Celebrating Essential Tomato-ness
Perfectly ripe tomatoes taste like the essence of summer; tangy, bright, tart-sweet and full of subtle flavor shadows. Picked at peak, tomatoes need very little help to shine; in fact, too many competing ingredients obscure their best qualities. Save those fancy, jazzed up sauce recipes for the long months when ripe tomatoes are just a dream. For now, celebrate these scant few months of tomato bliss with recipes of stunning purity and simplicity.
To keep plants productive and happy through summer heat and drought, I feed them various versions of my all-purpose elixir. For tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, my most effective booster combines liquid kelp and fish fertilizer with a little humic acid. This high-energy blend suits high-volume producers, from tomatoes to hanging baskets or color bowls. To give tomatoes and peppers a second wind, spray it on plant foliage and water some in to the roots as well.
High Summer Plant Food
1 tablespoon liquid kelp concentrate
1 tablespoon humic acid concentrate
1/4 cup liquid fish fertilizer
1 gallon water
Combine in a gallon jug, shake well and let stand overnight. After watering, give each large plant (tomato, pepper, etc) 1 cup of elixir, and each smaller plant (basil, hanging basket) 1/2 cup of elixir every 2 weeks. Plants in 1 gallon containers get 1/4 cup each on the same schedule. Store leftover elixir in a cool, dark place.
We all have our favorite summery recipes, from tarts and pizzas to ice cream and cobblers. Many of my favorites come from Italy and France, where I’ve enjoyed some of the best food of my well-fed lifetime. Gazpacho is a perfect example; many recipes try too hard to dazzle and end up tasting of heat and spice rather than their main ingredients. This one is my attempt to recreate a meal at a small Provencal restaurant under the shade of a trailing grape vine, with cicadas creaking away endlessly in the dry heat. Like all very simple food, it’s only as good as the ingredients; made with sun warmed, just-picked garden produce, it’s glorious, especially when served as it was in Provence; at room temperature with a dollop of creamy, subtly savory Basil Sorbet.
4 cups tomatoes, skinned and diced
1 cup red bell peppers, skinned and diced
1 cup yellow or orange bell pepper, skinned and diced
1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 cup sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh Italian (flat) parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, stemmed and chopped
Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree to desired consistency. Chill for at least 1 hour. Serve cold with basil and olive oil sorbet (see below). Serves 4-6.
Basil and Olive Oil Sorbet
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon honey OR sugar
1 teaspoon fruity olive oil
2 tablespoons minced sweet basil
In a sauce pan, combine cream with 1 tablespoon honey or sugar over medium low, stirring until dissolved. Remove from heat, add oil and basil and puree with an emersion bender until smooth and foamy. Chill for an hour, then pour into chilled ice cream maker or ice cube trays. If using ice cream maker, follow makers’ directions for sorbet. If using ice cube trays, freeze until mixture is firm (more or less). Dump into a bowl and mash until smooth, then serve in small scoops or balls (about 1 tablespoon makes a garnish serving). Makes about 1 cup.
High Summer Salad & Sandwiches
Here’s another recipe that’s very pleasant when made in winter and totally fabulous when made with fresh, ripe tomatoes. It’s also good with any shell beans or chickpeas, each of which contributes its own particular flavor to the melange.
French Tomato & Cannellini Bean Salad
3 cups chopped tomatoes (or halved if cherry tomatoes)
2 cups cooked cannellini (or any) beans, drained and rinsed
2-3 Persian cucumbers, halved and thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, chopped (greens included)
1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives
1/4 cup chopped basil
1/4 cup chopped flat Italian parsley
2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
2 teaspoons capers, drained
1 clove garlic, minced
In a serving bowl, gently toss all ingredients and let stand 10 minutes before serving. Serves 4 as an entree or 6 as a side salad.
What? Tomato Sandwiches?
Of course there is nothing like a BLT or one of its many versions that include avocados but it must be admitted that they are bacon dominated. There’s of course nothing wrong with that but when ripe tomatoes fill my kitchen, it’s Tomato Sandwich time. Again, these probably sound too simple to be any good but again, with perfect ingredients they are sumptuous. If you make seasoned salt, the fresh herbs are less critical but still pleasant. Try just one and see if you don’t find yourself craving them from now on…
Tomato Purist Sandwiches
1 crisp-crusted baguette, sliced 1/4 inch thick
sea salt or fleur de sel or seasoned salt (see below)
ripe tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
Minced fresh herbs (basil, chives, thyme, rosemary)
Spread two slices of baguette with butter, add a slice of tomato to one and sprinkle with salt and fresh herbs OR just the seasoned salt. Top with the other slice and take it outside to eat in the garden. No go make another one. And another. Am I right or am I right?
3 plump cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
zest from 2 organic lemons
1/4 cup stemmed herbs (rosemary, thyme, and a few sage leaves is very good)
1 cup flaked sea salt
In a food processor, grind garlic, lemon zest, and herbs to a fine paste. Add salt and buzz until evenly mixed. Spread on a rimed baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F. for 15 minutes or until dry and slightly crunchy. Cool and pack in jars. Makes about 1 cup. Keeps indefinitely.
Actually this is a comment on your recent Sun article on sweet peas. I saved seeds from a packet of multicolored sweet peas last year and they all came in pink, but fragrant.
Is this reversion common to all varieties in your experience? To get color do I need to buy fresh seed packets each year?
When growers sell mixed packets, the various colors have been grown separately (in different fields some distance apart) and any off-colors are rogued (pulled out) to keep the type and color consistent. Sweetpeas are self-fertile but can also be cross-pollinated by bees and other insects (or hybridizers), and sometimes the strongest color will win out over time. To make sure you keep seeds of particular colors, mark the pods with colored yarn to indicate which ones to keep, and don’t save pods from unmarked plants. Also true with poppies: I was given a delicious strain of California poppies created by Connie Caunt, a wonderful Canadian gardener. The mixture runs from cream through palest pink to rose and lavender. Left untended, the typical citrus orange poppies would soon dominate despite not being among the intended colors, so each year, as soon as an orange poppy reveals itself, the entire plant must be pulled out immediately. Even after many years of roguing, the strain is not truly stable, and orange poppies will still dominate after a couple of years unless they are removed early. Hope that helps!