CSA Tip—Texture Counts
Starting to get a little tired of all the carrots and beets? Each year I have been a CSA member, we have had an abundance of one crop or another and I have found myself feeling a bit weary at times at the cutting board. Having lots of recipes for different items helps a lot, but I found that sometimes, just changing how you cut something can make tired-out preparations seem new and fresh. This is what I call the Law of Texture. For example, thinly sliced raw beet is one thing, but grated raw beets are something else entirely. Sometimes, just changing the size of your cut (i.e. mincing versus large chunks) can totally change a dish. This is one reason why the same dish made by two different people often seem “different” from one another. I have even heard that grating raw tomato gives you a completely different raw tomato sauce experience than blending or chopping tomatoes in a food processor.
Try cutting different textures, shapes, and sizes to liven up your dishes. Experiment with making julienne (thin “stick” like pieces), cutting super thin slices with a mandolin, grating on different size graters, peeling thin strips (ribbons) with a y-peeler, or using smaller or larger pieces in a recipe. It is also fun to use different shapes/sizes/textures of items in the same meal (like sliced tomatoes topped with blended tomato vinaigrette or shredded carrot salad with diced carrots). You can even mix cooked with uncooked items for even more variety (like raw julienned beet and carrot salad over thinly sliced cooked beets or raw kale salad topped with crumbled kale chips). You are limited only by the power of your imagination!
This year I was thrilled to discover a new kitchen gadget called the Spirooli (Spirooli). It makes spaghetti or fettuccini shaped spiral cuts of veggies such as zucchini, summer squash, or potatoes. One of my favorite meals this summer has been raw spiral zucchini topped with blistered cherry tomato sauce (see recipe below)….even though I am eating raw squash, it has the texture of al dente pasta and really seems like pasta to me.
Seriously, texture counts…just ask any kid in the world!
I think of cherry tomatoes as the crown jewels of summer. They are amazingly colorful and so decadently sweet, juicy, and healthful. Technically a fruit, tomatoes are one of the most widely grown and consumed product in the US. Cherry tomatoes are miniature versions of large tomatoes and grow similarly. They can be as small as a currant or as large as a golf ball and are generally round (typical cherry tomato) or elongated in shape (pear or grape tomatoes). There are many varieties yielding several bright colors, from white, yellow, orange, bright red, pink, and purple-y black.
In the Pick Your Own section of the farm we have the opportunity to sample several of these wonderful varieties of cherry tomatoes, including:
Snow White—this round “white” cherry tomato is one of the sweetest, tomato-y white tomatoes available. It ripens to a very pale yellow.
Sakura—This variety produces beautiful round, uniform, bright red, super juicy, and sweet cherry tomatoes with a tender skin. They are also fairly resistant to cracking. This is the quintessential red cherry tomato.
Sun Peach—These tomatoes are slightly elongated, deep pink, sweet, and not as tangy or acidic as their sister variety (Sun Gold). They are fairly resistant to cracking.
Black Cherry—this hybrid variety yields dark purple, mahogany fruit with rich, complex, yet sweet flavor. Some say it tastes a bit “smoky”. Wonderful on salads.
Sun Gold—Probably one of the most popular varieties of all time, this tangerine-orange, almost candy sweet tomato with bright acidity ripens early in the season (as we have been blessed to experience). While known for it sweetness, it does have a tendency to split, especially after rainy weather. Picking sun golds just before they are fully ripe or in cooler weather can help reduce the amount of splitting in your yield. These are fantastic snacking tomatoes.
Cherry tomatoes are as equally nutritious as larger tomatoes, containing high amounts of vitamins C, A, and K and containing significant amounts of protein, fiber, Vitamins B6 and E, and important minerals. They are also high in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant thought to help prevent many major illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Cherry tomatoes are divine eaten raw or cooked. Raw, they are wonderful on tossed or composed green salad, or added to pasta, bean, grain, or corn salads. Raw cherry tomatoes are also a great base for stuffed hors d’oeuvres (try stuffing them with feta chunks, guacamole, or tapenade).
Cooked, cherry tomatoes really shine in pasta dishes. They are also great in foil or parchment “hobo packs” with fish or shellfish, were they add tasty moisture without the need for a lot of calorie-laden fat.
Pick plump, un-cracked cherry tomatoes that have uniformly ripened to their appropriate color (pale yellow, dark red, deep pink, dark red, or dark purple). Store cherry tomatoes in pint boxes or colanders where they are exposed to air (so they don’t begin to spoil). Do not refrigerate raw cherry tomatoes. Wash just before eating or cooking.
As mentioned above, I love this sauce over spiral-cut raw zucchini or summer squash. If you don’t have access to a spiral cutter, try making ribbons with a y-peeler and then cutting stacks of the ribbons into thin, pasta-like strips. Alternatively, serve over cooked pasta.
Blistered Cherry Tomato Sauce Serves 4
– 2 pounds mixed cherry tomatoes
– 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
– 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
– sea salt and pepper
– 2 tablespoons minced basil
Preheat oven to 450. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray or brush foil with oil. Toss tomatoes and garlic with olive oil. Spread evenly on prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with sea salt and pepper. Bake, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until most tomatoes have blistered and popped open and there is plenty of juice accumulated in the pan. Transfer tomatoes and juice to a medium bowl. Mix in basil. Serve hot, cold, or at room temperature.
This summer I was fortunate to take a cooking class with Francine Shanfield of Wild Greens Kitchen in Simsbury (click here ). Francine and her partner Susan Stover teach cooking classes that focus on fresh, seasonal foods. She made us a wonderfully flavorful dish called “Piedmont Peppers”, which are delicious cherry tomato-stuffed red peppers. With her permission I have adapted this recipe for Hot Hungarian Wax Peppers.
Beware, this pepper dish is spicy, yet completely addictive. While fantastic as is served with lots of fresh bread to sop up the juices, the stuffed peppers would also be wonderful cut up and tossed with pasta or put on pizza.
Cherry Tomato Stuffed Hot Hungarian Wax Peppers Serves 6-8
– 6 large Hot Hungarian Wax Peppers, halved lengthwise, stems, ribs and seeds removed
– 2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
– 1 1.5 ounce tube anchovy paste
– 3 tablespoons minced fresh herbs, I used basil, oregano, and thyme
3- 4 tablespoons olive oil
– Kosher salt and freshly ground black
Preheat oven to 400℉. Spray or brush a large Pyrex dish with oil. Lay pepper halves cut side up in baking sheet trying not to overlap them. Squeeze about 1-inch anchovy paste down the middle of each pepper half. Fill pepper cavities with cherry tomato halves, piling on and allowing tomatoes to spill out and around peppers. Season generously with kosher salt and pepper. Sprinkle with herbs. Drizzle olive oil on top and around peppers. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 20-30 minutes or until tomatoes have released their liquids and peppers are soft (don’t allow juices to cook off…you want a juicy result)
This salsa is a great way to use your tomatillos and cherry tomatoes without having to go to the trouble of cooking them.
Cherry Tomato and Tomatillo Salsa
– 1 cup cleaned, diced tomatillos
– 1 cup cleaned, diced cherry tomatoes, any color
– 1 clove garlic, crushed
– 1 jalapeno, seeded, ribs removed, and finely minced
– 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Mix all ingredients together and allow to sit for at least 30 minutes to develop juices and flavor. Serve with scoop style chips for getting every last drop of liquid.