14 August 2010

A bumper crop

I can't get enough of fresh tomatoes.

early spring tomato

When I was a kid, fresh tomatoes were a real summer treat. Living in Alaska, I called the tomatoes that showed up in the winter "snow tomatoes", for both their consistency and their color. Come summer, my paternal grandfather would send a box of newspaper-wrapped tomatoes up to us twice a week; even if a few got squashed along the way, the price of shipping was still less than we would have paid for grocery-store tomatoes.

Later in the summer, when we would travel to Washington and Oregon to visit my grandparents, I would pluck juicy, crimson tomatoes from the vines every day, eating them like apples with breakfast, cutting them into wedges for a snack, slicing and peppering them with dinner. One summer my grandma grew over 25 plants in her garden-for-two, making tomato sauce, drying them, and gobbling them up as fast as possible.

jubilee tomato

We only have five tomato plants in our little patio garden, but I still have plenty of chances to experience the sublimity of biting into a homegrown tomato. My homegrown tomato. I picked eight tomatoes off the vines just yesterday, and I can see dozens more waiting to be devoured.

My favorite way to eat them is quartered, with a little salt and pepper and a drizzling of olive oil, but lately I've been eating (and talking about) panzanella at least once a week. Panzanella is kind of like a raw, deconstructed pappa al pomodoro, and it's delicious for the same reasons. While good bread is a must, it largely serves as a filler and a vehicle for the fresh tomato flavors - good, ripe, flavorful tomatoes are absolutely necessary.

As a bonus, it's about the easiest dish out there, it really doesn't require a recipe. Tear up some bread and toast it with olive oil. Cut up tomatoes and toss with more olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper, one or two lightly smashed garlic cloves, and some torn up basil leaves. Toss with the hot bread and let sit for 10 minutes. Remove the garlic & eat. Lick the plate... oh, is that just me?

You can add or change things depending on what you like and what you have: replace the balsamic vinegar with red wine vinegar or lemon juice; toss in some capers or red onion; Adam from the Amateur Gourmet puts ricotta salata on his (I'll be trying that before the end of the summer). In smaller portions, panzanella makes a great side dish, but I find it a satisfying, rustic one-dish meal that's great on a summer weeknight after a run and a cool shower.

I have a few other ideas for tomato dishes in the coming weeks - roasted, stuffed, braised ... and I'm holding out for the end of the season to make some tomato jam to hoard in my cupboard until winter.


  1. Okay, now you've made me want, in addition to Marion berries, panzanella. It's been a year since I've made it. I like it warm, with some spinach wilted in.

  2. I still don't have any pictures - it's so quick that I usually make it when I'm a) having a really late dinner and it's dark; or b) I'm ravenous and have to eat right. this. minute.

    I've never even thought of adding spinach, though - that sounds fantastic. Spinach & tomatoes are a favorite match of mine.

  3. Tomatoes are on my mind too! I baked eggs in tomatoes today and it was divine. My friend Sarah just wrote about experimenting with stuffing tomatoes with cheese and baking them. I am envious of your little patio garden. Ours was such a huge failure this year so I'm hoping that a local farmer will sell me a half a bushel of tomatoes for canning and sauces.

  4. eggs or cheese with tomatoes are both fantastic - there isn't really much that doesn't do well with tomatoes, is there?

    The patio garden is definitely fun, but it's a learning process. We had countless sugar snap peas that had to be discarded just before harvest due to powdery mold, and my habañero doesn't want to produce fruit, but the tomatoes make up for all of that! I don't think I'll have enough tomatoes to can much sauce, but that's my end goal down the road.