As summer draws to an end, here in the northeastern part of the States at least, it's safe (and very sad, to me) to say that our days of bountiful fresh, delicious and local produce are numbered. As I've mentioned before, I love shopping at farmers' markets because everything tastes so much better to me when it's freshly picked. Here, where we live, from May through early October is when you get most of your fresh local produce because once the frosts come at night, they will kill off most crops except those that are frost-hardy, which I will get into later in the fall. What I wanted to point right now is that it is NOT too late, yet, to enjoy and find ways to HOLD ONTO all that awesome fresh delicious, healthy and local produce around you and one the best, in my opinion, are tomatoes.
Tomatoes are yummy any way you prepare them, and loaded with healthy antioxidants too. They are one of the key foods at the heart of the "Mediterranean Diet" which experts have been noting for years helps people live longer, and avoid heart disease and other major health problems. Here are some of my favorite ways to enjoy, and to save, fresh tomatoes while you still can:
1) Classic Caprese salad: Slice up some delicious, ripe tomatoes (I like to splurge on some heirloom varieties for this a few times a summer). Add some very fresh mozzarella cheese (or try Burrata for a delicious and decadent twist), drizzle with a good olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Then tear a few fresh basil leaves on top and serve with fresh sliced bread. Yum!
2) Simple bruschetta, great for parties or even picnics: Slice up some fresh bread like a plain baguette, lightly brush with olive oil and place on a baking sheet and either broil for just 2 minutes per side, or bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes or so, until golden brown. Rub the top of each slice somewhat vigorously with a raw garlic clove while hot, so the garlic will melt in. Then top with a simple mixture of diced fresh tomatoes (I like to use mixed red and yellow grape tomatoes for this), and add any fresh herbs you like or a little red onion for extra flavor. Can be served warm or when cooled, if you want to prepare ahead.
3) Roasted tomatoes: Place sliced tomatoes on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, season well and toss with a few fresh herbs like thyme and oregano. Bake until they look blistered slightly, about 10 minutes at 375 degrees. You can toss these with pasta, serve with any grain, with any grilled or roasted protein like meat or fish, enjoy them as a fancy burger topping, add them to any salad, even garnish a sandwich with them for a delicious, flavorful punch. You can also freeze and save these, which like to do, for a colder day when you need a ray of sunshine and a reminder of the great flavors of summertime.
4) Basic tomato sauce: There are so many variations on this, but the one we always go back to is just a classic Italian sauce base, which we then add different meat or veggies to depending on what we are making. We chop very finely a couple of carrots, celery stalks, several garlic cloves and 2 medium onions, season sautee these in some olive oil and then add a couple TBSP on tomatoe paste and about 5-6 cups of peeled tomatoes, some bay leaves and other fresh herbs and let simmer for about an hour and half. You can then jar or freeze the extra sauce, and some people I know even make very large quantities to last all winter long. The sauce is great for pasta dishes, casseroles and braised stews, and can be enjoyed for months to come when stored properly.
How do you enjoy eating tomatoes? Do you cook and store any fresh ones for the winter?