Savoring The End Of Season Harvest
Yesterday I gathered several gallons of tomatoes in various shades of orange, red, tan, black, and green. Carefully washed and dried, they now nest in cardboard egg cartons on the counter where I can monitor their ripening. Some will be made into green tomato jam, others roasted for sauces and soups, and some will end up in pizza or focaccia with lots of roasted garlic and basil salt. (Try a sprinkle of basil salt on fresh tomatoes with fresh goat cheese on crusty bread; instant yum!)
You can make flavored salt with all kinds of herbs, from parsley and cilantro to fennel and dill (use the greens). For variety, try small batches until you find combos you love. I like to use a blend of rosemary, thyme and a little lavender in salad dressings and marinades for fish, while oregano, garlic and pepper salt is delightful on pizza and pasta. Keep the proportions roughly the same; about a cup of herbs and spices per cup of salt. Bake in a slow oven until dry but not over-cooked: salt blends should be completely dry but still green (or whatever) colored, not browned.
1 cup fresh basil leaves with stems (any kinds)
1 cup coarse sea salt
Preheat oven to bake 225 F. Combine basil and salt in a food processor and grind until fine (mixture will be bright green). Spread evenly in a thin layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes in a 225 degree oven.
Bye Bye Tomato Pie
End of season tomatoes are usually variably ripe, but in this Italian torta, that variation only adds to the tastiness. I use all kinds and sizes of tomatoes, sliced to more or less the same thickness so they cook evenly. Whole grain bread crumbs gives the heartiest flavor, but sourdough crumbs are equally toothsome (rosemary sourdough especially). Gluten free bread does not work well in this recipe, but polenta crumbs are great in it. You can add some thinly sliced leeks if you like, but not onions (they make the tart too watery).
Italian Tomato Tart
1 pie crust (gluten free or any)
4 cups sliced tomatoes with juices
1/2 teaspoon basil salt
2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups fresh bread crumbs or polenta crumbs
3-4 ounces fresh goat cheese (optional)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. While it heats, line a pie dish with crust, set aside. Sprinkle tomatoes with 1/4 teaspoon basil salt, set aside. In a bowl, combine oil and garlic with remaining basil salt, let stand 2-3 minutes, then gently toss with fresh bread crumbs. Fill crust with alternating layers of crumbs, tomatoes, and goat cheese (if using), beginning and ending with crumbs. Bake at 425 F for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 350 F and bake until browned and bubbling (30-40 minutes). Serve hot or warm. Serves at least one.
Smoke Your Own Paprikas
I got a bumper crop of plump but thin-walled Alma paprikas, which are generally held to be the best for drying and smoking. Almas are also amazingly flavorful at every stage, from green to white to tan to orange to deep red, at which point they are also the hottest. Thus, you can harvest a handful of different colors and smoke them (or just dry them) to get a variably sweeter or hotter paprika powder. Low, slow heat is the key to success with both drying and smoking (which does both at the same time). Slow, low heat is perfect, so I get a pal to smoke my paprikas when he smokes salmon, which works out perfectly.
Jammin’ Green Tomatoes
Of course you can fry green tomatoes (or ripe ones, for that matter) but they also make great pies (used in an apple pie recipe, many people can’t tell the difference) as well as conserves and jams. Like green apples, green tomatoes are rich in pectin, so you don’t need to add any. This sweet-tart, slightly spicy-hot version is my current favorite, but you can leave out the smoked paprika if you want a more traditional flavor.
Sweet-Hot Green Tomato Jam
4 8-ounce jam jars with lids
2 pounds (about 5 cups) finely chopped green tomatoes
2 cups coconut sugar OR brown sugar
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked hot paprika
Sterilize jam jars in boiling water, put lids in hot water, and prepare a large pot of hot water for sealing the jars. In a soup pot, combine green tomatoes, sugar, lemon juice and rind and salt over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring often, until mixture is very thick and reduced by about 1/3 volume (30-40 minutes). Stir in paprika and cook 5 minutes. Spoon hot jam into clean canning jars and seal, then immerse in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Makes about 4 cups jam.
And Of Course, Soil Building
After the last harvest, it’s time to rebuild summer-weary soil. Because I want my gardens to flourish, I focus on feeding the soil, knowing that as I do, I am encouraging billions of beneficial bacterial and other soil dwellers who will nourish my plants in turn. Thus, each spring and fall I cover the garden with mulches of leaves, grass clippings, bedding straw, and all manner of humus-rich materials. If you are building new beds, consider sheet mulching with all of the above, spread in generous layers as deeply as you can. By spring, the undersoil will be open enough the plant and the top material can be left in place to continue its slow breakdown into root-nourishing compost.
If you have made or have access to aged mature compost, that is the best soil treatment and plant treat of all. Spread now, and again in late winter or early spring, compost will open and enrich the soil, nurture soil biota and plants, conserve winter rain, encourage root growth, and promote plant resilience all at the same time. If you don’t, use what you do have, whether fallen leaves alone or mixed with garden wastes of various kinds. Left alone, it will spend the winter quietly degrading into usable nutrients while we dream and scheme about next season.
Cherish The Soil
For a more playful, provocative look at soil cherishing, check out this soil arts blog: