Fresh Tomatoes

Tomatoes top the list of my favorite fresh summertime, homegrown vegetables. (Yes, scientifically, they’re fruit. But to a cook, they’re vegetables.) These are fresh summertime favorites because their sweet, juicy flesh is at its peak, tasting completely different from tomatoes that have been grilled, roasted, or otherwise cooked or preserved. They’re homegrown favorites because despite the few tomato varieties available in grocery stores, hundreds of varieties are available as seed.

We planted 26 tomato starts in late May and have been harvesting 14 varieties this month. Some are tiny, bright red cherry tomatoes; some are dark purple giants. My childhood loves are sweet Yellow Pears I eat like candy from the vine, but some of my recent favorites are heirloom Black Cherry tomatoes, with large (for the “cherry” class), dusky fruit, and dense, heart-shaped Oxheart tomatoes. Each adds a distinct flavor and texture to fresh appetizers and salads.

Tomatoes area my favorite summertime, homegrown vegetables. Each variety adds a distinct flavor and texture to fresh dishes. Learn to make Herbed-Tomato Dip and Panzanella (Tomato and Bread Salad).

Herbed-Tomato Dip

  • Servings: 2 cups
  • Difficulty: 1
  • Print
3/4 pound heirloom Black Cherry or other fresh tomatoes
1-1/2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes
1 clove Roasted Garlic
3 tablespoons fresh basil
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cut the fresh tomatoes into quarters or smaller pieces, adding them and their juices to a medium bowl. Sliver or mince the sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and herbs; add these to the bowl of tomatoes and stir gently. Sprinkle with balsamic, salt, and pepper and stir gently again. Serve immediately with hunks of Sourdough Cabin Bread. Makes about 2 cups.

Tips & Tricks
  • The simple flavors in this dip highlight the tomatoes’ natural flavor, so it’s an ideal place to use a single tasty heirloom variety. For a more substantial dip, add 1 cup of broccoli rabe or baby kale cut chiffonade style and up to 1/2 cup of crumbled homemade feta or Lemon Cheese.
  • I like to serve this straight from a bowl, particularly for a gathering, but you can also serve it atop toasted bread. For a bruschetta presentation, drain as much of the fresh tomato juice as you can through a large-holed colander before adding the other ingredients. For an extra garlic kick, cut off the end of a fresh clove and rub it over the toasted bread before adding the topping.
  • This dish is best as soon as it’s made. On the rare occasion when you have leftovers, you can add them to a bread salad (see below) that will soak up some of the delicious juice.

Twice as Tasty

Tomatoes area my favorite summertime, homegrown vegetables. Each variety adds a distinct flavor and texture to fresh dishes. Learn to make Herbed-Tomato Dip and Panzanella (Tomato and Bread Salad).The basic garden or green salad found on menus across the country—with its lettuce, tomato, cucumber, carrot, and perhaps red onion—makes little sense to a gardener. My lettuces peak in spring, before I’ve even put tomato plants and cucumber seeds in the ground and while my carrots and onions are just starting to poke from the soil. By the time toms and cukes are prolific, my lettuces have bolted and are setting seed. Even if you have a CSA or buy from a farmer who’s more diligent about reseeding lettuce throughout the season, you likely only get all of the ingredients for a green salad for a couple of weeks.

Instead of greens as a somewhat neutral base for my homegrown tomatoes and cucumbers, I turn to bread. The Italians are masters of turning leftovers and fresh bounty into bright, original dishes, and Panzanella is the perfect pairing of old and new, rejuvenating slightly stale bread and soaking up the flavorful juices that otherwise spill from ripe tomatoes.

Panzanella (Tomato and Bread Salad)

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: 1
  • Print
3–4 thick slices leftover bread, such as Sourdough Cabin Bread (about 3 cups when cubed)
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2 medium tomatoes (about 1 cup when cubed)
2 small cucumbers (about 1 cup when cubed)
1/2 cup fresh basil, slivered
2 cloves Roasted Garlic, minced
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, halved crosswise
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cut or tear the bread into rough cubes and place it in a bowl. Add the prepared fresh vegetables, including any juice released while chopping the tomatoes, and the basil and olives; toss gently to mix. Sprinkle with the vinegar; toss again to blend. Sprinkle with the olive oil, salt, and pepper; toss a third time. Set aside for 30–60 minutes, until the bread absorbs some of the oil, vinegar, and tomato juices. Serves 4.

Tips & Tricks
  • This recipe needs bread that’s a couple of days old and slightly dried out; fresh bread will get soggy within minutes. If the bread is closer to the hardness of croutons, soak the slices briefly in water until soft and then squeeze out all of the water before breaking up the bread.
  • The ingredients here are typical, but this Tuscan salad traditionally varies with what’s on hand when you have crusty bread that’s beginning to go stale. Celery hearts, fresh or grilled red and yellow bell pepper, scallions, green olives, capers, and red wine vinegar are common additions or substitutions.
  • If you have leftover Herbed-Tomato Dip, you can use it in this recipe in place of some or all of the tomato, basil, garlic, balsamic, and olive oil. For a one-dish dinner, add hardboiled egg, cheese, or cannellini beans, or serve it with seared ahi.
  • Although the quantities here serve 4 people, I often throw this salad together just for myself at lunchtime, merely estimating the proportions until I fill a bowl. It also works well to multiply the batch for a party.

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