Last Call Before Fall

Fresh tomatoes simply do not happen in my house during the winter.  I just cannot bring myself to purchase those tasteless, mealy tomatoes they offer in the grocery stores in the off season.  Blech!  Often, I am tempted.  In the past, when I have caved, the disappointment is painful.  I turn to canned tomatoes once the fresh ones disappear from the farmers market tables.  This year, I had high hopes of canning my own tomatoes.  Then, work, life, and a million other things got in the way.  Here we are–at the end of the season–and I have not canned a single tomato. So, to the Internet I went.  Search terms: freezing fresh tomatoes.  There is an enormous amount of information about freezing tomatoes on the web.  After reading 10 different articles that provided 10 different opinions, I decided to just do it.  Worst case scenario: tasteless red liquid.  I figured it could still have some culinary use.  With field tomatoes at about $.99 per pound, it was worth a try.

The differing opinions in the articles I read mostly focused on peeling or not peeling, whole or pureed, and fresh versus cooked.   I opted for pureed, with the skins on, and to simmer the puree slowly to reduce it a bit before freezing.  I have a Vitamix, so leaving the skins on was not an issue. This machine will completely obliterate the skins, which have a lot of the nutrients.  One necessary item: my skimmer.  I love this culinary tool (purchased at Whisk, of course).  I used it to remove the tomatoey foam that is produced when the tomatoes are processed in the Vitamix.  Five pounds of tomatoes later, I have several containers of frozen tomato puree that I will be using in soups and sauces this winter.

The mornings are foggy, damp, and cool.  The nights give us a little shiver.   It’s the last call for tomatoes.  Fall is upon us–bring on the pumpkins!

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Peaches and Tomatoes: Summer’s Last Gasp

Soon, we’ll be eating our fair share of sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and kale. As we enjoy these fall favorites, we’ll also be reminiscing about the tomatoes, peaches, peppers, and other summer abundance. It always amazes me how the first taste of a season can be wonderful, but by the end of the season, we often tire of those same wonderful flavors. It happens to the best of us. Creativity is the key to eating seasonally!

During my weekly visit to LL Urban Farms, I loaded up on tomatoes and peaches. I knew the peaches would be disappearing from the market soon. We still have some time for the tomatoes, but with temperatures falling into the 50’s at night next week—they won’t be around long.   So, how do I savor these delicacies one more time before they are gone?

When we lived in southern California, one of our favorite spots was San Diego.   In San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood, there is a restaurant called La Villa. If you visit San Diego, you must go there. Farm-to-fork is their mission, and they do it well. Their simple Italian recipes will make you weak in the knees. One of my favorite salads there was an heirloom tomato and stone fruit salad with burrata and micro greens. Many of my dishes are an attempt at recreating an amazing dining out experience. I had been thinking about this salad for years!

Using this for inspiration, I threw together some peaches, cherry tomatoes, burrata, and basil from my garden. A little drizzle of balsamic, and the dish was complete. Not exactly the same, yet satisfying. It’s the perfect use of the “last gasp of summer”—which is a phrase my friend, Chana (a.k.a @raleighwhatsup), used to describe the recent hot weather. I couldn’t have said it better. I suppose this last gasp of summer weather and summer bounty will give way to chilly nights and crisp autumn air soon enough. Fall is my favorite season, so I am eagerly awaiting this change. Until then, I plan to get my fill of corn, tomatoes, peppers, and peaches because it’s going to be a long time until we see them at the farmers markets again.

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Market Abundance – Green Beans

It seems that the theme for my culinary life during the summer is: What to do with all this abundance? I am speaking of farmer’s market abundance, of course. Some items are short-lived in the spring, and we almost cry when they disappear from the market tables: strawberries, tender lettuce, peas, scapes, and asparagus to name a few. We just cannot get enough, and then…they are gone. Soon, the tomatoes make an entrance, mounds of green beans appear, and the peppers are piled high.   I start to get excited about all of those Caprese salads I will be inhaling—fresh mozzarella, homegrown basil, olive oil from Olive Wagon—I feel giddy! What about the green beans and peppers? A girl cannot live on Caprese salad alone. Or could she?

Let’s talk green beans—so plentiful, so green, so basic—they beg to be with the tomatoes. Green beans are somewhat alkaline so they do well with the acidity of a tomato or a little vinaigrette. Green beans are forgiving, too. They can be eaten blanched and sautéed (still crisp) or stewed until they are delicately tender. If you are accustomed to the green beans you pour into a saucepan out of the can, I urge you to put down the can and get some fresh beans at your local farmer’s market.   Try this recipe and see if you ever go back to canned beans again. I doubt it.

Stewed Green Beans and Tomatoes

  • 1 pound green beans – trimmed & cut in half
  • 1 pint of cherry tomatoes OR 4 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 medium red onion – halved and sliced thin
  • 3 cloves garlic – chopped
  • 3 tbs. olive oil
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • ½ tsp. crushed red pepper
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • salt & pepper
  1. Prep your green beans, onion, and garlic. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half (or chop the Roma tomatoes).
  2. In a heavy cast iron pot with a lid, heat the olive oil on medium heat.
  3. Add the onion and sauté for about 4-5 minutes until translucent and softened.
  4. Add the garlic and continue to sauté for about 2 minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes, honey, and red pepper. Stir to combine ingredients. Continue to cook for about 1 minute.
  6. Add the green beans and continue to cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Add the wine. Stir to incorporate the ingredients and turn the heat down to Low. Place the lid on the pot and let simmer for about 40-45 minutes.
  8. Stir in the cinnamon, salt, and pepper.

* If you don’t have a heavy cast iron pot, use a sauté pan or stockpot with a lid.

** I serve this as a main dish with roasted garlic cheese breadImageImageImageImage

Roasted Garlic Cheese Bread

  • 8 slices of artisan bread (please get good bread—it makes all of the difference here!)
  • 3 tbs. softened butter
  • 3 cloves roasted garlic
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • Asiago, Parmesan, Fontina, or Havarti cheese
  1. Chop or puree the roasted garlic cloves. Thoroughly combine the garlic, butter and salt.
  2. Grate or slice the cheese of your choice.
  3. Spread the mixture on the bread slices and top with the cheese. Place under a broiler for a few minutes until cheese is bubbly.