Can't give 'em away? Here are a few tips for disguising your bounty
Ah, the tomato. Summer has delivered us a bounty of this botanical fruit. My father's plants, of several varieties, produced beautiful, shapely orbs and yielded weeks of blissful bushels. Our friend Donny, an expert horticulturist, planted a community garden where his tasty and lustrous tomatoes are still feeding friends and family. Others tell stories of stalled-out gardens, bushy but fruitless, which I attribute to late planting, our early heat wave, and, until very recently, a lack of rain. Nevertheless, tomatoes beckon these days of summer, whether fresh from the garden or from your local grocer.
Our seemingly never-ending supply of tomatoes was put to the test of several gastronomic traditions, inspired by cookbooks and helpful friends. I can only consume so many raw tomatoes in one day, whether in sandwiches, caprese salads, or unadorned as an apple-like snack, so I started transforming them. The most simple recipe is the venerable and wordly Spanish gazpacho, a cold soup - and I mean cold, often with ice cubes afloat - that is especially refreshing during the hot months and great as a preface to a barbeque.
If you'd like to make the magic last, preserve an overabundance of summer tomatoes for winter by making marinara for pastas and shellfish broths. Vine-ripened tomatoes are excellent for this sauce. Though more gelatinous and seedy than the canned San Marzano roma variety, the freshness breaks down when cooked, so that very little tomato should ever need to pass through a food mill or blender. I learned to make this classic sauce while living in Italy, and its brevity should make it a part of everyone's repertoire: two pounds ripe tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, shallots, fresh basil, and salt. Adding black pepper will ruin the sweetness, but if you must have heat, which is often the case with an arrabiatta, add the Italian chile known as Fra Diavolo or a red thai pepper. Store your sauce in two-quart, air-tight containers, for easy defrosting when you need a marinara quick-fix.
By now, I've started picking tomatoes while they are green, underripe but delicious breaded and fried or added to salsas. Fried green tomatoes pair nicely with a mild goat cheese, arugula, and toasted pecans in a salad. Any kind of breading will do, though lately I've taken to using Japanese panko, and the result is a delicate flavor and a pleasing, audible crunch. You'll never go back to over-priced store-bought salsa once you realize how simple it is to make your own with a few ripe and underripe tomatoes, their tomatillo cousin, cilantro, onion, and dried epazote. If your friends have stopped accepting bags of tomatoes, they may be more open to a bottle of fresh salsa.
If you store your tomatoes at room temperature, preferably on a window sill, they should last up to one week, with store-bought lasting longer. While it is unfortunate to allow any tomato, homegrown or or otherwise, to go to waste, it does happen and rotten tomato is one of the foulest odors of any vegetable or fruit. If you are cursed with one, don't deny yourself the pleasure of hurling it full-force into the garbage, imagining the face of your nemesis in the satisfying splat. •