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Last Taste of Summer: Tomatoes

The prize of any garden, the tomato lends itself to many recipes.

Labor Day may mark the unofficial end of summer, but the taste of those long summer days lives on in my garden. This year's tomato plants yielded a healthy crop of heirloom Brandywine and a sweet plum variety called Juliet.

Our biggest problem, unlike last year's terrible harvest, was what to do with all of our bounty. Tomatoes hold a fascination in our house. We grow cucumbers, peppers, carrots, beans and even potatoes, but somehow those dark green leaves with their distinctive scent hold the most allure in the eye of this beholder.

We grow the seeds in our basement, nurturing the sprouts into seedlings, then we carefully prepare the soil and watch the weather looking for the right time to plant the youngsters outside. We trim and tie the lanky stalks as they grow, waiting to see the first cheerful yellow blossoms.

And in August, when we return from our annual trek to New Hampshire, we race to the garden to see our leaning vines heavy with green and blushing fruit welcoming us home. For some reason, there is nothing that can compare to that first sun-warmed bite of our own tomatoes.

So now that I have bowls filled with the riches of summer, the challenge is what to do with them. Sliced tomatoes on a plate, although lovely on their own, will only go so far in our foodie family.

The smaller tomatoes are much more prolific than their heirloom cousins, so the Juliets were the first to be tossed with other ingredients. A simple way to dress them up is to make pesto, which also used up a fair bit of basil from the garden. Basil is plentiful in the summer and is easily found for a reasonable price at most farmer's markets. The pungent herb also does well as a container plant if you don't have a garden.

Fettucini Alfredo with Tomatoes and Pesto

Including making the pesto, this meal takes less than 15 minutes. I started with these ingredients:

  • 2 bags Trader Joe's frozen Fetttucini Alfredo (one of my freezer staples and so delicious)
  • 12 or so small tomatoes cut into chunks
  • Pesto (click for recipe)
  • Basil leaves for garnish

Make the pasta as directed, then toss with tomatoes, drizzle with pesto and garnish with basil. This pesto recipe uses walnuts, which are a bit cheaper than the traditional pine nuts. But either nut will work, and the pesto freezes well. All of my little foodies ate this, even if a couple picked out some tomatoes.

Cucumber and Tomato Salad

This refreshing dish is one of our favorites. We drizzle rice wine vinegar and olive oil over a bowl of chopped cukes and tomatoes, then season with salt and pepper. Stir and let this sit for 20 minutes or so. White or cider vinegar would work as well. For added flavor, feta cheese can be passed around for those who want an extra salty kick.

Tomatoes and Bread

Although I enjoy a traditional tomato and garlic bruschetta, I find slices of good crusty bread hold up well to fresh tomatoes. For a quick appetizer, slather slices of ciabatta bread with guacamole and chopped tomatoes.

Another way to use up some of that pesto is to spread it on slices of bread, then top with tomatoes and mozzarella and run them under the broiler to melt the cheese.

A simple cold plate of cheese, bread, tomatoes and meats is perfect for a warm evening. I enjoy Cambozola cheese, a creamy blue, white extra sharp cheddar and prosciutto di Parma. All go well with the sweet acidity of fresh tomatoes.

There are so many ways to enjoy this beautiful fruit. Some people can their crop and enjoy the taste year round. I have yet to have enough left for that endeavor, but I'm hopeful to try it one year. Here is some more inspiration:

Let us know what recipes you've enjoyed this summer.

Stephen P. Herman, M.D. September 18, 2011 at 02:18 PM
Can someone please tell me what "heirloom" tomatoes are? How are they different from regular tomatoes?
Janice Rossi September 18, 2011 at 02:58 PM
No idea. I assume go taste like a regular tomato but cost more
Patrick O'Hara September 18, 2011 at 03:18 PM
An heirloom tomato would be a variety that has not been genetically altered. The seed is saved from season to season. Today we plant many varieties which have been treated or altered to resist virus or disease. A source of information I use is Johnny's seeds. I have not found heirlooms to be more expensive unless they represent unique or rare plant material. One variety I did grow this year was Cobra which was very expensive because it was bred for greenhouse production.
Lee Elkins September 18, 2011 at 03:29 PM
According to my horticulturist husband, heirloom are older, "open-pollinated" varieties, which means they are not hybridized. Seeds from open-pollinated tomatoes can be dried and replanted (which we have done), with the resulting fruit true to its "parent" tomato. Hybrids are created by cross-pollinating two different plants, resulting in a new hybrid tomato. Seeds from hybrids may be saved and planted, but the plants and resulting fruit may or may not resemble the parent. We plant both heirloom and hybrid depending on the flavor and timing. For example, we love the flavor and early ripening of the Fourth of July hybrid and buy the seeds each year, but we also like waiting for the large, deliciously pink Brandywine (whose seeds we can dry and replant) in August. This is my understanding, however, any tomato scholars out there, feel free to chime in!
Taking Notes September 19, 2011 at 02:05 AM
Lee, These recipes make my mouth water! I have been using white balsamic with my cukes and tomatoes, and it provides a fresh and bright tang. I'm looking forward to trying the pesto with walnuts instead of pignoli nuts. I wonder if other nuts would work as well? Hmmm.

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