It's such a short season and a vine-ripened tomato is one of the greatest culinary gifts. First, there's the most basic summertime pleasure: Putting a ripe tomato straight from the vine in your mouth and letting the sweet, sun-warmed juices roll down your shirt because it's August and who cares? Then there's the very simple summer treat: a tomato sandwich (lightly toasted white bread, a layer of mayonnaise, fresh basil leaves, salt, and pepper) followed by a month of ice-cold tomato-based gazpacho, hot tomato soup, salads, toasted tomato sauces, pasta sauces, fried fish with tomatoes, sautéed seafood with tomatoes, tomato pies, galettes, and crostatas. Do you understand what I mean? Of course, there aren't too many tomatoes.
I get together with some friends and clean out the canning equipment, roast all those garden tomatoes in a hot oven (early in the morning or on that rare chilly August or September day) with garlic, herbs, and a drizzle of olive oil, then set down the sweet sauce in mason jars for a winter of great meals. I love roasting cherry tomatoes - red, yellow, orange, round, oblong - in a low oven, swimming in an olive oil "bath" with lots of fresh herbs, and using the tender tomatoes all week long for pizza toppings, salads, and as Base to use a simple sauce or toppings for grilled fish or meat.
And then there's an open-faced sandwich called a tartine, which layers thin slices of tomato with ripe peaches on a herb-lemon-ricotta mixture on top of a toasted crusty baguette. And my latest recipe: tomato tonnato. You may have heard of Vitello tonnato, a classic dish of thinly sliced veal in a tuna sauce that hails from the northeastern Piedmont region. I'm reimagining using the ripest tomatoes in season instead of meat.
Look for a variety of tomatoes and cherry tomatoes at farmers' markets and markets that buy their tomatoes from local farmers. You may come across the term heirloom tomato, which simply indicates that the variety of seeds used to grow the fruit is older and has been passed down from generation to generation. Unlike mass-produced supermarket tomatoes, which all look the same but offer very little flavor, these "older" seed varieties are valued more for their flavor than for their perfect, uniform appearance. They come in all colors, shapes, and sizes, and while they're more expensive, they're worth seeking out for their incredible juiciness and flavor profile.
Once you get the tomatoes home, you'll want to store them ambient, stem-side down. Ripen tomatoes in a single layer; If you stack them on top of each other, they're more likely to rot. According to an article by Sarah Kaplan in The Washington Post, the cooler refrigerator temperature can slow the ripening process, but it "also affects chemical compounds that give tomatoes their flavor."
Cherry tomato confit
The French word confit means "to conserve". In this case, ripe cherry tomatoes are roasted very slowly in a “bath” of olive oil with fresh basil, garlic, salt, and pepper. The tomatoes will keep, covered, and refrigerated, for over a week and can be served on pasta (see below), as a garnish for fish, chicken, and vegetable dishes, salads, or simply on toast or crackers. And the tomato oil is ideal for salad dressings, tossed with pasta, or drizzled over cooked fish and seafood.
1 ½ pound ripe cherry tomatoes, red, orange, and yellow if possible
1 cup olive oil
¼ cup basil leaves, very coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves thinly sliced
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Mix all ingredients in a large gratin dish or casserole dish with a rim.
Roast on the middle shelf for 40 to 55 minutes, or until the tomatoes are bursting and quite tender and the oil is sizzling slightly.
Take it out of the oven.
Let cool and store in a covered container or mason jar in the refrigerator for at least a week.
Linguine with cherry tomato confit, basil, pine nuts, and arugula
|Linguine with cherry tomato confit, basil, pine nuts, and arugula. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)|
|Tomato tonnato. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)|
- A 3-ounce can of tuna in olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons cream
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained
- 2 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice from 1 large lemon
- 1 to 2 anchovy fillets, optional
- 1 tablespoon canned or bottled anchovy oil, optional
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 large ripe tomatoes or 2 tomatoes and 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes. Use yellow and red tomatoes if you can, very thinly sliced
- 1 to 2 tablespoons basil leaves, left whole if small, or coarsely chopped or sliced if large
- Nasturtium or other edible flowers, optional
- Make the Sauce: In a food processor or blender, toss the tuna (as well as all of the olive oil in the can) with the garlic.
- Add mayonnaise, heavy cream, capers, lemon juice, anchovies, and anchovy oil if using, olive oil, and pepper. Stir until almost a smooth sauce.
- Place in a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight.
- To Serve: Using a soft spatula or the back of a round kitchen spoon, spread the tuna sauce onto a medium-sized platter, arrange the tomatoes on top and garnish with the basil and edible flowers.
Heirloom tomato, peach, and herbed-lemon ricotta tartine
|Heirloom tomato, peach, and herbed-lemon ricotta tartine. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)|