Category Archives: tomatoes

Simple is Best: Caprese Salad

One of my favorite summer salads is Caprese Salad. It sounds fancier than it is. All you need to make it: fresh ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a bit of salt and pepper.

Some people marinate the tomatoes and cheese, but past experience has taught me that marinating it can make even the freshest tomatoes turn a bit mushy.

I just slice a tomato and layer it with slices of fresh mozzarella and chopped basil, then drizzle with a little olive oil, some balsamic vinegar, then sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

This salad was made with fresh basil and a delicious Black Japanese Trifele Heirloom Tomato picked fresh from my tiny kitchen garden.

Admittedly, the caprese salad pictured here has a bit more cheese than tomato, but this was the last of the fresh mozzarella, so…why not?

For the super lazy cooks among us, this non-recipe recipe can be made even easier by using pre-sliced fresh mozzarella and not chopping the basil.

I’ve also seen caprese kabobs where cherry tomatoes and small balls of fresh mozzarella are skewered along with fresh basil leaves, then drizzled in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Honestly, with these ingredients, it’s impossible to go wrong.

What’s your favorite summer salad?

 

 

 

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Simple Roasted Tomatoes

Pretty much every grocery store has a reduced-for-quick-sale section. Ever wonder what to do with large quantities of over-ripe produce like these tomatoes I bought for under three dollars?

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Whenever I see decent reduced-price tomatoes, I feel compelled to try to replicate my friend Meetal’s ridiculously delicious roasted tomatoes. I’ve never quite matched her results, but I keep trying.

The first time I tasted them was a couple years ago when Meetal, our sisters, and I went to a big flea market and Meetal volunteered to bring lunch. She sliced a loaf of ciabatta bread into two layers, pulled out some of the bread-y bits to make more space for filling and loaded it up with roasted tomatoes, arugula, and fresh mozzarella. She cut the overflowing loaf into four sections and individually wrapped them for us to enjoy while wandering through the flea market.

I’m not sure if it was our reaction to how delicious the sandwiches were, or just how good they looked, but a couple passersby asked where we bought them. Boy, were they disappointed to found out Meetal made the sandwiches!

Separately, each ingredient was good. Combined, they were even better. But the richness of the roasted tomatoes was by far the star ingredient.

That day, Meetal told me how she slow roasts the tomatoes and finishes them off by adding fresh basil and a dash of balsamic vinegar.

I can never remember the specifics of her recipe, so if I’m wrong I hope she’ll chime in and correct me. (Then again, she might not want any of us knowing her secret for perfect roasted tomatoes.) The truth is, as long as you slow roast the tomatoes it’s hard to go wrong.

I started by washing the tomatoes and removing any bad spots. Then I splashed some olive oil in the bottom of two shallow baking pans. I cut the tomatoes into large chunks and tossed in a few whole, peeled, cloves of garlic and a few chunks of onion. (One time I put in a little red bell pepper, too, which lent a nice hint of sweetness.)

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Although I couldn’t remember the temperature Meetal uses, I knew it was low. So I set the oven at 300F degrees.

The hard part comes next. Waiting. Because these are slow roasted, expect to wait at least five or six hours before it even starts to look like this:

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It’s more than worth the wait, though, since the flavor intensifies as the moisture evaporates and the ingredients caramelize.

At this point, you can use a fork to peel off and pick out tomato skins if you like. I picked some of the larger skins out then used a potato masher to work the mixture into a chunky sauce.

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Next I added some basil (sadly it was dried, not fresh), a splash or two of balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

If you don’t like chunky sauce, let it cool a bit and pop it into a food processor or use an immersion blender to achieve the consistency you prefer.

While I didn’t have ciabatta bread, fresh mozzarella, or arugula on hand, I had some gnocchi in the freezer so I made this:

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There’s still a lot of roasted tomatoes leftover, so I might yet make the sandwiches. You can uses this sauce with almost any pasta or just dip some nice rustic bread in and enjoy. It would probably make a great pizza sauce, too.

Have you ever bought bulk quantities of over-ripe produce? What did you make with it?

 

 

What’s My Garden Growing: Gajo De Melon

Last week I showed you the gorgeous Violet Jasper tomatoes growing in a garden pot out back. This week I have a couple of ripe Gajo de Melon heirloom tomatoes freshly picked from a plant just 20 feet away from the Violet Jaspers.

The Gajo de Melon plant really didn’t grow much. It had some yellow leaves early on so I removed those. I always water my tomatoes from the bottom, but this is the only tomato plant I have that isn’t at least partially protected by an overhang – maybe it isn’t doing as well as the others because its leaves get too wet when it rains. The poor plant looks half dead but it keeps blossoming and has already produced several tiny fruits.

I was expecting cherry tomato sized fruits, but this is what I got:

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Yep. That’s a quarter next to the tiny beauties.

Despite the tiny size, they’re perfectly formed tomatoes that offer an intense, concentrated, slightly tart tomato flavor. They’d pair really well with bitter greens.

Now if you want to see a real garden bounty, Bonnie from Arizona shared these photos from her dad’s garden.

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Bonnie’s dad in his Arizona garden…

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…and some of his garden’s bounty.

Now that’s a real home garden! Is everyone else as envious as I am about that yield?

What my garden’s growing: Violet Jasper

So far my mini-garden has yeilded loads of fresh herbs, a few snow peas, some green beans and a few cucumbers. While there are lots of little peppers on the red pepper plant, my zucchini plants are big and leafy and have produced tons of blossoms, but so far no actual zucchini. Something must be wrong there.

This year I planted three heirloom tomatoes: Amish Paste, Gajo de Melon, and this beautifully colorful Violet Jasper:

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Sometimes the problem with heirloom varieties is knowing when they’re ripe. With “violet” in the name, I left my first few tomatoes on until they had a purplish hue. By then, they were overly sweet and a little mushy. I just picked that beauty above (along with some slightly riper ones and another cucumber).

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It was delicious.

The Amish Paste plant is big and healthy, but its tomatoes are still green. My poor Gajo de Melon doesn’t seem to like where I planted it. It hasn’t grown very large, and while it has lots of tomatoes, they’re barely the diameter of a nickle. They’re supposed to be the size of cherry tomatoes, just like the Violet Jaspers. We’ll see what happens.

For now I’m glad to have the first haul of eight nice Violet Jasper tomatoes – and now I know to pick them when they look like the photos above.

How are your gardens growing?

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