by Wendy McConnell
Tomatoes are one of the most popular plants among home gardeners. By now, if you’ve successfully kept the island deer and the hornworms away, you should be harvesting your crop.
Tomato plants like a hot, sunny, humid climate; these past few weeks on Nantucket have been perfect. Tomatoes should be firm and fully red (or yellow or whatever color you’ve grown). They are of best quality when they ripen on healthy vines and when summer temperatures average 75°F. When temperatures are 90°F or higher, the quality is not as good. So, during the hottest summer weather, pick tomatoes every day or two, harvesting them when color has started to develop and ripening them further indoors (at 70 to 75°F). To ripen tomatoes off the vine, place them in a paper bag, stem end up. Punch holes all around the bag and fold over the top. The bag will help to keep in some of the natural ethylene gas, which aids in ripening. Check the tomatoes every day: they should take from one to four days to ripen.
Take care not to put your fresh tomatoes in the refrigerator. Texture and flavor of tomatoes begin to deteriorate when the temperature drops below 54°F, so store ripe tomatoes at room temperature for two or three days, away from direct sunlight.
At the end of the tomato season, which on Nantucket can be November, just before a killing freeze is expected, harvest all the green mature tomatoes. Wrap them individually in paper and store them carefully at 60 to 65°F. They should continue to ripen slowly over the next few weeks. If you have the
storage space, entire plants may be uprooted and hung upside down in sheltered locations, and the fruit should continue to ripen.
If you’ve been successful in growing tomatoes, then you’re likely to have more fresh fruit that you can use. After sharing with your less fortunate friends, you can freeze the fresh tomatoes or can them.
Frozen tomatoes keep their fresh flavor, but they are mushy in texture and are best used for cooking. Their skins will toughen in the freezer, but that just makes it easier to remove after they’ve been thawed. Or you can run frozen tomatoes under cold water; this will make the skins will curl up and then they can easily be pulled off. Freezing tomatoes is easy: remove the stems and wash whole tomatoes. Carefully cut out the core. Leave the tomatoes whole or quarter them and pack them into freezer bags, leaving about an inch of headspace.
Two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half pounds of tomatoes will yield about one quart of canned. To use this method of preserving tomatoes, they must be made more acidic, which you can do by adding lemon juice (2 tablespoons per quart) or vinegar (4 tablespoons per quart). Use half the amount of acid for pint-size jars. The acid can be added directly to the jars before filling them with the tomatoes. Lemon juice (fresh or bottled) gives the best results, because vinegar tends to change the flavor. If the additional acid makes the produce taste too acidic, add a pinch of sugar to each jar to offset the taste. When you get tired of using your fresh tomatoes in salads, on burgers, and for tomato sandwiches, try roasting them for a tasty garnish. To roast tomatoes, simply cut in the tomatoes in half and gently squeeze them to remove the seeds. Place them cut side down in a pan; brush with olive oil. Roast at 425 degrees for 30 minutes and peel. Here are three more easy summer recipes that make good use of this late summer fruit of the vine.
TOMATO AND ONION TART
- 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom lined with paté brisee
- 3 Tbl. olive oil
- 2 large red or videlia onions thinly sliced
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup part skim ricotta cheese
- 4 Tbl. asiago cheese, freshly grated
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
- 1 Tbl each of finely chopped fresh basil and thyme and combine
- 3 large firm, ripe, red tomatoes, cut into 1/4 slices
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line pastry shell in the tart pan with a double thickness of foil and fill with dried beans to weigh it down. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 5 to 7 minutes or until pastry is nearly done. Remove it from oven and reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
- Heat 2 Tbl. of olive oil in a large skillet, add the onions, and cover. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 20 minutes. Uncover and cook until onions are golden and liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and set aside. Combine eggs, ricotta cheese, asiago, garlic, nutmeg, and 1 Tbl. of the basil and thyme in a medium bowl. Whisk until well blended.
- Spread the egg and cheese mixture over the pre-baked dough. Spread the onions over the cheese. Arrange tomato slices in concentric circlesover onion mixture. Season with salt and pepper.
- Stir the remaining olive oil and herbs together and brush over the tops of the tomato slices. Then bake in a 325 degree oven for about a half-hour. Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a side dish.
- 4 or 5 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 1 serrano pepper, minced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and diced
- 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 Tbl Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- kosher salt and black pepper in a mill
- 1/2 cup best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
- Combine all of the vegetables in a large bowl. Add the chicken stock, lemon juice, Worcestershire, cumin, and vinegar and stir. Add the fresh herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill the soup for at least two hours. Before serving, stir the soup, then let rest for 10 minutes.
- Chopped avocado or cooked and chilled shrimp can be added at serving time. The gazpacho can also be served with a dollop of sour cream spiced with chipolte for a touch of smoky flavor.
If your garden harvest is like ours, then you are being inundated with cherry or grape tomatoes. Our grandson loves to go out to the garden and graze on them, freshly picked. These sweet morsels are great in salads, and even better in this fresh tomato and pasta dish. It’s fast and easy to put together,and requires just a little cooking.
PASTA WITH FRESH TOMATOES
- plain angel hair pasta
- 2 pints of cherry or grape tomatoes, washed & left whole
- 1 very ripe beefsteak tomato, washed and chopped
- 3 tablespoons of garlic, half minced and half sliced thinly
- good quality olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper
- 6-10 large leaves of fresh basil, torn
- 1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes (up to 1/2 if you like it hot)
- asiago or parmesan cheese
- red wine salami, sliced and cut into small pieces
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and be ready to cook the pasta. Remember, if you use something other than angel hair, the cooking time will be a bit longer.
- Heat 1/3 cup of olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the garlic to the oiland cook over medium heat for 30 seconds, be careful not to overcook thegarlic. Add all the tomatoes, basil, 1 teaspoon salt, red pepper flakes, and a griding of black pepper. Reduce the heat and cook for 6 or 7 minutes, justuntil the tomatoes soften and begin to burst.
- While the tomatoes are cooking, cook the pasta. Drain it, and reserve about a half cup of the pasta water in case you want to thicken the sauce.Place the pasta in a large serving bowl, add the cooked tomatoes andgarlic and toss it with the cheese. The salami bits are for garnish, along with any extra cheese or shredded basil leaves. Serve with a chilled white wine, we suggest Les Deux Tours Sauvignon Blanc (you can also add a splash of the wine to the sauce. Serves 4