August is a month with a lot going against it as far as I’m concerned, including heat, mosquitoes, back-to-school, and hurricanes. You just might have heard me whine about that before! ?
BUT few things can top ripe, juicy, homegrown tomatoes, and August does have those, so at least there’s that! ?
I’ll tell you what we do with tomatoes during this short but tasty season, and then you can tell me what you do. Let’s pack in as much tomato goodness as we can!
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With the first tomato we get, we make this:
The Tomato Sandwich: You’ll hear from most Southerners that you’re supposed to use white Bunny or Wonder bread for this and Duke’s mayonnaise, but my Southern family committed mayonnaise mutiny in the 70s and never looked back. We rarely have white bread either, but if I do I’ll use it for this. The important part is a tomato big enough for one slice to cover the whole piece of bread, and lots of mayo, salt and pepper. Don’t toast the bread.
With the second one, or even the next dozen or so (it’s kind of hard to make too many of these), we do this:
The BLT: We use a standard soft brown sandwich loaf, toasted. Then mayo, three slices of crisp cooked bacon, two or three crunchy cold iceberg lettuce leaves, and tomato. Some of us like peeled, thinly sliced, refrigerated tomatoes on it, and some of us do NOT. The nots — that would be me — like them warm from the vine, with the skins, in thick slices. I have been known to add avocado and thin slices of red onion, and to use a good quality sourdough toast from time to time. My husband considers that ‘ruined’, but use your own judgement. Don’t forget plenty of salt and pepper. I think everyone agrees on that.
Then, since the Farmers Market is full of tomatoes and everything else too right now, there’s this:
The Vegetable Plate: Two or three slices of tomatoes with flaky sea salt, some fresh black-eye peas, fried okra or squash (fried? Oh YUM, I want to stop and go make some now!), slaw (chopped cabbage with mayo, a tiny bit of sugar and vinegar), cornbread and iced tea. The best the South has to offer, IMHO.
If we ever get enough of the above, we move on to some of these:
Salsa: There is just no comparison between fresh salsa and the kind in the jar. I make it like this: Fresh Salsa, but there as many ways to do it as there are people! Cilantro is imperative for me, but fresh oregano is a reasonable substitute for those of you who think cilantro tastes like soap.
The Club Sandwich: Add sliced cheese and turkey and/or ham to a BLT, basically, but layer it with a third piece of bread in the middle. If you add avocado too, I think you can call it a California club. Sometimes I go gourmet and make a lemony basil mayonnaise for it. I like the idea of using bamboo picks to hold it all together, because you have to cut it into cute triangles before you eat it, and they would make that a lot easier. BTW, after lunch at Cullowhee, I saw someone collect picks just like the ones I linked to to use later for seed-starting labels!
Panzanella: The first time I saw a Tuscan bread and tomato salad was on The Barefoot Contessa TV show. It was perfect timing because I needed a dish for a 4th of July party. I made it for that, and many times since. I thought it was one of the best things I’d ever tasted, and I still do! Tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, and toasty bread cubes in a garlicky vinaigrette — as Ina would say, “How bad can that be?” The party crowd gobbled it up fast! Here’s her recipe: Panzanella
Greek Pasta Salad: I had this at a restaurant with a sandwich one time (Bertucci’s), and have been making it at home ever since. Corkscrew pasta, tomatoes, red onion, green pepper, and feta cheese. Cut all of the vegetables into ¼” dice. Then pour on the vinaigrette — lemon juice, red wine vinegar, oregano, salt, pepper, and EVOO. Toss together and let flavors blend for a couple of hours, if possible. It’s simple, but very tasty.
Caprese Salad/Sandwich: Layer slices of tomato (red, yellow, and green heirlooms would make it even prettier), very fresh slices of mozzarella (the kind in the liquid), and fresh basil leaves. Drizzle with EVOO and balsamic vinegar. We usually make a sandwich out of this by layering all the ingredients onto chiabatta bread. You can toast it or not, it’s good both ways. And don’t forget the salt. Flaky sea type is best.
Gazpacho: Gazpacho can be really fabulous, or really boring. You shouldn’t make it without homegrown tomatoes and the freshest of everything. That way, it’s a summer treat … that can’t be beat! The best one I’ve tasted was made like this: Gazpacho Andaluz. The inclusion of bread and oil is important to its authenticity, but also to its taste! Don’t leave that out (even if you cut the amounts a little)! It’s a light meal with good bread, manchego cheese, olives, and a Spanish Rioja.
Tomato Salad with Hummus: This is just a quick little appetizer I do while we’re all hanging out in the kitchen waiting for dinner. Chopped tomato, feta, balsamic vinegar, EVOO, salt, on top of hummus and served with pita chips. I have it for lunch every now and then, too.
Pasta Pomodoro: My youngest daughter is a local dining expert. I think she used all her high school babysitting money eating out. ? Once after a meal at Cheesecake Factory, she came home raving about Pasta Pomodoro and begged me to make it for her. It became a standard around here, often made for her quickly before she had to run off for some senior year activity. Although this recipe is a copycat for Olive Garden’s Capellini Pomodoro, we do it just this way. Sprinkle plenty of shredded parmesan cheese on top before serving.
Fried Green Tomatoes: Green tomatoes are an end of season thing, pulled from the vines to keep the first frost from getting the last of the crop. Traditionally, that’s when fried green ones were eaten. Now they are a Southern food trend and you can get them all sorts of ways at any time of year. Here’s the recipe that made the Blue Willow Inn in Social Circle, Georgia famous: Fried Green Tomatoes. A memorable way I’ve had these was on a bed of salad greens with goat cheese and a maple vinaigrette.
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The following are dishes I would like to try, but haven’t yet. They’re on my Tomato Dishes To Try list, if you will. You have one of those too, right? ?:
Queen Janet’s Tomato Pie looks fantastic — full of juicy tomatoes in a flaky crust, topped with cheesy deliciousness. With a crisp green salad, it would be the perfect summer meal.
Tomato Chips — Very thinly sliced tomatoes dried in a dehydrator and seasoned with sea salt and basil. Crispy, tangy, low calorie, vegan.
Tomato Cobbler — Cherry or grape tomatoes and garlic with a cheddar biscuit crust on top.
Tomato Tart — Another Ina Garten recipe. What can I say, I love nearly everything she makes! This one combines tomatoes with thyme, some goat cheese, parmesan and puff pastry. Must try soon.
Sunshine Tomato Salad Dressing — Tomatoes, garlic, oil, vinegar and some seasonings, left in the sun to develop the flavors for a few hours. Serve over salad greens with feta, or on crusty French bread or pasta.
Slow Cooker Ketchup — I’ve always wanted to make my own ketchup and this seems like a great way to do it. Just throw everything in, cook for a few hours, bottle when you’re done. I like that it’s easy to adjust the sweetness and also the consistency. I might add some heat in the form of half a jalapeño pepper to mine.
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Find a Farmers Market — You can type in your zip code and get a list of markets near you. Handy!
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Tomato graphic via http://www.practicatechnical.com