Ripe Tomato: A Symphony in Four Movements
Here’s an updated version of one of Savoring Kentucky’s most popular posts, timed to sync with the great final flush of tomatoes and peppers at summer’s end.
First movement. Allegro con gioia: Fast and joyous When you first get up, or in mid-morning when the sun is warm, or just before lunch, or in early or late afternoon, go outside to your garden. Pick the reddest red, pinkest pink, or yellowest yellow tomato, the one that gives just slightly when you press it. Lean over so the juice will miss your shirt and toes. Eat your unwashed sun-warmed tomato and know that life is good.
Major variation: If you forgot to plant tomatoes this year, mark your calendar for January 15 next year: "Order seeds." Try Seeds of Change. Or buy plants in late April at the Lexington Farmers Market, Bluegrass Farmers Market or Good Foods Coop.
Second movement. Molto vario, con acqua: Variegated, with water
Go outside with your colander or bowl. Pick every ripe tomato - the yellow, pink, and red cherries in their round, teardrop and oval shapes, the stripe-y big German style yellows and pinks, the mysterious semi-blacks, the Green Zebras, and all the glorious small, medium and large reds. Take the tomatoes inside to the kitchen sink. Pick out one tomato of each kind. Rinse each tomato with cool water. Lean over the sink. Eat with your eyes closed. Pay attention. Open your eyes and write down your favorites so you will remember what to plant next year.
First variation: Place a bowl of kosher salt near the sink. Sprinkle tiny pinches of salt on some bites as you eat, to sharpen the flavors.
Second variation: Even if you grow your own tomatoes, spend an hour buying one tomato of every variety sold at your favorite farmers’ market. Invite friends to your Tomato Tasting Party.
Third movement. Contenuto e ornato: Contained and adorned (lightly)
Choose your ripest, sweetest, most luscious tomato, one large or two medium. Brandywine heirloom tomatoes work perfectly. Wash the tomato, and, if you wish, peel it over a small bowl, capturing the juices. Remove the rough or too-soft spots, and chop the rest of the tomato in chunks into the bowl. Add a pinch of kosher salt, a grind of fresh black pepper, a dash of extra virgin olive oil, and about two teaspoons of balsamic vinegar. It's fabulous right there. Go ahead if you want: Eat.
First and further variations: Maybe you made the basic version for breakfast and now you want a little something different. Things you can add: part of a previously roasted or grilled onion; a tablespoon of chopped fresh chives, a teaspoon of finely diced fresh shallot, a few crumbles of feta cheese. Be sparing with the add-ins. The tomato theme should dominate.
Fourth movement. Con fuoco: With fire
Move one of your oven racks to the highest position and turn on your oven to 450 degrees F. Oil a baking sheet (with sides) with extra virgin olive oil. Slice fully ripe tomatoes onto the baking sheet, as many as you want, as many as will fit easily. Half-inch thick slices work well. Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over each slice. Sprinkle with kosher salt, and grate some fresh black pepper over all. Put a few slivers of grated Parmesan on each slice. Roast the tomatoes until they sizzle and the cheese starts to brown, about seven minutes. Remove from oven, let set two minutes, and then use a flat spatula to move the slices to a serving platter (or into your mouth). Scrape all the pan juices onto the tomatoes before serving.
First variation: Sprinkle bread crumbs over each tomato slice, along with the Parmesan.
Second variation, MAJOR: Make Gourmandistan’s exquisite Roasted Tomato Sauce, pictured above: “no blanching, seeding or peeling needed.”
Encore. Dolce e piccante: Sweet and spicy
When you make your own homemade tomato sauces and condiments, you get to keep enjoying tomatoes long after they go out of season. Camille Kingsolver offers an interesting suggestion from the bestselling book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for making multiple tomato relishes and sauces all in one day. Start with four quarts of homemade tomato puree, and, with a carefully planned and timed set of add-ins, make barbeque relish, sweet and sour sauce, and chutney, seven pints each. Puree also forms the basis of homemade tomato ketchup, an amazing condiment that sustains tomatoes' fine high notes through the deep midwinter. Check out these three ketchup recipes.