Hooray, it’s tomato season! There’s really nothing like a sun-ripened tomato. From the look, the feel, the smell and the taste, a ripe tomato just says summer.
It’s strange to think that it wasn’t until the late 1800s that the tomato’s popularity with Americans began to solidify. Before that, the fruit that’s a relative of deadly nightshade was thought to be a fairly tasteless and potentially poisonous plant. This didn’t deter everyone, and they were cultivated and enjoyed in many places, but they were not popular. How did the tomato emerge from this reputation? Soldiers in the Civil War needed to be fed, and canned foods were the way to do it. Tomatoes were well suited to canning and became popular that way.
Today, tomatoes are popular around the world, with over 2.5 billion pounds of fresh market tomatoes being grown in the US alone, and nearly 200 million tons of fresh and processing tomatoes being produced globally. That’s a lot of sauce, paste, ketchup, salsa, juice, and so much more!
Now that it’s tomato season, I thought it would be interesting to learn how people in our area enjoy tomatoes, so I reached out to a chefs, farmers, and friends for their favorite recipes and thoughts about tomatoes.
A few fan favorites
Nicole Friedrich is the Market Manager for the Copake Hillsdale Farmer’s Market. You’ll find her on Saturdays at the market’s location at the beautiful Roe Jan Park in Hillsdale, NY, where the market goes from 9am to 1pm. She’s a huge fan of anything and everything fresh, and was delighted to share this recipe.
Nicole’s Famous Tomato Mango Salsa
“This is my all-time favorite recipe for summer, using farm market tomatoes, of course,” she wrote. “My family waits all year for it. I love to use Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and Candyland Red cherries mixed from Common Hands Farm or Hawk Dance Farm. Cut them into pieces, removing as much of the seeds as possible. To the chopped tomatoes,” she said, “ I add some diced red onion, garlic to taste, fresh cilantro from Earthborn Garden Farm, fresh-squeezed lime juice, fresh corn off the cob from White Oak Farm, and some diced mango. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Let the mixture sit for a couple hours at room temperature before serving so all the flavors mesh. Soooooooo delicious!!!!!”
Jake’s Market Salsa
Jake Samascott is one of the owners of Samascott Farm in Valatie, NY. Samascott has been farming in Columbia County for over 100 years, currently producing hundreds of varieties of fruits and vegetables grown on over 1000 acres. They have an Orchards location and a Garden Market in Kinderhook and Valatie. You can also find Samascott at markets in Manhattan and Albany.
“My favorite way to eat tomatoes is in fresh salsa,” Jake said, “and my favorite place to do it is at the farmer’s market. It is a great snack that can be quickly put together when there are a few slow minutes at the market.” The technique? “Using a nice sharp knife, just cut up tomatoes and onions, add some super-fresh cilantro, and eat it with a spoon. Even better,” he said, “find a nice piece of bread and call it lunch.”
Amy Lawton’s Grilled Tomato with Chèvre
I wrote about Random Harvest in Craryville, NY, for the July issue of the magazine, and I got to meet Amy Lawton, who’s the chef-owner (one of five women who own the co-op). I also got to try her food, and I was hooked, so of course I wanted to know how she best loves summer tomatoes. In keeping with the generous person she is, she shared two recipes, adding that she prefers tomatoes at their peak to be the feature and not prepared in any ways that are overcomplicated or that distract from what is already perfect. Great advice!
“For this recipe I love the green zebras, black trim and Brandywine tomatoes,” she shared. “Cut your tomatoes in half and brush them with some olive oil with a little fresh chopped garlic in it. Place the cut side with the oil and garlic down on a hot grill for just a minute or so. You are looking for a little char and a warm fruit. Remove, place on a platter, crumble plain goat chèvre over the tomatoes, and drizzle a little of your favorite vinegar on top. I like so many different ones! Champagne, red wine, balsamic, sherry … try them all!,” she suggested. “To finish, sprinkle just a little salt and enjoy!”
Amy Lawton’s Veggie Toast
“This is another of my faves,” Amy shared. “Take a slice of good and sour sourdough bread, a little handful of fresh basil, a generous slab of fresh mozzarella, and your favorite thick-sliced tomatoes. Pile it up on a cookie sheet and pop in a 350-degree oven just until your mozzarella becomes a shape shifter and your exposed bread edges gather color. Yum!”
Tomato Bruschetta My Way, from Karen Martin
Karen Martin and her husband, Elliot, are transplants to Columbia County from Long Island. Retired now, they were eager to leave the stresses of their professions behind and enjoy the country life. On what seemed to be a property just waiting for them, they now have ducks, chickens, a dog, and a massive garden. Both are very creative in the kitchen and love that so much of what they eat comes straight from their back yard. Tomatoes included!
“For the bruschetta, use one to 1½ pounds of fresh, local, organic tomatoes at room temperature. The tomatoes should be in as many colors and varieties as possible. Remember,” Karen emphasized, “you eat with your eyes before you even taste your food! Use a few sprigs of curly parsley and basil, and one small red onion or half of a small yellow onion. Rinse and dry the tomatoes, cut them in half, and remove as much of the seeds as you can. Dice them and put them in a large bowl. Finely dice the herbs and onion and add them to the tomatoes. Set aside. For the dressing, use a quarter cup balsamic vinegar, one teaspoon local honey, one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk them in a bowl and add them to the tomato mixture. Toss well. Let sit at room temp while you prepare the toast.”
“For the toast, I use one loaf of day-old French bread sliced into about quarter-inch thick slices,” she continued. “Peel four cloves of fresh garlic and cut them into quarters. Using my cast iron skillet on medium heat,” she said, “add a quarter cup extra virgin olive oil, the garlic pieces, and a pinch of salt. When the garlic becomes soft and brown, remove it from the oil. Turn off the heat. Never allow the garlic to get dark brown,” Karen added, “as it makes it bitter. If you want, mash the cooked garlic and spread it on the toasted bread later.”
“Next, put the slices of bread in a large bowl. Drizzle the heated and seasoned oil over the pieces and toss evenly to distribute the oil. Return the slices to the reheated pan and lightly brown on both sides. Alternately, bake them in a 350-degree oven or put them on the grill. You want golden-brown slices of toast. While you’ve been making the perfect toast, the flavors in the dressed tomatoes have had a chance to work their magic. When ready to serve, just spoon the tomato mixture onto the toast pieces. Arrange on a platter with some additional basil and parsley for garnish if desired. Enjoy!”
Lisa Fielding’s Tomato Jam
Main Street Magazine is of course a wonderful and beautiful resource of information on our area, but another is the online e-newsletter Rural Intelligence. Described as celebrating “the best of rural life in Berkshire, Columbia, northern Dutchess and northern Litchfield counties,” one of those “bests” is, naturally enough, food. The recipes are wonderful. They’re contributed by Lisa Fielding of Secret Ingredients, a caterer based in Westport, Connecticut. I asked if she would share her recipe for Tomato Jam, and she graciously agreed.
Here it is: Tomato jam is one of those layered confections wherein you can taste the rich spices, heat, sweet and savory. It’s one of my favorite concoctions to eat and it is also a lovely hostess gift so make a big batch this summer when tomatoes are at their peak and spread the love. Tomato jam is still relatively unknown and you can’t find it on your grocer’s shelf either, which makes it that much more special.
2 lbs. tomatoes (any variety),
cored and coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pkg. unflavored gelatin
1. Combine all ingredients with the exception of the gelatin in a heavy saucepan.
2. Bring to a boil over medium heat stirring often. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally until mixture has thickened considerably for about an hour.
3. Taste, adjust seasoning (I err on adding more cloves and red pepper flakes), and remove from heat.
4. Dissolve gelatin in a small bowl with a few tablespoons of the jam. Add a tablespoon of water if necessary. Add to the tomato jam and cook over low heat for an additional fifteen minutes.
5. Remove from the heat and cool. Spoon into a jam jar and seal.
6. Refrigerate. Jam will last for several weeks until opened.
The Ridler’s Tossed Caprese Salad
Stephen Ridler is the Market Manager for the Troy Waterfront Farmer’s Market, which is celebrating 20 years this year and showcases 100 vendors. He and his family live in Troy and are also urban farmers, participating in a community garden near their home. They grow tomatoes there. When I asked him how he best enjoys a ripe summer tomato, he didn’t hesitate: “Just eat them.” When I pressed for a recipe, he and his daughter Jillian shared a family favorite.
“Take a loaf of really good day-old bread,” he said. “Break it into pieces and put them in a bowl. Chop up tomatoes, seeds and all, and toss them in with the bread. Add some onions, cilantro, basil, mozzarella, olive oil, and some really good balsamic vinegar. The older the better. A little salt and pepper, and it’s done.”
“It’s Just Too Hot to Cook” Dinner from Nancy Fuller
When I think about chefs and farmers in the area, I always think about Nancy Fuller. I met her when we first moved to the area and started the Hudson-Chatham Winery. She and her husband, David, own Ginsberg’s Foods, and several years ago she launched a show on the Food Network called “Farmhouse Rules.” It features her cooking with the Hudson Valley foods she grew up with. Nancy is gregarious and charming and enthusiastic about everything, and her cookbook, Farmhouse Rules, is full of that energy. I had to share this recipe, whose title says it all for summer: “It’s Just Too Hot to Cook!” Here it is.
“When David and I come home from work on a hot summer day and I don’t want to cook, this recipe is a winner! It’s a lovely, light dinner and the only heat you need to add is a few minutes of the toaster for the bread. If you have a big family like my daughter Nita does, are throwing a simple dinner party, or are feeding a herd of hungry farmers, you might want to double the recipe!”
8 slices sourdough bread
2 medium zucchini
1 ½ cups jarred roasted bell peppers, sliced
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar plus 4 teaspoons for drizzling
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ cup fresh basil leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
2 ripe summer tomatoes
1 (12-ounce) ball fresh unsalted
8 cups mixed baby greens
Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
Lightly toast the bread in the oven or a toaster and set aside.
Cut the ends from the zucchini. With a vegetable peeler, shave the zucchini, skin and all, into long ribbons into a large bowl, stopping when you get to the very seedy core. Add the roasted peppers to the bowl and sprinkle with the vinegar and olive oil. Tear the basil leaves into the bowl, leaving a handful for garnish at the end. Season with salt and pepper and toss well. Let sit while you assemble the rest of the ingredients.
Thickly slice the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Thickly slice the mozzarella.
Arrange the greens on four plates. Top with the toasts, then the sliced mozzarella, then the sliced tomatoes. Mound the marinated zucchini and pepper mixture on top of the cheese and drizzle the sandwiches with any dressing left in the bowl. Tear the remaining basil over the top and sprinkle with the red pepper flakes if you’d like a little heat. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and serve immediately.
(Excerpted from FARMHOUSE RULES: Simple, Seasonal Meals for the Whole Family by Nancy Fuller. Copyright © 2015 by Fuller Farms, LLC. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved).
Bob Hoover’s Classic Gazpacho
As I gathered these tomato recipes and stories, it surprised me that gazpacho wasn’t offered by someone. I have such fond memories of gazpacho from trips to Spain and also from my own childhood. My father rarely cooked, but he loved gazpacho, and he made it in the traditional Spanish way so that we could add extra veggies to our liking.
3 large, ripe tomatoes
1 cucumber, peeled, seeds removed, and diced
½ yellow onion, diced
1 green pepper, seeds removed, diced
3 cups tomato juice (he used V8)
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
(Spanish if you have it)
Dash (or two) of hot sauce (or you can use spicy V8)
Salt and pepper to taste
Good bread or croutons
Into a blender or food processer, add two of the tomatoes, chopped. Then add half of the diced cucumber, all of the onion, and half of the diced green pepper. Pour the tomato juice over the vegetables and add the vinegar and olive oil. Pulse the ingredients into a coarse liquid. It should be liquid but slightly lumpy. Pour the soup into a bowl, add the hot sauce if desired, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for several hours.
Put the reserved diced vegetables into separate bowls. Halve the last tomato and remove as many seeds as possible, then dice it and put it in a bowl. Put the bowls in the refrigerator.
When ready to serve, put the soup and the bowls of veggies out so everyone can help themselves. Croutons are a nice addition, too. Or serve with good bread.
A word from our staff
Last but certainly not least, I thought I should ask the fine folks who publish this magazine for their thoughts on tomatoes. I’m so glad I did, because here’s what Thorunn replied: “I detest tomatoes! I’ve never liked them, and I think there’s nothing worse than that slimy tomato juice! Yuck.” She was quick to add that her director of advertising, Ashley Kristjansson, feels just the opposite, so I asked her how she enjoys them.
“I don’t have any recipes for tomatoes (I’m honestly not much of a cook at all),” Ashley shared. “I do, however, LOVE tomatoes on my sandwiches and in salads, and there is nothing better than a fresh tomato straight out of the garden. Especially a cherry tomato right off the vine! My mouth is watering just thinking about it – way better than any candy bar! I also really like yellow tomatoes, too, which are less acidic. And purple tomatoes.” Well, perhaps Ashley will gather up some fresh tomatoes and hit the kitchen with a few of these recipes!
Happy Summer and happy tomato season!
By Dominique DeVito | email@example.com