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THE CALIFORNIA COOK

30 days of ripe tomatoes

September 09, 2009|Russ Parsons

Summer always comes late to Southern California, but that seemed to be particularly true this year, as the cloudy gray days of June gloom stretched well into August for many areas. There was a good side, to be sure, but what we gained by not having to turn on the air conditioner was offset by the sorry state of our tomatoes.

In my garden, except for some precocious Sweet 100s, nothing became ripe until about a week ago. Then wham! all of a sudden, everything ripened at once. As a result, I am now swimming in tomatoes.

I've got more ripe Brandywines, Pink Cherokees and Black Krims than I can count. And every day seems a challenge to find yet one more way to use them up. Because this summer heat spell can't last. I figure we've got probably until the middle of October to enjoy these tomatoes before the sun starts to fade and the fruit starts to shrivel.

So, in honor of this hurry-up harvest, here is a month's worth of ideas for using tomatoes, plus a couple of full recipes to get you started.

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1 Pa' amb tomaquet: Split a baguette in half and cut it into 4- to 5-inch lengths. Toast the bread and while it is still hot, rub the cut side with a cut clove of garlic. Rub half of a seeded tomato against the bread, cut side to cut side, as if you were polishing the bread with the tomato. The bread will absorb a lot of tomato juice and soften slightly but stay crisp around the crust. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and season to taste with salt.

2 Pasta with fresh tomatoes: Cut cherry tomatoes in half and season with salt, pepper, olive oil, a little red wine vinegar and minced garlic and a pinch of dried red chile flakes. Cook bucatini, penne or another chewy dried pasta until tender. While the pasta is still steaming hot, dump it over the tomatoes. Stir quickly so the hot pasta will lightly cook the tomatoes. Stir in a bit more olive oil or, if you prefer, some fresh goat cheese, which will melt into the pasta.

3 Pasta with quickly cooked tomatoes (true marinara): Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and saute a whole peeled garlic clove until lightly browned. Add peeled, seeded, diced tomatoes and cook until they begin to melt into a sauce. Cook spaghetti or another long dried pasta and when it is almost tender, add it to the tomatoes along with a ladle of the cooking water. Increase the heat to high and cook until the sauce thickens and coats the pasta. Remove the garlic clove, sprinkle with shredded basil, and serve.

4 Pasta with tomato sauce: Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat with minced garlic and diced carrots, celery and onion (half as much carrots and celery as onion). When the vegetables start to soften and turn color, add peeled, seeded, diced tomatoes (preferably plum tomatoes) and cook until they've thoroughly melted into a sauce. Pass the mixture through a food mill (or puree in a food processor) and return to the skillet. Serve with fettuccine or another fresh pasta topped with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

5 Tomato butter: Heat a stick of butter in a skillet with minced shallots and torn fresh tarragon. Cut cherry tomatoes in quarters and put them in a mixing bowl with salt to taste. If the tomatoes lack acidity, stir in a bit of red wine vinegar. When the shallots have softened, pour the butter into the tomatoes, stirring briskly to break up the tomatoes. Serve this over grilled or sauteed fish or gnocchi.

6 Tomato and white bean salad: Halve cherry tomatoes and put them in a mixing bowl with minced garlic and capers. Season with olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt. Set aside for a half-hour to macerate. In another mixing bowl, combine a can of rinsed, drained white beans and some slivered red onion. Add the tomatoes and stir to combine. Top with slivered basil. To make this a light main course, stir in a drained can of good-quality tuna.

7 True gazpacho: Soak bread in water to soften. Puree the bread and a clove of garlic in a blender until smooth. Add seeded, chopped tomatoes, a little peeled, chopped cucumber and a little seeded bell pepper and puree. Season with salt, white wine vinegar, a little cumin and either a little black pepper or smoked paprika. With the blender running, add olive oil in a stream until the mixture turns from bright red to orange. Pour the mixture into a bowl and whisk in just enough ice water to make a lightly creamy texture. Chill until ready to serve.

8 Crostini with goat cheese and tomatoes: Cut a baguette in 1/2 -inch slices and place them on a cookie sheet. Toast at 400 degrees, turning once, until they are well-browned on both sides, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately rub each slice lightly with cut garlic and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle seeded, diced tomatoes with salt and pepper and just enough olive oil to barely moisten. Spread the crostini with fresh goat cheese and top with a generous spoonful of the diced tomatoes. Garnish with a sprig of basil.

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