Tomatoes: Taste of summer

By on August 29, 2013

“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”
– Miles Kington

tom1I‘ve waited all year for this — homegrown tomatoes from my garden. There’s nothing else like the flavor of a just-picked, vine-ripened, still warm-from-the-sun tomato.

You can’t buy that flavor. You have to grow it yourself. To me, a tomato is summer and I want to celebrate the produce of the season.

My garden got off to a late start this season, but the heat is here now and the garden is finally starting to act like summer.

Beefsteaks, Early Girls, assorted heirlooms, Romas, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and basil are all producing furiously.

Oh, the joys of summer bounty! I have a trio of delightful tomato recipes for you and, as an added bonus, none involves any baking in a hot summer kitchen.

My first celebration of the tomato is panzanella, a classic Tuscan tomato salad which combines juicy, rustically ripe summer tomatoes with a sharp vinaigrette, savory croutons to soak up that wonderful juice, and loads of fresh, fragrant basil. Panzanella is a wonderful way to showcase summer produce. I like to think of it as Summer-On-A-Plate.

Panzanella

tom2For the croutons:
1 loaf French bread, torn into 1-inch cubes
2 TB extra virgin olive oil
2 TB unsalted butter, melted
Freshly ground salt and pepper to taste

Place a baking pan in the oven with two tablespoons butter on it, turn oven to 300°, and let the butter melt as the oven heats. Remove pan from oven, add the olive oil to the pan, then toss in the bread crumbs to coat with the oil and butter. Season with freshly ground salt and pepper. Bake until croutons are light brown and crunchy, about 25 minutes.

For the vinaigrette:
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small shallot, minced
1 TB lemon juice
2 TB red wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground salt and pepper, to taste

Mix first five ingredients, then gradually whisk in olive oil to form an emulsion. Season to taste.

For the salad:
3 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, slightly juiced, and cut into ½ inch cubes
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
2 bell peppers, cut into ½ inch cubes
I use a combination of colors – green, yellow, orange, and red peppers. It’s prettier that way.
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 cup loose basil leaves, torn
Freshly ground salt and pepper

Combine salad ingredients. Pour vinaigrette over top and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let mixture sit 30 minutes. The longer it sits, the juicier it gets. Add in the croutons, toss, and enjoy summer at its finest.

Combining the best and freshest of summer vegetables, gazpacho soup was invented for summer. My version of this classic Spanish tomato soup has an extra added finish — a balsamic vinegar glaze that pairs perfectly with the flavors in this cold and refreshing summer delight.

Gazpacho

tom36 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 TB lemon juice
¼ cup tomato paste
3 cups tomato juice
1 TB red wine vinegar
¼ tsp cayenne
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
Several sprigs of thyme

Mix all ingredients in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove the thyme, and coarsely process all ingredients in a blender. Do not over-blend. Refrigerate gazpacho until ready to serve. Ladle soup into bowls and squeeze squiggles of balsamic glaze over top.

Balsamic Glaze

2 cups balsamic vinegar

Whenever you’re making a reduction, it is important to do it slowly, especially in the case of balsamic vinegar. You don’t want your liquid to boil or even simmer. If you cook it too hard, the acid remains, making the glaze too sharp. Reducing the liquid slowly and gently gives you a softer tasting, more delicate glaze.

In a heavy saucepan, heat the balsamic vinegar over medium low heat until you see the first steam rising from the liquid. Reduce the heat to low and set your saucepan in a cast iron pan over the heat. This additional pan serves to diffuse the heat. Basically, the cast iron pan acts as a baby sitter for your reduction. Let the vinegar reduce slowly, almost as if letting it evaporate. You should end up with ½ cup of syrupy balsamic glaze. Pour into a squeeze bottle. Use at room temperature for accenting plates. If glaze is too thick, warm the bottle in a bowl of hot water to loosen.

My third and last tomato recipe for you is a traditional Neapolitan dish, Insalata Caprese, a salad in the style of Capri.

It’s gloriously simple, containing only tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil, seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil. It is often called Insalata Tricolore, tricolore referring to the three colors of the Italian flag – red, white, and green.

The ingredients must be perfect. The tomatoes must be sun-ripened and, preferably, just picked from your garden. As for the cheese, please do not use the plastic-wrapped bricks of rubbery cheese that pass for mozzarella in the supermarket. You want a fresh, moist mozzarella, ideally mozzarella di bufula, which is a specialty of the Naples region, but a good quality cow’s milk cheese will work.

You want sun-ripened tomatoes and you want basil that’s been grown in the sun and the soil. Hydroponically-grown basil doesn’t have the same flavor. And you want a good quality extra virgin olive oil.

Insalata Caprese

tom4Vine-ripened, red, juicy, flavorful tomatoes, peeled and sliced
Fresh mozzarella, sliced into discs the same thickness as the tomatoes
Fragrant, tender, young basil leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Excellent extra virgin olive oil

To thinly slice the mozzarella, I use a fishing wire. It gives you a nice, smooth, clean cut. You could also use dental floss.

Alternate the tomato and mozzarella slices on a platter, overlapping. Tear the basil leaves and sprinkle liberally over the slices. Add freshly ground salt and pepper, to taste. Just before serving, drizzle the olive oil over top.

For more recipes, please check out my blog KitchensAreMonkeyBusiness.com.

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