For me, summer always signals the arrival of colorful tomatoes, but I’m not talking about the everyday supermarket tomatoes that are labeled as “vine-ripened.” These imposters are actually harvested at the “breaker stage,” when the blossom end is pink but the fruit is still green, typically resulting in a flavorless tomato. What I am talking about is a tomato with full, rich flavor that develops when the fruit is left on the vine until fully colored—the kind of flavor that you can only experience from your own garden or local farmers market.
This is the kind of tomato that is the true essence of summer flavor and universal icon of summer produce. Remember, to cook up your own winning tomato recipe, always start with the best flavor that comes from locally grown fruit that has been left on the vine to ripen in the sun and develop its full essence of distinctive flavor.
Fresh Tomato Pasta
Use firm meaty tomatoes or a thick-walled (not too juicy) beefsteak type for this recipe.
3 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and sliced thin
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chopped or thinly sliced
1/3 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 package (12 ounces) penne noodles, cooked and drained
Make the uncooked sauce by combining tomatoes, basil, olive oil, garlic, salt, and red pepper in a bowl. Let set for 1 to 2 hours to allow the flavors to fully develop. Add cooked pasta, toss with the fresh sauce and serve. Makes 4-6 servings.
Caribbean-Style Chicken Kabobs with Lime-Cayenne Butter
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 (20-ounce) can pineapple chunks
1/3 cup reserved pineapple juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger root
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 medium sweet onion, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
2 orange or red sweet bell peppers (or combination), cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup butter (8 tablespoons)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
Place chicken pieces in a large, shallow pan. Drain pineapple and reserve 1/3 cup juice; refrigerate pineapple chunks. In a small bowl, mix together the reserved juice, soy sauce, ginger and garlic powder. Pour over chicken, stirring to coat pieces evenly. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.
Heat greased grill to medium. Thread a piece of chicken, onion, tomato, pineapple chunk, and sweet pepper alternately on each of 12 to 15 (depending on length) metal skewers.
In a small microwave-proof bowl or measuring cup, add butter, lime juice, cayenne pepper and garlic salt. Microwave for 30 to 45 seconds or until butter is melted.
Place kabobs on grill and brush with lime-cayenne butter. Close lid and grill for 8 to 10 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink, turning and basting several times while grilling. Makes 12 to 15 kabobs.
2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes (about 4 large), sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 bunch fresh basil leaves
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Freshly cracked black pepper
2 to 4 garlic cloves, minced and sautéed in olive oil for several minutes
On a large platter, arrange alternating slices of tomato, mozzarella, and basil leaves, partially overlapping each slice as you go. If you prefer, instead of layering whole basil leaves between slices of tomatoes and mozzarella, tear or chop the leaves and sprinkle over the tomato and mozzarella slices.
Drizzle the salad with olive oil. Season to taste with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper, then sprinkle sautéed garlic on top. Makes 4 servings as an appetizer.
Pesto Pizza with Tomato & Eggplant
You can use any good store-bought pesto, but this is a great way to feature your own homemade version and use up the bounty of basil growing in your garden.
1 (12-14 ounce) prepared pizza dough
1 cup chopped eggplant
1 sweet red pepper, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 cup homemade or prepared pesto sauce
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup provolone cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups firm tomatoes (about 5 Roma-style tomatoes)
1/3 cup pitted and chopped olives
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss eggplant, red pepper and oregano with olive oil. Spread single layer in a baking sheet or shallow pan and roast for 8 to 12 minutes or until eggplant is tender and lightly browned; set aside.
To make pizza, spread pesto evenly over prepared pizza dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle with the mozzarella, provolone and Parmesan cheese. Arrange tomato slices over entire pizza just like you would for pepperoni. Top with the roasted eggplant mixture, followed with the olives and marjoram. Bake at 450 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or until crust is golden crisp and cheese is bubbly. Makes one 15-inch pizza.
Oregon-based Kris Wetherbee is an internationally published author, food writer and recipe developer. (kriswetherbee.com)
Tomatoes are at their peak of perfection when harvested a few days before they are fully ripe and when the fruits are semi-firm and have developed their full color.
For best flavor and texture, store tomatoes at room temperature. Never store tomatoes in the refrigerator, as chilling the fruits will reduce sweetness and overall flavor. Refrigerating your fruits also results in a somewhat mushy texture.
If you have a surplus of fully ripe tomatoes, freeze the excess. Simply rinse whole tomatoes, pat dry, and then pop the fruit into a snap and seal freezer bag for up to six months. The tomatoes can be taken out as needed from the freezer, chopped and then added to winter soups and stews.