I lust for good, dead-ripe summer tomatoes. There is nothing better than a tomato sandwich slathered with mayonnaise, the tomato so juicy that it turns the bread pink and you have to eat it standing over the kitchen sink. You’ve been there, I’ll bet.
Then come the variations: some great crisp farm-cured bacon, a few leaves of basil, or slices of avocado mingle into the intense taste of summer. From the first tomato at the farmstand to the last tomato from my garden, I’ll eat a tomato sandwich every day, happy in my gluttony.
Tomatoes are nightshades, an interesting, almost mysterious-sounding word. Peppers, potatoes and eggplants also fall into the kingdom of nightshades. Tomato’s history is a checkered one. Hard to believe that folks once thought they were poisonous, and I submit that that’s why the tradition that lives on today, of a tomato-less barbeque sauce, comes from the early settlers of Eastern North Carolina. They also were known as “Love Apples,” a gift to a loved one and cheaper than roses. I wish that ritual still held today.
So past the sandwiches and love apples, how many other tricks can summer-ripe tomatoes play? Plenty.
A side of sliced tomatoes is always perfect. A salad of mixed varieties of tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese drizzled with balsamic vinegar and fruity olive oil can only be done with summer tomatoes. In our family, back to my grandmother, we do “Strutting Tomatoes,” chopped tomatoes mixed with vinegar and sugar to taste. This mixture gets ladled over another summer favorite, field peas. Don’t forget the gardenful of flavors in a batch of gazpacho, or mixed with basil for bruschetta. Doing a pizza at home? Slice some fresh tomatoes over the top for intensified flavor.
But a dish that many of us have forgotten is stewed tomatoes, especially the old fashioned way of doing them with bread. These have nothing in common with the canned types, which I admit are handy for soups and such. This recipe is a showcase for how bright a cooked tomato can be. It is also a recipe of Southern tough times when every morsel of food needed to be stretched to its max. Yet this is one time when the stretching just makes it better.
The old recipe is simple – tomatoes, onion, bread and sugar. I’ve thrown in some basil and suggest that you use different types of tomatoes. I like the lower-acid yellows mixed with a few reds. You can also adjust for any health concerns. Whole wheat bread is fine, and so is using agave nectar in place of the sugar; about 2 to3 tablespoons works great.
Stewed tomatoes, when prepared this way, will win you raves. “I had forgotten how good tomatoes this way taste” will be one, and for the generation that only knows canned, it is yet another revelation of what simple cooking is about. I think you’ll be lusting right along with me.
Fred Thompson is a cookbook author and publisher of Edible Piedmont. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a printable copy of the recipe, click the link: