Friday, August 17, 2012

Three recipes for tomatoes: Salad, Bruschetta, and Vegetable Stew

Back when I was a wee impressionable child, my dad told me that tomatoes used to be known as love apples.

And why were they called this strange thing? Well, because in the old days (which could have been the early 1900's, or perhaps when dinosaurs roamed the earth, which was no doubt when my dad was a child) people thought that tomatoes were poisonous. So, people who were in love ate tomatoes in an effort to kill themselves.

Well, hmmmm... okay then. There may have been a Romeo-and-Juliet-esque middle part of that story that I'm not remembering.

Or maybe dad had a strange sense of humor about young romance.

What I do remember though, was thinking that if all these people were out in the garden slurping tomatoes and no one was keeling over, wouldn't someone have thought, "gee, those tomatoes aren't actually poisonous. Tomorrow I'll try the peas."

The story made no sense then, and still doesn't. But I've always loved tomatoes. Raw, cooked, plain, complicated, it doesn't matter.

When I was growing up, tomatoes were plentiful from my dad's garden, and we'd eat them just like apples. Maybe with a bit of salt. There was nothing better than biting into a fresh-picked tomato, still warm from the sun. How fresh were they? Sometimes I'd bring the salt shaker with me when I went to find the perfect tomato in the garden.

Sandwich as a Salad

These days, one of my favorite summer sandwiches is tomato and mayonnaise on white bread. That sandwich is all about the tomato, and how the mayonnaise adds that little bit of richness. The bread is an afterthought ... maybe not needed?

This salad is reminiscent of that sandwich, but a little lighter. It's still got the tang of the tomatoes and the creaminess of the mayonnaise, but I've made it a little more interesting with the addition of some herbs and a sprinkle of blue cheese.

But it's still all about the tomato.

I found the Mrs. Dot herb mix in the bulk section at Whole Foods. It's a mix of herbs and spices and the flavors were perfect for a ranch-like dressing. The pinch of garlic powder is just that - a pinch. Not enough to make this a garlic dressing, but just enough to add a nuance of flavor. If you can't find Mrs. Dot's seasonings, any unsalted herb mix will work - different flavor profile, but that's fine, too.

If you're not a fan of blue cheese, then another crumbly cheese would be just fine. Or leave it off and celebrate the tomato with less adornment.

Heirloom Tomato Salad

3 heirloom tomatoes
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Mrs. Dot Salt-Free Herb Mix
Pinch of garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Blue cheese crumbles

Slice the tomatoes and arrange them on a plate. For a salad like this, I prefer slightly thicker, more substantial slices - not paper-thin delicate ones.

In a small container, combine the buttermilk, mayonnaise, herb mix, garlic powder and salt. Stir to combine. Let the mixture sit for at least 5 minutes so the herbs hydrate a bit, or you can make this well in advance and refrigerate until needed.

If you prefer a thicker dressing, you can cut back on the buttermilk or add more mayonnaise. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, if desired.

Drizzle the dressing over the tomatoes, then sprinkle on the blue cheese. Serve.

A Twist on the Caprese Salad

There's a reason the caprese salad is a classic - the combination of tomato, basil and mozzarella is just about perfect. But that doesn't mean you have to serve it in the classic way.

This bruschetta has all the elements of the classic caprese in a different from, and it makes a perfect appetizer or snack. Or even a light lunch. If you want something more substantial, you can increase the cheese and cut back on the tomato. Or, just eat an extra piece or two.

The topping can be made in advance and refrigerated until you need it, but it's so quick to make, you can have this done in no time, whenever you need it. If you're making just a few bruschetta, you can use your toaster for the bread. If you're feeding a crowd, use your oven to do the toasting - but watch carefully - toast can go from golden brown to charred in no time at all.

Caprese Bruschetta

1 baguette or French bread
2 medium/large tomatoes
4 ounces fresh mozzarella
8 basil leaves
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Slice the bread on a slight diagonal. This not only makes for a nice presentation, but it's also easier to bite into an angled crust than to chomp down on one that's perfectly vertical. Toast the bread lightly in your toaster or in the oven, if you're making a large batch.

Dice the tomatoes and set them in a strainer to drain out the excess liquid. Dice the cheese and put it in a small bowl. Cut the basil leaves into fine ribbons, and add to the cheese. Add the drained tomatoes, salt, and olive oil. Stir to combine.

Pile the tomato mixture on top of the toasted bread slices. You can drizzle with additional olive oil, if you like, or garnish with a few ribbons of basil. Serve.

Tomatoes, Fennel, and Zucchini, Oh My!

This dish is similar to ratatouille, but not quite. There's no eggplant, but there is fennel - in two different forms. With the addition of the mozzarella, it becomes a richer dish, so it works as a side dish or a light main dish.

Or mix it with pasta - I'd suggest something substantial like rigatoni - for an even more substantial dish.

Like so many other things I've been cooking during this hot summer, this can be served hot or chilled.

For the tomato sauce, you can use a plain canned sauce, or your favorite prepared or home made marinara. If you don't have a tomato sauce or crushed tomaotes on hand, you could use peeled chopped fresh tomatoes. The result will be different, but it will still be good.

Tomatoes, Fennel, and Zucchini

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 small zucchini, sliced into coins
1/2 medium onion, cut in 1/4-inch slices
2 small bulbs fennel, cored and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
2 cups tomato or marinara sauce, or crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon ground fennel
Salt and pepper, to taste
12 ounces small mozzarella balls (ciliegine) or a larger piece, cut into cubes

Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the zucchini, onion, and fennel. Add a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften.

Add the tomato sauce and ground fennel and cook until the sauce thickens and the vegetables are cooked through. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer the vegetables to your serving container. Add the cheese and stir to combine - the cheese will soften from the heat.

Serve hot.

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This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.