Fresh local tomatoes are ripening in full force around the country, and at no time during the year will they taste this authentic, this juicy and this meaty. But the pressure to enjoy each and every precious one is killing me. I bought a bunch last week at our farmers market, and then my mother-in-law plied me with a big bag — an overrun from her brother’s wildly productive garden. We’re using tomatoes as fast as we can around here in BLTs, cucumber and tomato salads and tomato sandwiches on shamelessly squishy white bread. I love them diced over morning eggs, and nowadays, a simple plate of sliced tomatoes replaces a requisite green salad at dinnertime.
But what else can you do with fresh juicy summer tomatoes? Plenty. Here are a few ideas to make sure none of those tasty beauties goes to waste.
Tacos are at the top of the food trend these days and fresh salsa is an easy way to make them shine. Combine fresh chopped tomatoes and tiny dices of onion, garlic and jalapeño. Add fresh lime juice, lime zest, salt, pepper and fresh chopped cilantro.
Raw tomato pasta
Heat a quarter cup of olive oil over medium heat and toss in a couple tablespoons of fresh minced garlic. Let the garlic mellow in the oil for a minute, then turn off heat. Stir in 4 cups fresh chopped tomatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss with cooked angel hair pasta. Add a tablespoon of butter to the mixture for extra richness if you like. Top with fresh basil.
Multi-purpose red sauce (freezable!)
This is perfect for tomatoes that are extra ripe. Using a tomato knife (or any serrated knife), cut an “X” at the end of each tomato, opposite the stem-end. Drop into boiling water for five minutes. Remove and cool. Starting at the X, peel off tomato skins and remove stem. At this point, you can freeze the tomatoes and their juice for later use. Or, for a versatile pasta or pizza sauce, puree and cook down with fresh minced garlic, dried oregano, and salt and pepper.
Shingled on fresh fish
Baton Rouge Chef Peter Sclafani of Ruffino’s Restaurant has a terrific formula for planked fish topped with pesto and fresh tomatoes and finished with balsamic reduction. The tomatoes are sliced and “shingled” on the top of the fish, which ensures the fish stays moist as it’s cooking over charcoal. This works beautifully with redfish, salmon, grouper and flounder.
Tomatoes are the perfect delivery device for serving something else, whether it’s creamy chicken salad or something hot, like creamed spinach. (In Baton Rouge, creamed spinach would be the River Road Recipe’s classic, spinach Madeline). One of my favorite stuffed tomato recipes combines sautéed julienned yellow squash and zucchini with cream and Gruyère. The squash mixture is stuffed inside a hollowed out tomato then baked for 20 minutes at 350 with breadcrumbs on top.