Tomato Madness

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Every year, my neighbor starts with a grab-bag mixed bunch of heirloom tomato seeds and then gives the little plants away to anyone who wants them. For that reason, I now have four kinds of tomatoes growing in my very small garden against a sun-drenched south-facing wall of the house. There are big red ones; little tiny pear-shaped yellow ones; cherry-sized tomatoes; and a rich, medium red variety. All are very flavorful, and I find that if I water the plants minimally, they become even more flavorful. I love the way they ripen throughout the season, sometimes stretching over three or four months. (Where I live, the last of the tomatoes often hang on through October!)

Although there are many things you can do with tomatoes, when the first ones reach their full rightful color, I take 'em just as they are and make an delicious and simple uncooked tomato sauce with fresh basil, olive oil, garlic, and salt. Spooned over freshly cooked pasta, there's nothing better. The flavors of the sauce deepen if you let it sit for an hour or two (or even overnight) before using.

By summer's end, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed by tomatoes but can't bear to just let late bloomers rot on the vine. I've really come to love this unique and tasty twist on the traditional Italian spaghetti con pomodori verdi (pasta with green tomatoes). With green tomatoes, you have to cook them lightly. I also add fresh lemon juice and zest to accentuate the acidic bite. Ricotta cheese provides a smooth, creamy texture (and protein), and chopped walnuts are a perfect garnish.

Garden-Fresh Uncooked Tomato Sauce
Serves 3-4 people

3 pounds of tomatoes (for richer flavor, mix a couple of kinds together), diced into ¼-inch pieces or chopped in a food processor
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic (more or less, to taste)
½ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped or cut in chiffonade
salt to taste
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Dice or process the tomatoes, then add the olive oil and salt to taste. Using a garlic press, add the garlic to the tomatoes. Chop or cut the basil into chiffonade, then mix it in. When ready to serve, spoon a generous serving of sauce over each serving of pasta and sprinkle generously with freshly grated Parmesan.

End-of-Summer Green Tomato Sauce
Serves 3-4 people

3 pounds of green tomatoes, diced into ¼-inch pieces or chopped in a food processor
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic (more or less, to taste)
Juice and zest from 1 lemon
½ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped or cut in chiffonade
salt to taste
1 lb ricotta cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Sauté the green tomatoes in olive oil for about 4 minutes or just enough to heat through, then quickly press in the garlic, and stir in the lemon juice, zest, basil, and salt. Add the ricotta cheese and stir it in. Continue to sauté just until the ricotta is heated, about a minute or two. (It is not necessary to stir the ricotta in until it's smooth. Lumps are good, and rustic!)

Spoon the green tomato sauce over pasta, and top each serving with some of the walnuts and Parmesan cheese.


photo credit: Whatcom Seed Company