You think you've got too many tomatoes?
You should have stopped by the Charlotte Tailgate Farmers Market on Camden Road for the tomato tasting last Tuesday.
Celebrity tomatoes. Park Whoppers. German Johnsons.
Chocolate Amazons, Purple Russians, Red Rose and Mortgage Lifters. Big boxes of plum tomatoes. Even a tomato that herb seller Pete Vinci was calling the “Niuci” (he didn't know what it was, so he turned his name upside down and scrambled it.)
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The summer that started with no tomatoes, when a salmonella scare chased fresh tomatoes off menus, has become the summer of too many tomatoes. That's what happens when you mix sunshine, a little rain and tomato seeds.
A couple of Sundays ago, my friend Wes Konrad waylaid me after church before the last note of the organ died away.
“You've got to help me,” he pleaded. “I need a thousand things to do with tomatoes.”
A thousand? That would take a book. Let's start with 20.
1. Roast them. Core tomatoes; cut round ones in half horizontally; cut plum tomatoes in half lengthwise. Place in glass baking dish, cut sides up. Drizzle with 1/4 to 1/2 cup good olive oil and sprinkle with salt (don't oversalt). Place in a 200-degree oven and bake 2 to 3 hours, until tomatoes are collapsing. Cool and refrigerate or freeze along with the oil from the pan. Use the tomatoes in everything from pizza to risotto to salad dressing. Use the tomato-infused oil in salad dressings or to drizzle over bread or brush on baked chicken or fish.
2. Broil them. Cut three or four big tomatoes into slices and lay them on a foil-lined baking sheet. Melt 2 or 3 tablespoons of butter in a small skillet and add 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs, salt and pepper and a little grated lemon zest. Sprinkle over the tomato slices and broil 4 to 5 inches from heat just until the crumbs are lightly browned.
3. Grate them. When you just need a little tomato pulp for a recipe, cut a tomato in half, squeeze out the seeds, then rub the cut side on the large holes of a box grater until you reach the skin.
4. Make a BLT. At least once this summer, make a good one, with thick, applewood-smoked bacon, sourdough bread, fresh lettuce, mayonnaise and plenty of tomato.
5. Add them to a grilled cheese sandwich. Shred the cheese (try a Gruyere) so it melts faster, don't cut the tomato too thick (so it isn't sloppy) and press the sandwich (in a panini press or using a heavy skillet).
6. Make fresh sauce. Start with really flavorful, vine-ripened tomatoes. Core, seed and dice them. Toss with 1/2 cup bottled Italian dressing (or a mix of oil and lemon juice), 1 tablespoon fresh, minced garlic and 2 or 3 tablespoons of slivered fresh basil leaves in a serving bowl. Cook angel-hair or cappellini pasta according to package directions. Drain and add hot pasta to the bowl and toss. Serve while pasta is still hot.
7. Make cooked sauce. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan. Add 1 onion, diced, and cook slowly until soft. Add 2 tablespoons minced garlic and about 1 cup chopped carrot (for sweetness and body). Cook a minute or two. Add about 3 pounds of tomatoes, peeled, cored and seeded. Cook slowly about 1 hour, until carrot is very soft and tomatoes have broken down. Cool and puree in batches in a food processor or blender. Return to pot and add 2 teaspoons sugar, 1 to 2 teaspoons salt and 1 tablespoon dried oregano. Heat and taste for seasoning. If sauce is watery, continue cooking to reduce and thicken. Use immediately, or cool and freeze.
8. Dry them. You can make an overnight oven version. Core but don't peel or seed the tomatoes (plum tomatoes work great) and cut into 1/2- to 1-inch-thick slices. (Thin slices get crispy, like potato chips; thick slices stay more leathery). Lay the slices on a baking pan lined with parchment paper or nonstick foil. Sprinkle with salt if you want. Place in a very low oven (150 to 175 degrees) for 8 hours. Store crispy slices at room temperature in a tightly sealed container. Use crispy as a snack, or cover with oil or hot water to rehydrate.
9. Make Caprese salad. Use one kind or a colorful assortment of heirloom tomatoes. Core them, then cut into thick slices. Arrange the slices, overlapping, around a serving plate. Cut fresh mozzarella (the soft balls, sold in the deli area of many supermarkets) into thin slices and place a bit between each tomato slice. Drizzle with a little good olive oil and sprinkle with balsamic or sherry vinegar and sea salt. Stack about 6 to 12 fresh basil leaves cut into thin strips, then strew over the tomatoes and cheese. Change it up: Replace the mozzarella with fresh goat cheese, sliced thinly or crumbled.
10. Make Bread and Tomato Salad (also known as Panzanella). Core, seed and dice several large tomatoes. Cut crusty white bread (preferably a little stale) into cubes and add to the tomatoes. Add sliced fresh basil and diced roasted red peppers, about 1/4 cup really good olive oil, 2 tablespoons balsamic or sherry vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss well and let stand about 30 minutes.
11. Make hot tomato soup (see recipe on this page).
12. Make cold tomato soup – aka gazpacho (see recipe on this page).
13. Can them. You have to add bottled lemon juice (bottled has a more reliable percentage of acidity than fresh juice). To can plain tomatoes, peel and core them, then leave whole or quarter or halve them. Sterilize jars and keep them hot in a deep pot of water; have more boiling water ready. Working with a hot jar, place 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice in a 1-quart jar (1 tablespoon for pint jars) and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt. Pack tomatoes into the jar, leaving 1/2 to 1 inch at the top. Ladle boiling water into the jar. Place the lids and bands on. Place the jars in the deep pot, cover, bring to a boil and process 40 minutes. Turn off heat, wait 5 minutes, then remove jars. Let them cool and check the lids to make sure they sealed.
14. Juice them. Quarter tomatoes and simmer them in a nonreactive saucepan for 10 minutes, until they're soft and juicy. Strain through a sieve, discarding the solids. Taste juice and add salt or a little sugar to balance the acidity. Pack into containers and freeze.
15. Top fish. Core and seed 1 to 2 large tomatoes. Dice and mix with any or all of these: 1/4 cup pitted, chopped olives (any kind), 2 tablespoons minced green, red or yellow onion, 1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil, 1 teaspoon minced garlic and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Pile on fish before baking.
16. Make salsa. You can throw together a fresh one in less time than it takes to open a bag of tortilla chips: Core and dice two or three ripe tomatoes. Add diced onion, a couple of diced green onions, a diced hot pepper (remove the seeds and ribs), the juice of a couple of limes, 2 or 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro and salt. Fold it all together.
17. Make Catalan-style tomato toast on the grill. Cut crusty white bread into thick slices. Place on a heated grill, turning every minute or so until brown and toasted. Rub one side with the cut side of a clove of garlic, then cut a tomato in half and rub over the bread. Drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and serve warm.
18. Skewer them. Include cherry tomatoes as part of a shish kebab lineup.
19. Fry them. Core a couple of green tomatoes and cut them in slices. Dip in a beaten egg and then in a mixture of cornmeal, flour, salt and pepper. Fry in a combination of vegetable oil and a little butter. Serve hot.
20. Make corn and tomato relish (adapted from “How to Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman): Heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil in a nonstick skillet over high heat. Add kernels cut from 4 ears of corn and saute for a couple of minutes, until browned in spots. Reduce heat to medium and stir in 2 tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne and 1 teaspoon cumin, or 1 teaspoon smoked paprika. Stir and cook for about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, or refrigerate up to 2 days and serve at room temperature.