Far be it for me to swim into the vortex around the politically charged issue of global warming, but those of us on planet Earth clearly notice things are just a tad hotter lately. And while this seems to be bad for polar bears, midwestern farmers and anyone living on a coast, it has had one very welcome side-effect here in the northeastern U.S.–the heat-loving tomato vine is producing more fruit this year.
How much more? Well yesterday I harvested 18 lbs. of tomatoes. This is a personal single-day harvest record, despite the fact that this year I actually planted less tomato vines than in the past. But these vines are now monsters surpassing their 8-15 foot stakes and spread out over wires between them. And the plants this year are producing not just more tomatoes but bigger ones. Some of the largest weigh almost 3 lbs. each!
So what to do with this bounty? Previously I’ve talked about giving produce away as the best option when there is just too much for personal consumption, but this summer EVERYONE seems overrun with tomatoes. Eating them seems the only option, but as good tomatoes should never be refridgerated (it kills the taste) that means using them up quick. Meanwhile, there is little sense in cooking down fresh tomatoes to a bland, hot mess. So here are some recipes that keep the fresh tomato taste:
- Classic Italian salad: slice tomato, top with fresh basil and mozzarella cheese, good virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. (variation: use soft goat cheese instead of mozzarella)
- Classic Greek salad: cut tomato in wedges, slice cucumber, sweet onion, top with feta cheese, good cured olives and dried oregano, pour over with generous helping full-bodied olive oil and touch vinegar (variation: add sweet corn, fresh rosemary, fresh green or red pepper)
- ‘Barely-cooked’ pasta dinner:cook fresh pasta, preferably large ‘fat’ type like rigatoni or orrechiette until ‘al dente’; while it is cooking cube tomato, slice one or two cloves garlic (to taste), and cut basil into strips. Put these veggies in large bowl and add hot (drained) cooked pasta. Add cubed fresh mozzarella, toss lightly and season with salt/pepper. Either eat right away or let sit in cool area of kitchen until tomatoes get slightly saucy.
Summer-time tomato sauce: warm on low-medium stove 1-2 Tb. olive oil in large pot, chop and add one onion and several cloves garlic, stir and cook until onion is barely translucent. Add cubed, very ripe, very soft tomatoes along with a bunch of basil leaves until pot is full. Cover until bubbly and tomatoes liquified then reduce heat to simmer and remove cover. Let cook until liquid reduced by nearly a third and remove from heat.
Run this liquid through food mill to remove skins and seed (but don’t grind too hard because you don’t want to squash the bitter seeds). If you want a thicker sauce you can now take this liquid and simmer on the stove but do not cook too much, as you want to keep the fresh taste.
The wild tomato plant (Solanum lycopersicum) originated in South America and soon was cultivated by the Aztecs in Mexico.
The first domesticated tomatoes were small and yellow.
Tomato plants are perennials in their native warm climes
Vines will continue to grow, with the longest recorded over 50 ft!