Savoring fresh summer tomatoes

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By: Rachel Shenk

Rachel Shenk

I’ve just put the last pints of tomato sauce in the canner, and I’m sitting in my screened-in porch, watching the bats flit about. As darkness falls, the sound of the cicadas and the crickets seems to build to a crescendo. It’s definitely a late summer night.

These days at the market I can find red or yellow cherry tomatoes, red or gold romas, big boys, slicing and all types of lovely heirlooms.They vary in size, shape, color and flavor, but they all have in common the true taste of summer, much more delicious than the ones we find at the supermarket – they carry the flavors of the sun and the rain and of the care of the people growing them.

When I pick them from my own little patch, the pungent smell of the tomato stalks sticks to my fingers. The abundance of tomatoes provides a reason for canning – to preserve that summer goodness for the winter. When all we can find at the grocery are those tasteless winter tomatoes, we’ll be able to cook with the fresh stuff put away this summer.

I like to choose fruit grown with no chemicals or pesticides so that I know that the earth is treated right and will continue to offer its bounty. It will also make the end product better. I buy my tomatoes from Vera and Dean. I used to drive by their farm every day on my way to and from work, so I know where these tomatoes come from.

The choices for canning are limitless: tomato sauce, raw packed, salsa, ketchup, juice…I decide to make a marinara sauce to pack in half pints. For the two of us, these half pints are a perfect size and the sauce can be used for a variety of meals, from a simple spaghetti to my favorite Belgian vegetable soup.

First, I chop all of the tomatoes into large pots and let them cook until softened. Then I put them through my food mill, an antique one that my mother used to use. It’s amazing to think how much has passed through it. I pick basil and oregano from our luxuriant herb pot, add some onions and garlic from the market, a glug or two of wine, grind in some salt and pepper and we are ready to cook down the sauce, which always seems to take more hours than I think.

A half a bushel of tomatoes makes 26 half pints, plus a couple of tomatoes to just eat fresh and dripping as I’m canning. This canning business makes me appreciate the hot days of the summer. When I’m baking away in my kitchen thinking the heat is unbearable, I can think of the tomatoes growing and loving this weather.

And of course, fresh tomatoes are now included in many meals. We make fresh mozzarella and tomato salad using fresh basil from our patch and serve it with a balsamic vinaigrette. It’s easy to prepare and looks and tastes so wonderful.

With broccoli also in season, we make a salad with tomatoes, hazelnuts, feta and broccoli. I add a french vinaigrette that comes from an Irish cookbook I received from my friends, the Deeghans, and another tasty salad is ready.

Fresh tomato slices with chopped parsley and an onion vinaigrette offers a delicious side dish. All of these salads get their flavor from homegrown tomatoes. My most recent use of tomatoes was in a stuffed pepper salad. Here is the recipe:

Stuffed pepper salad with tomatoes
Serves four

Ingredients

  • 1 large tomato diced
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 2 ears of corn, husked and cooked, then cut off the ear
  • 3 green onions, diced
  • ¼ cup colby cheese, diced
  • 4 small tangerine peppers

For the dressing, mix together:

  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • ½ tsp. salt

Directions

  1. Combine the first 5 ingredients. Toss with dressing.
  2. Clean, hollow and seed peppers.
  3. Make a bed of greens on a small plate. Place pepper on top, then fill pepper with the salad mixture and allow some to overflow onto the greens.
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