tomato

Cooking for Summer, It’s Tomato Time

Mid August and we find ourselves smack dab in the dog days of summer. This summer of 2020 has been a strange and curious one, for sure. Despite the pivots and precautions we’ve all had to negotiate, I am grateful that this sultry season has been a good one for the local harvest. Grateful for the farmers and the produce and product they help each us bring to the table. In this post, that gratitude is illustrated by my love for the homegrown tomato.

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No matter the size or the shape, there is nothing like to taste or the aroma of a freshly picked ripe tomato – join me in savoring the season!

For years – honestly,  more summer seasons than I would like to admit –  I have  tried to grow my own. A couple of seasons ago I finally decided to admit defeat.

I gave up on the gardening of vegetables to concentrate on cooking, deciding to leave the important work of seeding and sowing such seasonal pleasures to the professionals. Now, I relish my weekly visits to local farmers’ markets to buy at every from a host of farmers and you should too!

These days, you’ll find,my not-so-green thumb and I in the kitchen were we know what we are doing. I still dig in the dirt, and have a kitchen garden full of herbs I love. But when it comes to fruits and veggies, tomatoes in particular, I turn to the pros at local farmers’ markets and area farm stands to get tomatoes  that taste, well, the way tomatoes should.  

The Tomato-y Taste

I think I could eat fresh picked ripe and ready tomatoes everyday till the season has passed and still not tire of the flavor.

There is nothing quite like that first taste of a homegrown tomato after a winter and spring without the real thing; but after a month or so it feels like you  just can’t eat them fast enough.

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Truth is though, with one master recipe, you can use this season’s perfect fruit (or vegetable) to create a host of dishes to enjoy. And the best news is that these pan roasted tomatoes freeze well. So cook ’em down and pack ’em up and enjoy this, oh so special, taste of summer throughout the rest of the year as well.

Life’s Simple Pleasures: The Tomato Sandwich

Before you slice and bake, though, don’t miss one of summer’s greatest pleasures – the unadulterated old fashioned ‘mater sandwich. It’s a classic for sure.

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Don’t even think of adding sliced turkey, roast beef or a leaf of lettuce to this one. The classic recipe calls only for two slices of soft white bread dressed with a little ( or a lot, as you might like) of mayo (your choice of brands, but I’m a Duke’s gal! ). Sandwich thick slices of firm but ripe tomato seasoned with a little salt and pepper in between and have at it.

If you have really gotten it right, you’ll have to lean over the kitchen sink to eat it as the tomatoes will be so ripe and juicy, that has you take each bite the juices will run from your mouth and hands down to your elbows. For me, its a summer rite of passage be it your first  (or your 100th) tomato sammie of the season..

For a bit more elaborate sandwich, use a whole grain, sourdough or ancient grain bread like those baked in the Queen City by the talent at Verdant Bread Co. in Charlotte or Virtuoso Bread Works in Waxhaw, NC.

Spread with homemade  pesto and layered with thick slices of ripe tomato and locally made Uno Alla Volta mozzarella cheese in between. To turn this sandwich into a summer comfort food, wrap it in foil and warm it in a 300 degree oven for about 15 minutes or so. Ahhhhh…..

After the Sandwich, Make Salsa and Salad

Marinate tomatoes for full-flavored summer salads. Use your favorite vinegar based dressing or  make your own by combining a half cup or so each of red and balsamic vinegars seasoned with a couple of tablespoons of local honey,  one quarter cup of fresh minced basil leaves and a small minced shallot. Layer the tomatoes in a shallow glass or plastic dish,  top with the vinaigrette, season to taste with salt and pepper, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for three to four hours. Serve over a bed of crisp greens or toss with fresh sliced Kirby cucumbers and enjoy.

Tomatoes go great on the grill, as well. Use firm but still ripe tomatoes and a grill grid, so nothing will fall through the cracks. Slice the tomatoes thick and grill for a minute or two on each side or until the surface starts to char a bit. No need to add any olive oil prior to grilling, save any dressings for after the tomatoes are cooked. Serve the grilled tomatoes, just as they are, chopped and stirred into your favorite gazpacho recipe, topped with grated parmesan, tossed in salads or in any of the recipes below for a slightly richer taste.  Grilled charred tomatoes also do well chopped and combined with grilled onions, jalapeños, grilled corn, grilled red bell peppers, salt, pepper and lime juice for a terrific grilled summer salsa – ole!

How do you know when tomatoes are ripe?

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You can’t always tell by the color because many heirloom varieties are not red – they are often green, yellow or striped. Look follow your nose, they should smell wonderfully tomato-ey and should be firm to the touch – although when you are shopping, don’t go around squeezing the tomatoes – farmers hate that and while we are on topic the same goes for peaches!

Nothing like a Fried Green Tomato

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As delicious as ripe tomatoes are, you’d be missing a delicious part of the summer tomato season if you didn’t fry up a few not-quiet-ripe green tomatoes. its such a summer favorite of mine, that the recipe has it’s very own blog post! Check out all the details here and enjoy!

Time for Tomato Pie

Tomato Pie is a great addition to any summer menu. Breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner – its always a good time for tomato pie.

The technique involves little more than layering. Use any variety of local and just harvested tomato that you would like, slice or chop. I love the vodka pie crust recipe I have included below, because well, it’s fun to use a local liquor in the recipe. And the results are truly a lighter flakier pie crust; but if you want a store bought one to make things easier, I recommend the Immaculate Baking Company’s organic refrigerated crust. It is my go-to if I am not making my own, and its terribly easy to have it on hand, ready to roll ( pun intended), when you are ready to bake.

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Late August marks the time for the harvest of the Julia Child tomato. Fun how these tomatoes ripen for the picking in the same month as Julia’s Birthday! Look for them at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market at the Hot Pepper Herb Farm booth. #TellThemHeidiSentYou

Heidi’s  Taste of Summer Tomato Pie

Pie crust recipe for a 1 crust pie (see below)

3-4 firm but ripe local tomatoes cut into thick slices, or use small chopped tomatoes, or a combo of both 

Fresh locally grown basil

Fine grated Chapel Hill Creamery Calvander cheese

1 local egg and 1 local egg yolk  – for a richer taste, swap out a chicken egg for a duck egg and enjoy the rich tasty difference!

Panko Crumbs (These are dried but not toasted bread crumbs. Super simple to make your own and keep it local with a slice or two of locally baked bread from Verdant Bakery in Charlotte or Virtuoso Bread Works in Waxhaw, NC)

1 cup local whole milk or heavy cream ( I love using Hickory Hill Milk from Edgefield SC; Ran Lew Dairy Milk from Gold Hill, NC; or try the raw organic milk from Underwood family Farms available on Saturdays at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market – it is great for everyday cooking!)

Here’s What to Do

Roll the pie crust out to 1/4 inch thickness and fit into a 9-inch French false-bottomed tart pan. ( see how this is done in the illustration that accompanies my Boiled Peanut Pie recipe here.) Layer tomatoes basil, grated cheese and Panko crumbs in the crust until you come to the top – finish with a layer of tomatoes.

Combine the eggs and milk, Pour the custard into the filled pie shell. Top with shredded basil, Panko crumbs and cheese. Carefully place the pan on a baking sheet and bake the pie in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35-40 mins.

Cool slightly, remove from the pan and cut into wedges. Enjoy hot or cold and for a little flourish at the end, drizzle wedges with balsamic vinegar before serving. 

Easy Vodka Pie Crust

It’s the Vodka that keeps it light and flaky – who knew? I love keeping this a local choice as well and always now use TOPO Distillery vodka from Chapel Hill in all my homemade pie crust recipes. Give it a try, you’ll love the results.

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp  salt

1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces

3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices

1/4 cup cold North Carolina vodka  

1/4 cup cold water
Use a food processor fitted with the metal blade to pulse together  flour and salt. Add butter and shortening and process until blended just the dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, but there is no trace of the flour.

Add the cold vodka and cold water over mixture. Pulse again with the processor just until the dough forms a ball. Remove from the bowl. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days, the roll out to 1/4 inch thickness and use in your favorite pie recipe.

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Master Recipe: Pan-Roasted Tomatoes

3 Tbsp. Olive Crate Kores Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 small local yellow onion, diced (optional)

2 cloves local garlic, optional (optional)

Sea Salt & Heidi’s Hot Pepper Blend (made from a blend of three peppercorns found at the Savory Spice Shop in Southend Charlotte)

3-4 Lbs. local tomatoes, diced or quartered

Place 2-3 Tbsp. of olive oil in a large pot and saute diced onion and garlic with salt and pepper. Saute for about 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent. If you don’t want to add the onions and garlic, then just start with the oil.

Add all of the tomatoes to the pan and cook for 4-5 minutes until the tomatoes start to soften. Puree the onion-garlic-tomato mixture with an immersion blender or food processor and use as a spread on toast for a wonderful appetizer all on its own or proceed with any of the following recipes…

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Country French Farmers’ Market Ratatouille

One pan of Heidi’s Master Recipe for Pan-Roasted Summer Tomatoes

Your choice of any of these veggies ( all readily found at any of Charlotte’s local farmers’ markets):

2-3 local Haikuri Turnips

1-2 each: local eggplant, trimmed and very thinly sliced; local zucchini, trimmed and very thinly sliced; local yellow squash, trimmed and very thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper and 1 yellow bell pepper, cored and very thinly sliced

3 Tbsp. Olive Crate Kores Estate olive oil, or to taste

2 Tbsp. Herbs de Provence

¼ cup Uno Alla Volta cottage cheese ( available in cheese and gourmet shops all around Charlotte as well as on Saturday mornings at the Matthews’ Community Farmers’ Market and the Charlotte Regional Farmers’ Market on Yorkmont Road)

Spread the pan roasted  tomatoes on the bottom of an oven to table casserole.

Arrange alternating slices of eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, red bell pepper, and yellow bell pepper, starting at the outer edge of the dish and working concentrically towards the center. Overlap the slices a little to display the colors. ( Remember how the little chef did it in the movie Ratatouille? Layer your veggies, just like that!)

Begin by drizzling the vegetables with 3 tablespoons olive oil; then, season with salt and black pepper. Dollop with the Uno Alla Volta cottage cheese or ricotta cheese.  Sprinkle with Herbs de province. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20-30 minutes until veggies are roasted and tender and slightly browned. Top with the remaining pan roasted tomatoes just before serving.

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Heidi’s Summer Tomato Bisque

One pan of Heidi’s Master Recipe for Pan-Roasted Summer Tomatoes

2-3 firm, ripe tomatoes, diced

5 large Italian  basil leaves, cut in a chiffonade (roll the leaves up and then thinly slice them and viola! You have a chiffonade of basil!)

2 cups water

drizzle of Olive Crate Chile Pepper organic vinegar

1/2 cup Greek yogurt ( or try the new local yogurt-style cheese created by Zack Gadberry of Uno Alla Volta and available exclusively at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market)

Start by heating the tomato puree you made in the Master recipe. Add the remaining diced tomatoes, basil leaves, and water. Simmer 10-12 minutes.

Remove from heat; spoon into bowls. Top each with a drizzle of the chile pepper balsamic vinegar. Serve with Greek yogurt and additional fresh basil on top.

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Homemade Tomato Ketchup

2 Tbsp.  Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Zest of one orange

½ local red onion, minced

¼ cup minced local celery

One pan of Heidi’s Master Recipe for Pan-Roasted Summer Tomatoes

1/2 cup water

2/3 cup organic sugar

3/4 cup Olive Crate Honey vinegar

2 Tbsp. sea salt

Heidi’s Hot Pepper Blend, to taste

Saute onions and celery in olive oil until tender. Add tomatoes, stir to mix.

Add remaining ingredients.  Cook on medium high heat, stirring constantly, uncovered, until mixture is reduced by half and very thick.

Smooth the texture of the ketchup using an immersion blender, about 20 seconds.

Adjust seasonings to suit your tastes

Here’s The How To on Seeding a Tomato

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Many recipes call for a seeded tomato. The purpose is to use only the tomato pulp in the recipe with out any of the additional water that holds the seeds in place. A good example is the tomatoes called for in the Zucchini Galette recipe I recently shared on these digital pages in a mid summer Eat your Summer Vegetables post; and then again on TV.

In case you missed it, here’s the video of the galette cooking segment I did on Charlotte Today a month or so ago. Its a keeper and is delicious filled with any kind of fresh summer fruit or vegetable. Enjoy!

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