What's one of the surest signs the summer has been a good one? If you ask me, it's the hybrid smile-groan that greets the daily basket of just-picked goodness as it comes into the kitchen. The new pile is added to the old pile and the windowsills and countertops fill to overflowing as we cry, "What on Earth are we going to do with all these tomatoes??!!"
So comes the gardener's lament: too much of a good thing. Yet we also know that these are literally the salad days. Summer will soon end, and freshly sun-blessed tomatoes will be as rare as a good sled run in August. Which makes it hard to complain, and the thought serves as excellent motivator: we gotta get going and make the most of tomato season right now. That goes for growers and shoppers. We should all stock up while the stocking is good. But since a tomato left to its own devices is soon compost, you'll need a few tips to keep summer's greatest flavor coming:
- The first thing to do is eat some. In salads. On sandwiches. Plain with a little salt and pepper or mayo. If you haven't had a tomato yet today, you're not trying. If you're looking for inspiration, try the delicious caprese salad my Sicilian wife makes: Top thick-sliced tomatoes with real fresh mozzarella. Add some chopped fresh basil, a drizzle of olive oil, and serve with baguette slices. For an awesome sandwich, take the above, put it on artisan bread with or without thin-sliced grilled sausage, brush on a garlic-infused balsamic vinaigrette and grill in a pan or sandwich press. Oh my...
- Freeze 'em. Just toss them in a food processor for a few pulses to chop (not liquefy) them. Stash what comes next in the freezer in an airtight container. Then make homemade tomato sauce that will put store-bought varieties to shame all winter long. If you're feeling ambitious, you can make the sauce itself for quick but savory meals down the road. Or meet the project halfway with a sauce base of tomatoes, basil, oregano, browned onions, and garlic that can be used for all kinds of dishes.
- Can some. I've said before that canning is simple. Even if it wasn't you'd still do it once you tasted homemade ketchup, which bears little resemblance to its mass produced corn syrup-soaked brethren. Find a recipe you like and wake up your meals. Then can some tomato chutney, jam, barbeque sauce, salsa, soup, and whatever else you love.
- Dry the rest. Cut whole tomatoes into olive-sized pieces and/or slice cherry tomatoes in half, crowd them on a baking sheet, and place them in a 200° oven until they're leathery and soft. Freeze the works in an airtight container and add these sweet morsels to soups, pesto, salads, sandwiches, and anything else imagination suggests.
Preserving the harvest is the best way to extend it until the next tomato season comes around. You'll still have tomatoes all over the place, but now they'll be in the freezer or the cupboard, which means there might finally be some room in the kitchen for the cook. Unless, of course, you also grow squash.