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Someone who plants 30 tomato plants has pretty much forfeited the right to complain about being inundated with tomatoes. So I won’t complain. I will just state that the sheer volume was daunting at times. Above is a picture of my harvest twice per week. But considering that my family had not tasted a fresh tomato since the end of our harvest last summer (I refuse to buy tomatoes out of season), they truly were a welcome sight. How did we use them? For starters, we introduced our kids to the delights of Caprese: fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and sprinkled with Himalayan pink salt. Yum! They became fans. Okay, so that used three tomatoes at a time. What else? 

There are two “fresh tomato” recipes that I look forward to making each summer. 

The first is truly the essence of Summer. When I taste it, I always give a little sigh and savor that first bite. Though it is a soup, it is served just slightly warmed, so even during the hottest summer on record in my un-air-conditioned house, I made this several times. The simplicity of the ingredients and the 20 minute prep time always amaze me.  Serve with crusty bread to sop up every last drop.

Warm Tomato and White Bean Stew (from Sunset Magazine)

Ingredients:

Photo Credit: Sunset Magazine

3 pounds ripe tomatoes, rinsed (The riper and redder the tomatoes, the tastier it will be.)
1/2 cup slivered fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced or pressed
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
Fresh-ground pepper
1 can (15 oz.) white beans, drained and rinsed
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, drained and cut into cubes (1/2 in.)
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Directions:
1. Core and dice tomatoes. In a 4- to 5-quart pan, combine tomatoes, basil, olive oil, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Let stand until tomatoes are very juicy, about 15 minutes.
2. Set pan over medium-low heat and gently stir in beans. Stir occasionally until mixture is warm to touch, about 5 minutes.
3. Add mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Gently stir just until mozzarella has softened and starts to melt into strings, 2 to 3 minutes. Taste and stir in more salt if desired. Spoon stew into bowls and top each serving with a sprinkling of more basil and parmesan cheese.

Elisabeth has actually requested this for her next birthday dinner in March. Considering that last year she was obsessed with her dislike of tomatoes and was happy that summer was over just so our family would be tomato-free, I consider this a HUGE victory! So I chopped and froze 6 pounds of tomatoes to accommodate. I’m hoping that the texture won’t be too compromised. Since the tomatoes break down in the soup, I think it should be fine. I’m sure by March we’ll all be ready for a reminder of the summer goodness that awaits us just around the corner.    

The second recipe is the freshest, most delicious spaghetti I’ve ever had. However, I have to wait for one of those cooler summer day because of all the stove-top cooking involved. 

Spaghetti With Meat Sauce and Mozzarella (from Real Simple magazine)

Ingredients:
12 oz spaghetti
1 TBS olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
kosher salt and black pepper
3/4 pound ground beef chuck
1 Tbs tomato paste
2 lbs beefsteak or plum tomatoes, chopped
6 oz fresh mozzarella, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Directions:
1. Cook the pasta according to the package directions; drain and return it to the pot.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to soften, 3 to 5 minutes.
3. Add the beef and cook, breaking it up with a spoon, until browned, 3 to 5 minutes.
4. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften, 5 to 7 minutes more (add up to ¼ cup water if the pan is dry).
5. Add the beef mixture, bocconcini, and basil to the pasta and toss to combine.


Finally, I canned many quarts and pints of chopped tomatoes and tomato sauce to use in soups and pastas, as well as many pints of salsa. All vegetables must be pressure canned, whereas most fruits have enough acidity on their own to be safely water-bath canned. But just as the age old question asks, is tomato a fruit or vegetable? In terms of PH, the tomato refuses to delare itself, landing squarely in the middle of the spectrum. Thus, tomatoes can be tricky to water-bath can because they are right on the edge of not having enough acidity. Lemon juice or vinegar (for salsas) must be added and very few, if any, alliums (garlic, onions, etc.) can be added because their low  acidity will compromise the safety of a water-bath. It is therefore difficult to home-can a rich, flavorful sauce, so I just make a basic sauce that can be doctored up upon opening of the jar, like the one in Food in Jars, one of my favorite canning books. 

Pounds and pounds of green tomatoes are still on the vine, and I’m debating if I want to ripen them indoors or just be finished with them. In any case, until next summer, I affectionately bid adieu to fresh tomatoes. See you in July! 




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