Where would the cooking world be without tomatoes? No ketchup, pasta sauce, pizza, bruschetta, salsa, Bloody Mary’s. You get the point.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans eat between 22-24 pounds of tomatoes per person, per year. (More than half in the form of ketchup and tomato sauce.) According to tomatodirt.com, Americans consume three-fourths of their tomatoes in processed form.
Last week I stopped at a roadside farm stand hoping to find what I was waiting for all year: those ripe, succulent, huge, juicy beefsteak tomatoes. I did! They are part of summer, along with sweet corn and watermelon. The wooden cart was filled with tomatoes picked earlier in the day. My mouth was watering, just thinking about eating a thick slice and sprinkling a bit of salt on top while I prepared a Caprese salad for dinner. During the winter months I avoid the bland, pale, out-of-season tomatoes found at supermarkets.
I wasn’t surprised to learn that tomatoes are in the top four most-popular vegetables, along with potatoes, onions and lettuce. It was surprising to find out that an abundance of tomato crops are eaten in processed form, and the leaves are actually toxic.
Fruit or vegetable? Technically it is a fruit. Some say it is both. This article explains the debate well. In the late 1800s, the U.S. Supreme court designated tomatoes as a vegetable for taxation purposes.
Heirloom tomatoes is a buzzword today, especially on restaurant menus. Available in an array of colors, and sometimes called heritage tomatoes, their seeds have been passed down through the generations. I learned so much about heirlooms and tomatoes in “The Good Cook’s Book of Tomatoes: A New World Discovery and Its Old World Impact with more than 150 Recipes,” by Michele Anna Jordan (2015, Skyhorse Publishing, $18.99).
A chart lists a sample of the thousands of tomato varieties with the characteristics and its best uses in cooking. The author writes, “When working with fresh tomatoes, the most important quality to understand is the effect of temperature. Their flavor begins to deteriorate when the thermometer drops below about fifty-four degrees. So don’t refrigerate your tomatoes. It is certainly tempting, especially as the harvest gets into full swing, to extend the life of all those extra tomatoes by chilling them. Unfortunately, it renders them tasteless and makes the flesh mealy. Try to use fresh tomatoes within three to four days, and if you can’t, make a simple sauce or salsa that will hold in the refrigerator for a few extra days.”
“When it comes to cooking with fresh tomatoes, the guidelines are equally simple. To retain that bright, fresh flavor, cook tomatoes quickly. If they’re cooked longer than about thirty minutes, their flavor begins to change as sugars are released and liquid evaporates. The resulting taste can be insipid. To transform this quality, tomatoes must undergo lengthy, slow cooking, a technique that applies to just a few recipes such as a traditional ragù. So the rule here is to cook tomatoes for a very short time or, on occasion — primarily when meat is an ingredient — for a very long time.”
She includes a guideline for growing tomatoes, peeling tomatoes, and cooking with canned tomatoes. The glossary of commercial tomato products and traditional tomato sauces is helpful. Menus for a tomato tasting is provided, too, for those tomato aficionados. Tomato lovers will appreciate Jordan’s creative zeal to one of the most popular fruits (or vegetable?) on the market. I found it to be an amazing reference for “everything tomato.” You’ll find a diverse repertoire of recipes using the season’s harvest such as tomato gratin with fresh basil, stuffed tomatoes with four variations, green beans and potatoes with warm cherry tomato vinaigrette, grilled cabbage with warm cherry tomato vinaigrette, mussels with tomatoes, garlic, chorizo, and white wine, tomato halibut tagine, and summer chicken cacciatore.
Pick up some freshly picked tomatoes at the farm stand so you can make these recipes from the book. For the recipe for golden peach gazpacho, visit https://bit.ly/2TjgjJm.
Make the Chimichurri if you have not already done so; set aside.
Put the bread into a large bowl, add the cherry tomatoes, red onion, and garlic, and toss gently.
Cut the sausages into thin rounds, cut the rounds in half, and add to the bowl. Season with salt and toss again.
Put the lemon juice, crushed red pepper flakes, and olive oil into a small bowl, add a generous pinch of salt and several turns of black pepper, and toss. Season with several turns of black pepper.
Pour the dressing over the salad and use two forks to toss thoroughly. Add the parsley and cilantro and toss again.
Serve within the hour with the Chimichurri alongside so that guests can top their salads with a generous dollop. Serves 4- 6.
Variation: Put a whole lemon in the freezer. Grate it and add it to the salad with parsley and cilantro. It adds a remarkably yummy quality. There is no need to peel or seed the lemon.
The headnote says, “Chimichurri is as ubiquitous in Argentina as ketchup is in America. In restaurants, it always accompanies steak and most other meats.” There are many versions, some without tomatoes, and others, like this one, with tomatoes.
Put the garlic into a suribachi (grinding bowl), sprinkle with salt, and use a wooden pestle to grind to a paste. Add the shallot and pound and grind into the garlic.
Using a rubber spatula, fold the parsley, cilantro, and oregano into the paste. Stir in the tomato and gypsy pepper, add the paprika and hot pepper of choice, and stir in the vinegar and olive oil.
Add several turns of black pepper, taste, and correct for salt and acid. Makes about 11/4 cups
The headnote says, “Most fried green tomatoes are coated heavily with cornmeal, flour, or bread crumbs, and sometimes all three, and fried until very crisp on the outside. This version is both lighter and richer. Serve it with roasted pork shoulder, roasted chicken, or almost any kind of barbecue, including ribs.”
Chop or crumble the bacon and set it aside.
Cut and discard the stems and blossom ends of the tomatoes and cut each tomato into 3/8-inch-thick slices. Let the sliced tomatoes rest on absorbent paper or a tea towel. Slice the goat cheese into thin rounds and set it aside.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Mix together the cornmeal, salt, and pepper and dredge each slice of tomato in the mixture. In the reserved bacon fat, fry the tomatoes over medium heat until the cornmeal browns, about 11/2 minutes on each side. After turning the tomato slices once, top each with a round of goat cheese and place the pan in the oven for 5 minutes.
Transfer the tomatoes to a warm plate, set the pan over medium heat, and add the cream. Swirl to pick up any pan drippings, and, when the cream is hot, pour it over the tomatoes.
Scatter the bacon and the cilantro over the tomatoes and serve hot. Serves 4- 6.
Consiglio’s Demonstration Cooking Class: Aug. 15, 6:30 p.m., Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, 203-865-4489 (reservations required), $75 (beverages, tax and gratuity not included), https://bit.ly/2Nd0xAg. Menu: Homemade Pizza with Burrata and Prosciutto, Baby Lettuces with Feta, Strawberries and Almonds, Pan Seared Sea Scallops with Lemon Caper Pasta, Nutella Cream Puff Pastry.
Consiglio’s Mystery Dinner Party: “Deadlier Games” Aug. 16, 7 p.m. (doors open at 6 p.m.), Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, reservations at 203-865-4489 https://bit.ly/2O3TQzQ, $65 includes dinner and show (beverages, tax and gratuity not included). An interactive comedy show that goes on throughout the evening during a 3-course meal. Cast mingles table to table, dropping clues for a mystery only you can solve. Wear your most outrageous hat.
10th annual Blackberry Festival, Aug. 17-18, noon-5 p.m., White Silo Farm & Winery, 32 Route 37 E., Sherman, 860-355-0271 or 917 699 7355; www.whitesilowinery.com. Features small plates of food prepared with their farm-grown blackberries quince. Menu: Tostadas with pulled chicken Blackberry salsa, jack cheese, and lime sour cream; Peanut butter and blackberry jam on homemade bread; Baked Brie with wine soaked blackberries; Blackberry wild Rice and barley salad; Blackberry Lavender Cheesecake; and Pavlova with Lemon Curd and fresh blackberries. Admission is free. Wine and food purchased for a fee. Live music 1-4:30 p.m. Free winery and field tours. Pets and children welcome to join their parents.
45th annual Milford Oyster Festival Aug. 17, 10 a.m.-6 p.m, downtown Milford. 30,000 oysters from Briarpatch Shellfish Co., food for purchase, craft beer and wine, children’s entertainment, schooner cruises and live music by headliners For entertainment and event schedule, visit milfordoysterfestival.com.
Milford Craft Beer Tour, Aug. 17, $15 includes shuttle transportation between venues, one free 8-ounce pour each at Tribus and Milford Point and 25 percent off the tab at SBC Three sessions to choose from on each of the dates; tickets must be pre-purchased online at https://bit.ly/2xFvjY7.
New Haven Cocktail Week Aug. 18-24 , Kick off August 18 at 2 p.m. with a special Spirits Ball at the newly opened High George rooftop bar at The Blake Hotel. Tickets $50 in advance; $60 at the door. https://bit.ly/2StAWCi For participating restaurants and bars and schedule of the week’s events including seminars, themed parties, and passports visit newhavencocktailweek.com.
Kids Culinary Camp — Food Truck Favorites, (ages 5+), Aug. 19-Aug. 23, 10 a.m.-noon. Chef’s Emporium, 449 Boston Post Road, Orange, $250. Reservations 203-799-2665. During this 5 day camp experience, your young chef will participate in hands-on classes under the guidance of expert chef instructors. They’ll be making some classic food truck favorites. For the week’s menu and tickets, visit https://bit.ly/2YWMHTA
New Haven Craft Beer Fest, Aug. 24, two sessions: noon-2 p.m. and 3-5 p.m. VIP session 11 a.m. -2 p.m. Temple Plaza Courtyard, 160 Temple St., New Haven, $30 general admission sessions; $40 VIP tickets. Hosted by Prime 16. Beer tastings from local and regional breweries. Food available for purchase, music and games. Tickets sold online only and will not be available at the door. https://tickets.beerfests.com/event/nhcbf