Make the best use of summer tomatoes before they’re gone

kpurvis@charlotteobserver.comAugust 27, 2013 

  • Tomato tips

    • To make tomato pulp quickly, cut a tomato in half, remove the seeds, then rub the cut side on the large holes of a box grater until you reach the skin. You can grate it directly into the dish you’re making.

    • To save just a few tomatoes for winter use, put whole tomatoes in resealable freezer bags and freeze for a couple of months. When you remove them from the freezer for cooking, the skins will pull right off.

    • To peel tomatoes for immediate use, drop them in boiling water for 15 to 30 seconds, then use a slotted spoon to drop them in ice water. Wait 1 minute, then nick the tomato with a knife tip and pull off the skin. It should peel off easily.

    • To seed tomatoes quickly, cut round tomatoes in half widthwise or cut plum tomatoes in half lengthwise (stem to tip). Hold sideways, squeeze lightly and stick your finger in the pockets to squish out the seeds.

    Kathleen Purvis

Did anyone see what happened to tomato season?

It’s usually right here, exploding in the hottest part of summer, giving us the chance to eat our fill of the big red beauties before they disappear for the winter.

Not this year: Between heavy rains and cooler temperatures, it seemed like the lost summer for tomatoes.

Did anyone get enough tomato sandwiches? Enough tomato salads, enough diced tomatoes tossed with hot pasta? Did you cover a whole counter with tomatoes in various shades of ripeness, or fill your freezer with enough marinara to last until July?

There’s still a little time left to catch up. Labor Day may mark the official end of summer Monday, but in this part of the world, tomato season can hang on until almost October, when the first heavy frost usually puts an end to it.

Before it goes, we came up with five dishes to make before tomatoes finish for the year. We threw in handling tips, too, so you can work quickly.

Before the tomatoes go, try to eat at least one sandwich so drippy you have to lean over the sink, and ponder the words of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote in “Ode to Tomatoes”:

The tomato invades the kitchen, it enters at lunchtime, takes its ease on countertops, among glasses, butter dishes, blue saltcellars. It sheds its own light, benign majesty.

Marinated Tomatoes and Cucumbers

1 large or 2 medium tomatoes
1 white or yellow onion
1 to 2 cucumbers
Several sprigs of fresh thyme
1 cup white vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

CORE and dice the tomatoes. Peel and dice the onion and the cucumber. You’re aiming to have roughly equal amounts of each.

PLACE about a third of the diced tomato in the bottom of a wide jar or a bowl with a tight-fitting lid. Top with a third of the onions and cucumber. Top with a sprig of thyme. Continue with two more layers of tomato, onion, cucumber and thyme.

WHISK together the vinegar, salt, honey and olive oil. Pour over the vegetables. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours. Serve cold.

Yield: About 6 servings.

Famous Tomato Sandwiches

From “The Blue Willow Inn Bible Of Southern Cooking,” by Louis and Billie Van Dyke (Rutledge Hill Press, 2005). Shooting matches break out over the topic of tomato sandwiches. The classic version is nothing more than white bread, mayonnaise and tomato. But there also is a tradition of dressed-up versions served in tea rooms and church receptions.

2 medium ripe tomatoes, preferably peeled and cored
1 large white onion
16 slices white sandwich bread
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
Salt and pepper

CUT each tomato in 4 round slices. Cut the onion into slices. Layer the tomato and onion in a bowl or plastic container. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours.

CUT the bread into 2 1/2- to 3-inch-wide circles. (If you don’t have a round cutter that wide, you can use a pineapple can as a guide. You’re aiming for circles that are about the size of your tomato slices.)

MIX the mayonnaise and mustard. Spread each slice of bread with the mayonnaise mixture. Drain the tomato slices and set aside the onion for another dish. Place one tomato slice on a bread round. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with another bread round.

PLACE the sandwiches on a tray and cover with paper towel sprinkled with a little bit of water, then wrap the tray with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours.

Yield: 8 sandwiches, or about 4 servings.

Fresh Tomato Paste in Olive Oil

From “Root to Stalk Cooking,” by Tara Duggan (Ten Speed Press, 2013). This yields a dense paste that will keep several weeks in the refrigerator. Stir the rich paste into pasta sauces or salad dressing, use it as a bruschetta topping, or add it to mayonnaise to make a flavorful sandwich spread.

1 pound Roma tomatoes, halved crosswise and seeded
Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan and topping the paste

PREHEAT the oven to 250 degrees. Brush a 1 1/2-quart or 11-by-7-inch baking dish with olive oil. Place tomatoes in the dish, cut side up, in a tightly packed single layer. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until shrunken and mostly dry, about 3 1/2 hours (or longer). Cool.

PUREE with the olive oil in a food processor or blender until completely smooth. Pour into a jar with a lid, smoothing down to eliminate any air pockets, and top with a thin layer of extra olive oil. Tightly cover and refrigerate. Whenever you use it, add a little oil to make sure the surface is covered.

Yield: Makes 3/4 cup.

Roasted Tomato Sauce With Garlic and Butter

3 to 4 pounds of tomatoes, any kind from Romas to round garden tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons salt

HEAT oven to 350 degrees. Core the tomatoes, then cut in half and place in a roasting pan, cut-size up. Add the garlic cloves. Drizzle with olive oil, making sure to coat the garlic cloves as well. Sprinkle with salt. Roast 2 to 3 hours, until the tomatoes are breaking down and browned in spots.

SQUEEZE the garlic from the cloves.

TRANSFER the tomatoes to a blender or food processor. Squeeze the garlic from the cloves and add to the tomatoes, with the butter, sugar and salt to taste. Puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Package in freezer bags or boxes and freeze.

Yield: About 2 cups.

Open-Face Tomato Pie

From “Tomatoes: A Savor the South Cookbook,” by Miriam Rubin (UNC Press)

Pastry for a single-crust pie
4 to 5 medium tomatoes (1 1/2 pounds)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 1/4 cups shredded sharp white cheddar, divided
1/2 cup plain panko crumbs
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup chopped basil
2 tablespoons sliced chives
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

PREHEAT oven to 375 degrees. Fit the pastry into a 9-inch pie plate and form a high, fluted edge. Prick all over with a fork. Put a sheet of foil inside and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake until the pastry is set and white at the edges, 10-12 minutes. Remove foil and weights, return to the oven and bake until brown in spots, 8-10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

CORE and halve the tomatoes and cut them crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick half-moon slices, discarding the ends. (You should have about 3 cups). Place on a double layer of paper towels and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let stand about 5 minutes.

TOSS 1/2 cup of the cheddar with the panko crumbs in a small bowl. Sprinkle half of this evenly over the bottom of the crust. Arrange half of the tomatoes in an overlapping circle on top of the crumbs. Sprinkle with half the red onion and 1/4 cup of the cheddar. Arrange the remaining tomato slices on top; sprinkle with the remaining red onion.

MIX the mayonnaise, basil, chives, remaining 1/2 cup cheddar, pepper and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Spread over the tomatoes with a rubber spatula, covering them completely. Sprinkle with remaining panko-cheddar mixture.

BAKE until browned and bubbling around the edges, 45 to 50 minutes. Let stand at least 30 minutes before cutting.

Yield: 8 servings.

Purvis: 704-358-5236

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