The Only Winter Tomato

3 03 2012

Sweet Grape Tomatoes

It’s the dead end of Winter, here in Minnesota, and as much as we love the roots and greens, we crave a little taste of summer. I must admit, when I want a taste of true tomato, the only fresh tomato I even bother with these days is the grape tomato.

The grape tomato, a pear shaped or oblong version of the cherry tomato, is pretty much available in all the grocery stores these days, but it wasn’t always so. They really emerged on the market in the ‘90s, where their dependable taste made them a hit. The Santa Sweet is a trademarked variety, owned by a Philadelphia company that has made them as familiar as the old cherry tomato. I keep an eye out for the assorted packs of multicolored pear and grape tomatoes, with yellow, red, purple and orange little tomatoes. I know they are not local, but they actually taste like tomatoes.

The main difference between these little ovals and big tomatoes is that they are really sweet. In fact, the yellow ones can be so lacking in acid that once they are dead ripe they taste kind of flat, so don’t wait to use them up. I like growing the red and yellow pears because they grow quickly and profusely, even in less than optimum spots in the yard.

My winter habit is buying my pints of Grape tomatoes, setting them on the sill, and letting them keep ripening as I slice them onto sandwiches, throw them into salads, and the usual. If I don’t get to them fast enough, they often start to crinkle and shrink. This is actually a sign that it’s time to roast them off.

Sliced and Juicy

Slice the grapes in half, drizzle with olive oil, and roast at 400 for 35-40 minutes, uncovered. Give them a shake, and if they are really wet, roast another 10, but basically, just cook them til they shrink and concentrate into flavor bombs.

Roasty tomatoes

Now, with a sprinkling of sea salt, they are ready to keep on hand for sandwiches, pastas, pizzas, wherever a pop of tomato flavor will add some summer joy to life.

Today I toasted up some multi-grain ciabatta, smeared it with dijon, and piled on sliced avocado, the roasted tomatoes, and chopped spinach. A sprinkling of good salt and pepper on the tomatoes and avocadoes was all I needed. It tasted like summer.

The taste of the Sun

aaah. Summer. I can dream.





Heirloom Tomato and Basil Season is Here!

21 08 2011

Tomato+Basil+Olive Oil

To you, it’s August, which may mean that the school year is almost upon you, or that it’s time to get to those projects in the yard you had been putting off. For me, it’s heirloom tomato season. Here in Minnesota, we wait through several frigid months of winter to make it to this respite, and we are very serious about enjoying summer. One of the most fleeting joys of the year is the homegrown heirloom tomato season. Because our season is short, and the heirlooms take a long time to mature, we are lucky to have them from late July into September.

My personal tomatoes, all 8 plants, have produced 3 small regular tomatoes and a few handfuls of mini-pear tomatoes in red and gold. It has been a tough year for them, with high heat and periods of heavy rain. Of course, I always wonder why plants that originated in the tropics would be so unhappy with heat, but I shrug and just keep pulling those brown leaves that might have fungus.

And buying great tomatoes from my local farmers.

So when the juicy, lumpy motley crew that is the heirloom tomato harvest finally comes my way, it’s time to put down whatever I was working on and revel in deep, vine ripe flavor. Luckily, my basil is in sync with the tomatoes, so all I really have to do is put the two together and magic happens.

From the purple and black to the yellow and nearly white, heirlooms are a rainbow of goodness. They call them heirlooms because they were saved from seed by home growers, and bred for flavor rather than shippability over many years. The results are fragile, sometimes oddly shaped, and intensely unique tasting tomatoes.

Of course, tomatoes have the super healthy bonus of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that is thought to lower risks of prostate and breast cancers. Tomatoes are also good at lowering cholesterol and unhealthy fats, and are associated with lower risk of osteoporosis, too. It’s not hard to get the recommended 3 servings a week that are recommended for your health. This is food as medicine at its most delicious.

The Purple Blush

So tonight I will simply chop some tomatoes, I’ve got some gorgeous Purple Cherokees, ready to go. Chop some fresh basil, mince some garlic, and toss it all with olive oil and coarse salt and cracked pepper. You now have a versatile dish that can become a salad, with a spritz of balsamic and maybe a few croutons or bits of fresh mozz. You can pile it on some toasted French bread and call it bruschetta. You can boil some angelhair and toss it with the tomatoes and basil in the hot pan before serving.

You can even add a chopped chili and scoop it up with chips, and call it Italian salsa.

The main thing is to let the simple flavors of those precious tomatoes and basil shine through. They won’t be here long.





May is Mediterranean Month!

14 05 2011

Soaking up Mediterranean Sun

May is a good time to think about eating healthfully, with summer sneaking up on us, we all get a little bit more “into our bodies.” Getting active and moving around outside, hopefully that motivates us to think a little more about maintaining our health for the long haul.

If you are in that frame of mind, the Oldways organization has declared May “Mediterranean Diet Month.” If you are not familiar with Oldways, they are a wonderful group that was founded in the 80’s to educate modern eaters about the wisdom of eating the “old” way. The Mediterranean Diet is an ancient way of eating that emphasizes unprocessed foods from the Med region. Lots of whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruit, nuts and seeds, fish, a little dairy, and very little meat, with olive oil and wine thrown in for good measure.  Med goes Veg very easily.

If you are thinking of going veg, or of trying to tempt people to eat veg with you, Mediterranean foods are always crowd pleasers. The meatless standards of hummus, tabouli, veggie lasagna and big salads are all from the Mediterranean. Just skip the fish and replace it with walnuts and other high omega 3 foods, and you will be dining like the ancients. Small amounts of dairy, in the form of yogurt and cheese, can work for you, or you can go vegan and eat more calcium rich leafy greens. Whole grains are an important base for the Med diet, and they confer all their health promoting qualities to you as you enjoy them in hearty Greek salads and Lebanese flatbreads.

The reasons for reviving the good old days of eating are many. Oldways has collected countless studies showing that eating this way will prevent most of the diseases of our current society, from heart disease and diabetes to obesity and tooth decay. Olive oil and walnuts are even associated with lowered risk of depression.

for a past post on that:

http://robincooksveg.wordpress.com/2009/12/09/winter-blues-feed-your-brain-with-the-mediterranean-diet/

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid was created by the group based on the eating style of the island of Crete, Greece and Southern Italy circa 1960, when their rates of chronic diet-related disease were enviably low. 1960 isn’t all that long ago, but those regions were still eating the way their ancestors did, and enjoying life to the fullest.

The Oldways Pyramid, Just take out the meat and fish

So if you want to stay active, feel great, and eat delicious food, the Mediterranean way is a good way to go.  It’s certainly a tasty way to eat yourself well!

For recipes on the Oldways website, go here:

http://www.oldwayspt.org/recipesresources

Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad

(from Oldways)

This recipe was passed from Oldways Staffer Georgia Orcutt to Sara Talcott after a conversation about the wonders of barley, and now is a favorite. Its flavors are rich and complex, and it is wonderful over a bed of spicy arugula, and can be served cold or at room temperature. Recipe adapted from Gourmet.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pound eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 pound zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup chopped scallion (from 1 bunch)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/4 cups pearl barley (8 oz)
1 3/4 cup veggie stock or 1 3/4 cup water
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 pound cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/3 cup Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, pitted and halved
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion, rinsed and drained if desired
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint

Instructions:

1. Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 425 degree.

2. Toss eggplant and zucchini with 5 tablespoons oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl, then spread in 2 oiled large shallow (1-inch-deep) baking pans. Roast vegetables in oven, stirring occasionally and switching position of pans halfway through baking, until vegetables are golden brown and tender, 20 to 25 minutes total. Combine vegetables in 1 pan and cool, reserving other pan for cooling barley.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook scallion, cumin, coriander, and cayenne, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add barley and cook, stirring until well coated with oil, 2 minutes more. Add stock and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until all of liquid is absorbed and barley is tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Transfer to reserved shallow baking pan and spread to quickly cool, uncovered, to room temperature, about 20 minutes.

4. Whisk together lemon juice, garlic, sugar, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 3 tablespoons oil in a large bowl. Add barley, roasted vegetables, and remaining ingredients to bowl with dressing and toss until combined well. Serve with cheese slices.

Nutritional Analysis:

Per serving: Calories: 324, Protein: 6 grams, Fat: 19 grams, Saturated Fat: 3 grams, Carbohydrates: 36 grams, Fiber: 10 grams, Sodium: 533 mg.

Yield:
8 servings
for a hummus recipe:

Hummus








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