Marielle Shaw (MS) and Cynthia Kallile (CK) also contributed to this article. All photos by Nancy Bishop.
It’s late summer and the best season for eating. Corn, melons, peaches, roma beans and best of all tomatoes. Small tomatoes, large tomatoes. Red and yellow and orange and green and striped. I love all my summer tomatoes. And I eat them every day in August and September.
Raw, sliced with salt and pepper. In salads, sandwiches and cooked in sauces. There’s nothing better on pasta than fresh tomato sauce.
Some of my lucky friends have gardens and grow their own tomatoes. I’m a cliffdweller, so I have nowhere to grow my own. But every Saturday, there’s a farmers market just three blocks from my door. And every Saturday I replenish my tomato supply. Many of the growers on the two-block stretch of Division Street have their own tomatoes, but Dotson’s Farm is my favorite. My tomato lady sits behind a scale and adds up my purchases on a notepad. Tomatoes, peppers, roma beans (they have a short season), a bunch of basil or parsley, perhaps some beets and a few ears of corn. But always tomatoes.
[CK. As a Saturday Division Street market shopper, I too have my favorite tomato and more vendor! And she’s just the person you’ve revealed. Why? She knows her tomatoes and that’s a feat particularly when there are so many varieties.]
[MS. Ever since the first time I plucked a ruby red tomato off the vine at my great aunt’s house and bit into its still sun-warmed flesh, I’ve been addicted to tomatoes fresh from the garden. I’ve also known that no Roma, no grape, nor any motley, brown or yellow fruit can compare to the red treasures unearthed in the garden. And I have science on my side. Though new to the world of gardening, I’ve insisted that at least 50 percent of my garden plot be reserved for these beauties. And nothing has made me more excited than going in my own backyard and picking a few for tonight’s salad, for my BLT for lunch or for a fresh, raw sauce for my homemade pizza. Summer tomatoes are one of the purest pleasures in life, if you ask me.]
Here are some of my favorite ways to consume them, besides just sliced plain with salt and pepper.
Fresh French or Italian or good rye bread (hard to find).
Sliced tomatoes, sliced fresh mozzarella or a thin slice of sweet onion, a little mayo or olive oil. A few basil leaves if you have some.
Sliced large red tomatoes, sliced fresh mozzarella (sliced from a large ball of mozzarella). Spread artfully around a large salad plate lined with leaf lettuce, spinach or chopped romaine. Drizzle olive oil on all the vegetables, then red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar (less, because it’s more potent). Slivered basil leaves, salt and pepper.
[CK. Here’s another fabulous summer recipe using watermelon and tomatoes courtesy of the New York Times. I like to add a ¼ cup of halved pitted kalamata olives to this recipe for an added burst of flavor.]
Tomato and Watermelon Salad
4 to 6 large tomatoes, ideally heirloom varieties, cut into 1-1/4-inch cubes
1 small seedless watermelon, cut into 1-1/4-inch cubes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup feta cheese, broken into large crumbles
Mix all gently together and enjoy!
Cook pasta (angel hair, fini linguine or your favorite). Toss hot pasta with:
Diced fresh tomato, diced sweet onion, olive oil. Add chunks of fresh or regular mozzarella or provolone just before serving.
[CK. This is delicious and if you have some fresh basil, slice the leaves into diagonal strips–that’s called a chiffonade–and sprinkle over the pasta and sauce. Yummy.]
Every September, I buy a small basket of roma tomatoes for freezing. I just wash them and let them dry. Place 8-10 tomatoes in a freezer bag and stow in the freezer.
When you want a taste of summer in the winter, remove a bag of tomatoes and let them thaw slightly. If you hold a tomato under running water, you’ll be able to slip off the skin easily. Then just core and chop to make a wonderful fresh sauce.
Heat some olive oil in a saucepan and sauté a chopped onion and some garlic until limp and golden. Add the diced tomatoes and juices. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The tomatoes will cook down and thicken into a sauce. Season with salt, pepper and herbs if you wish.
Finally, I’ll let you in on my recipe for the best pasta sauce ever. Roasting the tomatoes adds a certain nutty, burnt richness to the sauce.
Roasted tomato sauce (Makes about 10 cups)
About 8 pounds ripe tomatoes, any variety and color, cored and quartered*
10 medium onions, peeled and quartered
10 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole, or 2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 cup chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, basil, thyme, oregano, parsley, and/or chives)
About 1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Generous grinding of black pepper
A few tablespoons sugar (optional)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
* I don’t peel them and the skins get broken up in the cooking and blending process. But if you’re picky about tomato skin, you’ll just have to peel your tomatoes. A waste of time, in my mind.
In a large roasting pan, toss together the tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 25 minutes. Stir the vegetables. Roast for another 25 minutes and toss. Add any of the optional ingredients listed below and roast for another 45 minutes, or until the tomatoes are softened and there’s a golden brown crust on top. Remove and taste for seasoning. If the sauce tastes bitter, add some of the sugar, gradually.
You can use this as a sauce, although it will be soupy. I prefer to pour everything into a large saucepan, simmer for 20-30 minutes and use an immersion blender to get a better consistency (still chunky, not smooth). Simmer for another 15-20 minutes if you want a thicker sauce.
Place in glass or plastic containers and refrigerate or freeze. The sauce can be refrigerated for a week or frozen tightly sealed for several months to a year.
Variations: Add any of the following ingredients to the sauce after it has roasted for about 50 minutes and before simmering.
Drained capers; sliced pitted black and/or green olives, olive puree or tapenade; chopped raw or cooked vegetables (minced carrots, zucchini, red or green pepper); anchovy filets, minced, or 1 tablespoon anchovy puree; a good dash of red chile flakes or hot pepper sauce.