Get ’em while it’s not too hot
August 24, 2006
Tomato, tomahto. With so many varieties available, you’ll find your bliss ” sun gold cherries for popping in your mouth like candy, brandywines, an Amish heirloom, for BLTs, or Romas for hearty sauces.
Unfortunately, local farmers have had a trying year with one of their favorite crops. The heavy spring rains delayed planting, as fields were more fit for filming remakes of The Creature from the Black Lagoon than for nurturing tender little seedlings.
After farmers had finally put in their tomato plants, the unwelcome July heat wave literally burned plant leaves and caused a phenomenon called blossom drop. With several days and nights in a row of high temperatures, tomato plants conserved energy by not setting fruit.
Then August rolled in like a lamb. How often do we get to say that? Temperatures this month have been relatively moderate and, at long last, farmers’ markets and farm stands are stocked up with an array of tomato varieties.
This means you can pick and choose among the myriad types of hybrid and heirlooms, finding the combination of color, size, shape, juiciness, sweetness, acidity, flavor and texture that suits your palate and temperament.
A fresh, ripe tomato doesn’t really need dressing or any effort at all. Nothing beats the simplicity of a sprinkle of salt.
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But the tomato lover will also appreciate how fleeting tomato season is, and will add generous amount to salads, insert thick slices in grilled cheese sandwiches, and preserve the harvest by filling up the pantry and the freezer.
That’s why I spend a couple of summer afternoons putting up tomatoes, and I’m in the market for a dehydrator. After all, in the gloom of February, few things are more enjoyable than uncapping a jar of tomato sauce redolent with the glory of late summer. Ahh yes, you’ll think … August ” when the sun warmed my freckled face, when the light breeze tickled my toes, and when a tomato tasted like a tomato.
Christina Abuelo is market manager for the Foothill Farmers’ Market Association.
Ripe tomatoes are aromatic and yield to gentle pressure. They should not be refrigerated as cold temperatures retard ripening and deplete flavor. Tomatoes will ripen at room temperature. Because they release ethylene gas, a ripening agent, putting them in a paper bag will speed up the ripening process. Unripe green tomatoes will not develop a full tomato flavor, so it’s best to fry them up Southern style.
– 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced 1/4-inch thick
– 2 large ripe tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
– 1 cup fresh basil leaves
– Salt and freshly ground pepper
– 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
In a circular design around the side of a serving plate, alternate fresh mozzarella slices on a large platter (or on individual plates if you are doing individual portions) with sliced tomatoes, overlapping for effect. Tear fresh basil leaves and sprinkle liberally over the slices. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Just before serving, drizzle on some excellent extra-virgin olive oil. Makes 4 servings.
Slow Roasted TomatoesIngredients:
– 8 large tomatoes
– 1 teaspoon kosher salt
– 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
– 2 teaspoons sugar
– 1 teaspoon dried or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
Heat oven to 250°. Slice tomatoes thickly, to yield about three slices per tomato. Place on a baking sheet. Mix spices and sugar. Brush tomatoes with olive oil, and toss with seasoning mixture. Roast the tomatoes for 3-6 hours until the tomatoes are concentrated, dark reddish brown and most of the moisture has cooked off. The larger the tomato pieces and the more crowded the pan, the longer the cooking time. Turn off the oven and let the tomatoes sit until cool.
Local farmers markets are held Tuesdays at Kings Beach, located at the corner of Highway 28 and Coon Street; Tuesdays at Truckee, located on Brockway Road at the Truckee River Regional Park on Brockway Road; Thursdays at Tahoe City, which meets Thursdays at Commons Beach; and Saturdays at Homewood Mountain Ski Resort. Hours at all markets are from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, call 823-6183 or check the Web site, http://www.foothillfarmersmarket.com.