For a time as a child I lived with my Aunt Babe and Uncle George. He was a tomato farmer and owned a tomato canning factory. So you could say I grew up around tomatoes. I remember fields of them, sometimes picking them, watching them being prepared, and eating them.... though never with as much delight and relish as my Mom! Her favorite was a thick cut tomato sandwich with salt, pepper, and mayonnaise. I liked a bacon and tomato sandwich, but other than that, I could give or take them, back then at least.
We eventually moved away from the farm and those delicious fresh-picked juicy globes. We were reduced to buying the imitation, plastic-like, tasteless, pale things in the grocery store, wiping out my appreciation for tomatoes completely.
It wasn't until recently, when I began frequenting the farmer's markets or roadside farm stands that my taste for tomatoes was piqued. The odd shaped, convoluted forms hold a summers' worth of sunshine and sweetness, just awaiting that first bite of goodness. For the past few years I wait, ever so patiently, 'til summer's end for our Central Oregon tomatoes to ripen, then pick up my flats from Rainshadow Organics.
Just what do I do with my flats of tomatoes you might ask? I eat them plain; make tomato salads with Armenian cucumber and avocado or a Caprese salad with fresh buffalo mozzarella; bake them with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and parmesan; roast them off with elephant garlic and onions, freezing some as-is or cooking up huge batches of marinara sauce to freeze or gift; and this morning I baked a crustless tomato quiche for brunch. I wish you could smell it ~*~
If you are so inclined, now is the time to scoop up those organic heirlooms and have yourself a delicious feast today and put up some of summer's bounty to be enjoyed in the winter months to come. You'll be so glad you did!
When you bring home your flats, pick out any unripened or perfect tomatoes. Save those for your salads. Don't throw away the bruised or not so perfect fruits. Clean them and cut off anything too bad. These will be used for baking and saucing.
Roasted tomatoes ~ individual and for Marinara Sauce
I use aluminum jelly roll pans ~ Do I hear a gasp? I've heard that aluminum and the acid from tomatoes don't mix. Well, I've never had a problem with my pans and baking them off. I've asked my culinary friends, and they agree with me. I coat a little olive oil on the pan, then place the cored and cleaned tomatoes, cut side down for more juice, cut side up for a drier finish. Quarter one onion and rough cut a half head of elephant garlic (or regular garlic if you want), scatter these on top of the tomatoes with a hand full of basil, salt and pepper, and an ample drizzling of olive oil. I bake two of these jelly roll pans at once, which is about half a flat of tomatoes. Cook for four hours at 300. If you want a batch of dry roasted tomatoes, you could bake those over night at 200. I freeze the drier tomatoes individually and throw a handful into a saute or stir fry. They're sort of like big, squishy sun dried tomatoes, just bursting with flavor.
If I'm going to make sauce, I'll cool the batches of tomatoes for about half an hour and slip off as many skins as I can. Then put everything - tomatoes, onions, garlic and juice - into a stock pot. Add a few bay leaves and some red wine, about a cup or two, depends on what you like. Sometimes at this point I'll add sage or whatever herbs I have around. Simmer for about an hour; take out the bay leaves; cool a bit if you want...or not....then use a hand-held blender to blend all the ingredients into a chunky or fine sauce.
I then fill pint or quart jars to about an inch from the top. You want some headroom so your jars won't break in the freezer. I'll put the jars in the refrigerator for a day, then into the freezer. Why? I'm not sure, but I haven't had any broken jars so far. When you're ready to use the sauce in the winter, either thaw in the refrigerator a day or two before you're ready to use it; or take off the lid and defrost on 50% power in the microwave for about a minute or so.
Crustless Quiche -
1 pound cooked, squeezed, and chopped spinach
1 hatch chili, roasted, seeded, chopped
1 handful chives
1 handful basil
1/4 C farmers cheese
1/4 C grated cheese
salt & pepper
Cook and squeeze any water out of the spinach, chop. Put this in the bottom of a lightly oiled shallow dish. Add half of the cheeses. Chop chili, chives and half of basil. Sprinkle this onto the spinach and cheese, season with salt and pepper. Slice tomatoes and add to dish. Add remaining cheese and remaining basil. Whisk eggs with salt and pepper and add to the dish. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes; 400 for 20 minutes; turn off the oven and let sit for 10 minutes.
I hope you enjoy your summer's bounty of tomatoes now while they're fresh and into the winter months to come.