FOOD WISE: What to do with an abundance of tomatoes

By CHEF RENEE MORGAN

Summer Tomato Salad (Courtesy Photo)

Ah, those perfect orbs of sunshine and health all wrapped up in a couple of balanced, juicy, sweet and acidic bites! Of course, I’m talking about tomatoes once again. It’s hard to believe that I straight up hated tomatoes until I was well into adulthood. Am I tomato obsessed? Well, maybe. Here’s the thing: tomatoes are the egg of the veggie world. You know what I’m talking about? You can do so many things with eggs. As long as you’ve got eggs, you’ve got dinner. Tomatoes are the same way. There are so many yummy things to do with tomatoes.

Now, before I get a bunch of emails about this, I know tomatoes are really fruit but we typically use them like vegetables in culinary applications. The tomato fruit originated in South America and came to America through Spanish colonization. It is now grown all over the world in different varieties and climates.

The problem, if you want to look at it that way, is that the tomato frequently over-produces the needs of the grower. You may remember that I wrote about tomatoes and my excitement at the beginning of the growing season a few months ago. As usual, my eyes are bigger than my, uhm, tomato needs. Every variety I see at the nursery looks great to me. Fast forward to the beginning of July and I’m up to my canning tongs in every kind of tomato imaginable. Many other tomato growers tell me the same stories of over-exuberance in planting so at least I’m not alone. I thought it might be time to give you some more information to help utilize your tomato abundance. This time around, I’ll give you some valuable information about the health benefits of tomatoes and share some handy tomato tricks. Then I’ll share a couple more of my favorite tomato recipes.

As I said, I had a strong dislike for tomatoes as a child. I remember my grandmother making tomato sandwiches for lunch and being amazed that I didn’t want one. She ate tomatoes like apples. Now that I’m an adult and my taste buds have matured, I truly love that tomato taste that I call pure health. Not only are tomatoes versatile and delicious, but also you’d be hard pressed to find a food that offers more health benefits. You may have heard that tomatoes are rich in lycopene, but did you know that there are different kinds of lycopene and our bodies more easily absorb the kind contained in some tomatoes, particularly the orange and yellow varieties. Ladies, this means increased protection for our bones.

Tomatoes are also great suppliers of many antioxidants, including vitamins C, K and A, as well as, potassium and magnesium. Additionally, intake of tomatoes has long been linked to heart health. Fresh tomatoes and tomato extracts have been shown to help lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. In addition, tomato extracts have been shown to help prevent unwanted clumping together (aggregation) of platelet cells in the blood – a factor that is especially important in lowering risk of heart problems like atherosclerosis.

Now that I’ve given you the “it’s-good-for-you” mom speech, on to more practical matters.

One question I get repeatedly concerns the proper way to prepare tomatoes for canning. The most important step is to concasse the tomatoes. This is just a fussy French culinary term for peeling and seeding the tomatoes. Depending on your application, it may be enough to simply peel the fruit and forgo the seeding. For example, it would be perfectly acceptable to leave the seeds for stewed tomatoes. However, you would want to go the extra step of seeding if you were making tomato sauce.

You’ll need to do a little prep work to set this up. First, fill a big pot with water and bring it to a boil. While you are waiting for the water to boil, set up an ice bath by adding water to a big bowl of ice. Make sure your tomatoes are thoroughly washed. Then, with a sharp knife, make a shallow crosshatch cut in the bottom of each tomato, being careful not to pierce the meat of the tomato. You only want to cut the skin as much as is possible. With a skimmer or large slotted spoon, dip the tomatoes into the boiling water for about 20-30 seconds or until the skin begins to peel back where you cut it. We’re not cooking the fruit here, only loosening the skin. Once the skin begins to peel back, immediately plunge the tomatoes into the ice bath to stop the cooking. Once they are completely cool, you can then easily peel the skin off, leaving the tomato intact.

If you need to also seed the tomato, the next step after peeling is to make a cut length-wise and at a 45-degree angle in the tomato just deep enough to get past the meat to where the seeds are. Begin to rotate the tomato so that as you cut, you separate the seed core from the meat. Voila! Perfectly concassed tomatoes!

Here’s my last mom speech of the day. There is no excuse to let anything go to waste. Let’s not look at this abundance of tomatoes as a burden. It’s a good thing that I loved every variety of tomato at the nursery that day, because now I have homemade tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, stewed tomatoes, salsa, relish, tomato jam and pickled tomatoes for the winter and there are still tomatoes to enjoy in my Favorite Summer Tomato Salad, Caprese Salad, in a favorite pasta dish, frittata, or even just on a thick, juicy hamburger. Tomatoes are truly the heros of summer. Enjoy one today!

Chef Reneé is an award-winning, classically trained chef. She earned her culinary degree at the famous Le Cordon Bleu, as well as a bachelor of music degree from Hardin-Simmons University. She has an extensive background in events planning and management. Reneé lives in Liberty Hill with her husband, John, their grandchildren, dogs, cats and chickens.

Summer Tomato Salad

serves 4-6

2 large ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into eighths

2 to 3 pound piece watermelon, cut from the rind and cubed

1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise and seeded, and sliced into 1/4 inch crescents

1 banana pepper, sliced into 1/4 inch rings

1 small bunch watercress, stems removed

1/2 sweet yellow onion, very thinly sliced

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup chopped mixed herbs, such as mint, basil, flat-leaf parsley

Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup mixed micro greens, such as Arugula, optional

1. Combine the tomatoes, watermelon, cucumber, pepper, watercress, and onion in a large bowl. Whisk together the vinegar and olive oil. Drizzle it over the salad. Add the herbs and season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Serve on chilled plates and garnish with micro greens.

Pickled Cherry Tomatoes

For each quart sterilized jar, place

1 spring fresh thyme

6 peppercorns

2 whole cloves

1 bay leaf

Set Aside. Peel 4 cups of cherry tomatoes and peel them, following the concasse instructions in the article above. They will probably only need to be dipped in boiling water for about 10 seconds since they are smaller than regular tomatoes. Add the tomatoes to the jar with very thinly sliced sweet onions layered in the jar between each layer of tomato. Set aside.

In a medium pot, heat 1 cup champagne vinegar, ¾ cup water, ¼ cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons kosher salt to boiling over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and ladle over tomatoes until jar is filled. Apply the screw top lid and refrigerate overnight before using. Does not need to be pressure canned.