put them in a shallow bowl with a ripe apple cut into pieces and covered the whole thing with an upside down stainless steel bowl. In two days, most of the tomatoes had turned yellow and were heading for the even deeper orange color of a perfectly ripe Sun Gold. They tasted good, but some were still a tiny bit green on the inside. They’re best when they’re orange all the way through.

Nevertheless, we celebrated this small ripening feat by making one of my favorite easy summer cherry tomato concoctions last night. It’s a versatile dressing, kind of a loose salsa, that’s delicious over grilled vegetables, grilled meats, and even grilled bread. We had it atop a grilled sirloin and some grilled zucchini from our garden.

The version I made last night (below) is a variation on a recipe in Fast, Fresh & Green which I drape over a roasted pepper that is lightly stuffed with warm goat cheese. It’s a showcase for your tiniest, tastiest tomatoes, but it gets a depth of flavor from a bit of sundried tomato mixed in, too. The dressing has a Spanish-y feel, with a few minced capers, sherry vinegar, garlic, and sometimes a few sliced olives mixed in. I used mint and basil both last night, but any fresh herb would work. Fresh ginger is also a natural with tomatoes, so you could vary the dressing to include some ginger, too. Any way you make it, this no-cook versatile recipe is a fast flavor boost for a weeknight supper (or a weekend party). Of course, it’s a whole lot more satisfying with your own vine-ripened tomatoes, but take what you can get!

Summer Cherry Tomato Dressing, V2

Please don’t make this with those honking cherry tomatoes from the grocery store. They won’t taste great and will be too cumbersome for a salsa-like dressing, even if they’re quartered. Stick with small cherries, Sun Golds, Red Pears, and other fun little tomatoes. Be sure to get a brand of sundried tomatoes that isn’t marinated too heavily with overbearing dried herbs (I’ve had this experience—sundried tomatoes vary in flavor and quality a lot) as they might adversely affect the flavor of your dressing.

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8 ounces small cherry or other tiny tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on size

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons very finely sliced, drained, oil-packed sundried tomatoes

1 tablespoon finely sliced basil and/or mint leaves

2 teaspoons drained capers, very lightly chopped

4 green olives, pitted and sliced (optional)

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon orange juice

½ teaspoon minced garlic

¼ teaspoon teaspoon kosher salt

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Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir gently to combine. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes (or up to 30 minutes) to let the flavors mingle and to let the tomatoes marinate a bit. Stir gently again before serving.

Yields about 1 ¼ cups, enough to dress up four dinners