Red, yellow, orange, purple, green. They’re here!
“What’s for dinner?”
“Didn’t we have tomatoes for lunch?”
“Yep. Guess what we’re having for breakfast?”
We wait all year for that blush of red in the garden, and the first few are precious. Nothing beats the flavor of fresh tomato, unadorned except for a sprinkle of salt, or the ritual of the first tomato sandwich – white bread, mayonnaise, thick slice of tomato, salt.
Then, all at once, we have tomatoes in abundance! We make bruschetta, fresh salsa, tomato sauce, tomato sauce to freeze, tomato soup, tomato water, and, of course, salad Caprese and other tomato salads of all kinds and colors.
I have two cherry tomato plants in my yard, and one morning picked over 100 tomatoes! Then, a friend dropped off another pint! An embarrassment of riches of the best kind.
If you don’t have a garden, this is the time of year to scout the farm stands and farmers’ markets for bulk baskets of “canning tomatoes” or those which might be blemished or contorted shapes.
Can or freeze?
My mother used to can tomatoes, and if you have never canned before, this high-acid fruit is a good place to start. There are many good on-line sources of information, or you can follow the canning jar manufacturer’s step-by-step instructions for safe handling.
You can also tuck tomatoes in the freezer with little prep for use all winter in soups and stews and sauces, my preferred method. Skin them first if you like, but if the skin is thin, this is really not necessary.
There’s always dehydrating
For a different taste and texture, dehydrating is a great way to preserve the sun of the summer.
You don’t have to “sun dry” them, your oven can do the work, and does not rely on the weather since our New England summers can be quite humid and wet, not ideal drying conditions.
Those 100 cherry tomatoes? They ended up sliced in half and placed cut-side up on a parchment lined baking sheet, drizzled with a bit of olive oil, to rest in my convection oven for four hours at 175 degrees. If your stove does not go that low, put it on the lowest setting and prop open the door. The time will vary greatly, so check at two hours; it may need more than four hours.
The texture will feel dry, but still rubbery, and they will have an intense sweetness. Once dried, place them in olive oil and store in the refrigerator with some herbs to impart more flavor, or store as is in a jar in a cool dry area.
Experiment with something different
This is also the time of year to experiment with different tomato recipes. Since there is also an abundance of zucchinis around, slice up a few and layer in a casserole with sliced tomatoes, some garlic and herbs and a minced shallot. Really mound it up, the tomatoes will shrink down as they bake.
Top with fresh breadcrumbs and cheese and bake until brown and aromatic. This is good hot or cold.
And let’s not forget our salads!