Saturday, September 24, 2011

From farm to table: Tomatoes

What about all the innocent tomatoes?

OK, there's a small story behind this. Many moons ago, when I was still a blushing young bride, I awoke in the middle of the night to the sounds of the Wonderfully Patient Spouse thrashing madly about the bed in his sleep.

He appeared to somewhat conflicted.

This went on for several seconds until he flung up his arms (still sound asleep) and demanded indignantly, "WHAT ABOUT ALL THE INNOCENT TOMATOES?"

Of course, I regaled his family about this odd proclamation at the next tribal gathering and the phrase stuck. It even became a corporate tagline for a time.

But today, I come before you and ask, "What DO we do about all the innocent tomatoes?"

When the grand experiment called When Pigs Fly Farm started last spring, I truly believed I would not see a tomato this growing season. The tomato gods have proved me wrong. I have tomatoes up the kazoo.

Not that I'm complaining or anything.

The challenge at hand is what to do with them.

The cherry tomatoes are no problem. Just gather them up, slap them in plastic bags, throw one to my apartment-based work pal, Sporter, every couple of days and take the rest to the food bank.

The big heirlooms are a different kettle of tomatoes entirely. They have a shorter shelf life and just beg to be eaten (or otherwise dealt with) a day or two after picking. Plus, they are not the perfect genetically engineered red orbs you pick up at the grocery store. My heirlooms are straight up funny looking -- big and blowsy and peppered with odd little dimples and cracks. In fact, the other night, one of Farmer Jim's friends said my Mr. Stripeys looked like pumpkins!

So am I in a race to consume these jewels -- or preserve their wonderful summer essence -- using as many recipes as possible. I am not a canner -- the idea of being 5' 2" (and shrinking) and dealing with large kettles of scalding hot water and small jars has never been very appealing. So fresh I am.

You've seen my caprese salad and read about my roasted cherry tomato sauce. Here are a couple more (home runs, if I do say so myself) tomato treats that I've cooked up over the week or so.

Farmer Jim's Picante Sauce
I snuck into FJ's recipe vault and snatched it while he wasn't looking! It's de-lish.

1 large white onion, chopped
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, chopped
6 medium sized ripe tomatoes, chopped
½ t salt
1 T sugar
1/4 c fresh chopped cilantro
2-4 cloves garlic, chopped (I'm of a school that if 2-4 gloves of garlic are good, then 3-6 are better. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.)
6 tablespoons olive oil
½ T cumin (Again. If 1/2 T cumin is good, then 1 T is better. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.)

And shhhh. Don't tell Farmer Jim, but I added a liberal pinch of dried red chili peppers. DO IT! You will not regret.

Saute garlic and onions in olive oil till onions and garlic are tender but not brown. Set aside for a moment

Blend tomatoes until chunky with cilantro and put in a pot with sliced jalapeno.

Add sugar, salt, pepper and cumin.

Add onion/garlic mix. Heat, then simmer for about 30 minutes. I got three 8-ounce jars of sauce.

No-cook Spaghetti Sauce
Adapted from "Cooking Light"
Odd as it may sound, it's refreshing and wonderful. Tuck this one away for a warm night next summer.

1 lb dry spaghetti (other pastas are ok, too. Just be sure to use the dry version. They hold the sauce better.)
2 c chopped tomato (about 5 medium tomatoes - fresher the better)
1 c crumbled ricotta salata or feta cheese
1/3 c chopped pitted kalamata olives
1/4 c capers
1 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil
3/4 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced (Remember the Bermtopian Rule of Garlic: More is better)
Pinch of a ground red pepper flakes

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain.

Combine tomato and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add pasta, and toss well to combine. Serve immediately.

Note: Play around with this recipe. Try chopped fresh basil -- or omit the ricotta/feta cheese and coat (and I mean, coat) with good-quality freshly grated parmesan. The world is your tomato.

And finally.

Oven-dried Tomatoes
This is about as close as you'll get to tomato crack.

Fresh tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground pepper
Garlic, sliced or chopped, optional

Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees. Rub a baking sheet with a light layer of olive oil.

Slice tomatoes (about 1/4-inch thick is good, but don't get all emo if some are thicker than others) and layer on the baking sheet. A little overlapping is OK.

Drizzle olive oil over tomatoes and sprinkle with pepper (and garlic if you're using it).
Pop in the oven and bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, giving the boys a toss and re-layer about half way through the cook time. Turn off over and let tomatoes cool in the oven.

Use in salads, sauces, salad dressings, as a topping. Let your tomato imagination run wild!

There are no wrong answers.


  1. I'd like some of your heirlooms to do more picante sauce. can I just help myself?

    Gonna try that crushed chili additive, it sounds TASTY!!

  2. Absolutely. My tomatoes are your tomatoes.

    I harvested a bunch of ripe ones today, but there should be a couple more ready in a day or two.

  3. Thanks. You are Absolutely right! A bit of crushed chili - SANAPPY!!

  4. All of that looks so yummy!