Simply Fresh by Julie Wern

Feature Item—Tomatoes

I think of tomatoes as the jewels of summer, especially with all the wonderful varieties currently available. They are colorful and so decadent.Technically a fruit, tomatoes are one of the most widely grown and consumed product in the US.Yet they are also the most diverse, with literally thousands of “heirloom” seed types.

Heirloom tomatoes are basically those varieties whose seeds have been passed down over many years, sometimes as much as a century.They are generally considered to be more delicate and flavorful than traditional types, although that may be a matter of opinion.

Each heirloom variety has its own unique taste and texture.However according to Billy Best in Appalachian Heritage, as color varies, so does acidity and sugar levels. Generally, red varieties are more acidic with more bite, whereas yellow types often have more sugar content and can taste sweeter.Other colors (like black or pink) will have varying levels of acidity and sweetness.

Throughout the regular distribution season we will be able to sample such heirloom delicacies as Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Japanese Black Trifele, Zapotec, Tigerella, and Great White; as well as yellow, white, gold, and black cherry tomatoes in the pick-your-own areas of the farm.For more information on characteristics of specific heirloom varieties, check out heirloom varieties

Heirloom tomatoes can be prepared like any other type of tomato, but their unique qualities make them great in raw preparations where their colors can shine.Showcase them sliced on a platter with salt and pepper and maybe a drizzle of a good olive oil.Try them in your favorite salad or sandwich.One of my favorite snacks is an open-faced sandwich of whole-wheat toast spread with hummus and topped with ripe sliced heirloom tomato.

Of course, there will be plenty of traditional “beefsteak” style tomatoes in the upcoming distribution.Whether you choose heirloom or traditional tomatoes, there are few things to keep in mind…

To store and ripen tomatoes, keep them at room temperature out of direct sunlight (which will soften them).The ripening process can be hastened by placing tomatoes in a closed paper bag for a few days.However, once ripe or cut , they need to be eaten or preserved quickly.Tomatoes should never be refrigerated, as this tends to make them mushy and unappealing.

Since tomatoes are abundant at this time of year, many look for ways to preserve them.For dry storage, canning is a popular option.Just make sure to follow food safety guidelines when using this method.For information on canning tomatoes, check out canningfoodrecipes.

Freezing tomatoes is a cinch and can be done a number of ways, although the resultant product is good only for cooked preparation. The easiest way is to wash, dry and place whole, unpeeled tomatoes on a baking sheet in the freezer.Once frozen they can be transferred to a re-sealable container. Supposedly, once defrosted, the peels will slip right off. However, many people choose to freeze tomatoes that have been pre-peeled. Typically, they are then left whole or crushed, as for sauce.

Peeling tomatoes is easy. Basically they just need to come into contact with boiling water for 10-30 seconds or so, either in a pot of or in a container with the water poured over them. Use a slotted spoon to remove the tomatoes after the time is up and the skins will easily peel off.

Another wonderful way to preserve and enjoy tomatoes is oven roasting. This is not quite the same as drying, which requires a day in the oven or special equipment and eventual rehydration. Oven roasted tomatoes are slow roasted at a medium temperature so that the juices are intensely concentrated and partially caramelized. This leads to plump, moist, and incredibly tasty morsels that can be used immediately, or frozen for later use. They are amazing in pastas, pizzas, sauces, on crostini, or in salads.You simply must try this method!!

Fine Cooking has a nice article with a recipe for slow roasted tomatoes that is wonderful FineCooking..(Look to the right of the article screen for the recipe icon). While there is a lot of olive oil used in this particular version, the oil left over after roasting is a delicious perk—great for dipping bread into or adding to recipes. However, if you wish to forgo this guilty pleasure for health reasons, the amount of oil can simply be reduced by as much as one half.You might also want to reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees , as 350 can occasionally lead to burned bottoms.

A note on seeding tomatoes…many recipes require seeded tomatoes. There are two main reasons for this. The seed compartments contain a large portion of the water in a tomato so removing them helps keep down the water content in the finished product. Further, seeds are often removed to preserve the visual appeal of a dish.

To seed a tomato, cut in half and gently squeeze over the sink (or a sieve placed over a bowl if you wish to catch the tomato juice).Sometimes it helps to poke a finger or knife into the flesh to get through all the seed compartments.


Years ago I fell in love with the fresh, lively taste of a Spanish cold tomato soup called Gazpacho. There are scores of recipes for Gazpacho, many of which include processed foods such as canned tomato juice.I prefer it fresh and raw—basically salad in a blender. Here is my favorite version, along with an addictive variation with a Mexican flair.

Gazpacho        Serves 6


-6 ripe tomatoes

-2 thick slices stale rustic bread

-1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped

-1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, roughly chopped

-2 small green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and roughly chopped

-2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

-¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

-¼ cup sherry vinegar

-2 teaspoons Kosher salt


-cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped into ¼” pieces

-green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped into ¼” pieces

-peeled and seeded raw or oven roasted tomatoes, chopped


1. Place bread flat in a shallow dish or bowl.Cut tomatoes in half and cut out any hard core.Squeeze tomatoes gently over bread to coat with seeds and juice.Turn pieces over after first side is covered and continue with rest of tomatoes on second side of bread.Place seeded and juiced tomato halves in blender along with all other ingredients including bread, seeds and juice .Blend until smooth (depending upon the size of your blender you may have to do this in batches).Taste and adjust with salt and fresh ground pepper.Chill until ready to serve.Serve cold.

2. If you like a chunky gazpacho, pour smooth soup into bowls and add optional garnishes to fit individual tastes (or let guests add them as they wish).

Mexican-style Gazpacho

-Substitute 2 jalapenos (cored and seeded) for 1 green pepper

-Substitute 3 tablespoons lime juice for Sherry vinegar

-Add 2 teaspoons ground coriander

-Add 1 teaspoon ground cumin

-Add 1 cup cilantro


Blend all ingredients as instructed above


-Chopped seeded cucumber

-Chopped green bell pepper

-Peeled, seeded raw or oven roasted tomato, chopped

-Grilled corn kernels

-Sliced green onion

-chopped avocado


Another of my favorite ways to enjoy tomatoes is in Panzanella, an Italian tomato and bread salad made with garlicky croutons that soak up the delicious vinaigrette.

Italian Tomato and Bread Salad (Panzanella)                          Serves 6



– 4 cups stale, rustic Italian style bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

– 1 tablespoon olive oil

– 1 clove garlic, pressed

Balsamic Dressing

– 4 tablespoons white or red balsamic vinegar

– 1 clove garlic

– 2 teaspoons drained capers

– 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

– 1/4-1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste, optional


– 2 1/2 cups cored, seeded and chopped ripe tomato

– 1 cup peeled, seeded and chopped cucumber

– 2/3 cup chopped bell pepper, I like yellow and green mixed

– 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced and then rough chopped

– 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil


For croutons:Preheat oven to 320 degrees.Mix clove of pressed garlic with 1 tablespoon olive oil in small bowl.Drizzle garlic oil little by little over bread cubes, tossing frequently in order to coat evenly .Place bread cubes on a baking tray and bake, stirring occasionally, until light golden brown and dry throughout (do not over brown or garlic will turn bitter), about 15-20 minutes.Allow to cool.

For Dressing:In a blender or small food processor, blend white (or red) balsamic vinegar, garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil, capers, and anchovy paste until smooth and emulsified.Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For salad:In a large bowl, toss tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, onion and basil.Add bread cubes and toss to mix evenly.Pour dressing over salad and toss to coat.Allow to sit for at least 1/2 hour for flavors to develop and for bread to soak up the vinaigrette.


Red balsamic is stronger tasting and leads to a dark brown salad, which is why I prefer the white balsamic in this recipe.

I think the salad is best when the vegetables and croutons are roughly the same size (about 1/2″ pieces).


I am always looking for healthful vinaigrette recipes.The following, which was adapted from EatingWell, uses fresh tomato and has absolutely no oil or other added fat.It is great on salads or tossed with a multitude of raw or steamed vegetables, but it is also good drizzled over frittatas/quiche, grilled vegetables, or fish.

Fresh Tomato Vinaigrette                                      Makes about 1 ½ cups


– 2 medium ripe tomatoes, cored and seeded

– 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or more to taste)

– 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

– 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

– 1 clove garlic

– 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh basil, or 1 T roughly chopped fresh oregano


In a mini food processor or a blender, blend tomato, vinegar, Dijon, thyme, and garlic until smooth.Add basil or oregano and process just to mince.

Refrigerate tightly covered for up to 4 days.


The following is a simple and delicious way to use up both your eggplant and your tomatoes.

Eggplant and Tomato Gratin      serves 6


– 1 large eggplant, sliced crosswise into 1/3″ pieces

– 4 ripe tomatoes, cored and sliced into 1/3″ slices

– 1/4 cup minced Kalamata olives

– 3 large cloves garlic, minced

– 2 tablespoons mixed minced fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil)

– 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

– 3 tablespoons white wine

– 1 cup fresh white breadcrumbs

– 1 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

– 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.Spray a 9 X 13-inch casserole dish (like a pyrex) with cooking spray.Lay alternating and overlapping slices of eggplant and tomato in three rows to completely cover bottom of dish.Slide tomato slices up so that the tops of the tomato almost covers the tops of the eggplant pieces (this is so the tomato slices will keep the eggplant moist through cooking).Season with salt and pepper.Sprinkle evenly with Kalamata olives, garlic, and herbs.Drizzle evenly with olive oil and wine.Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.Remove foil and bake uncovered an additional 20-30 minutes to reduce liquids.

2. In a small bowl, mix breadcrumbs, Parmesan and parsley.Once liquid in casserole has been reduced, remove from oven and sprinkle evenly with breadcrumb mixture.Return to oven and bake for a final 15-20 minutes, or until topping is golden.


This recipe was adapted from Tyler Florence on the FoodNetwork.It has much less fat than the original recipe but is still rich and flavorful.

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup      Serves 4


– 2 ½pounds mixed fresh tomatoes (traditional, heirloom, cherry, and/or plum)

– 2 small onions, sliced

– 10 cloves garlic, peeled

– 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

– 3 cups home-made or purchased vegetable or chicken stock

– 1 teaspoon sugar

– 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

– pinch cayenne

– ½ cup fresh basil leaves, loosely packed

– ¼ cup fat free or regular half and half, optional


1. Preheat oven to 450.Core tomatoes and cut in half.Place with garlic and onion slices in a large baking or casserole dish with 2” sides.Drizzle with olive oil and to turn to coat vegetables evenly in oil.Season with salt and pepper.Roast for 20-30 minutes or until tomato skins have blistered and are beginning to turn brown and vegetables are tender.Shake pan every 5 minutes to redistribute juices and to avoid burning.

2. Remove tomato mixture from oven and using a large spatula, scrap up browned bits on bottom of dish.Scrape out tomato mixture with juices into a stock pot.Add broth, sugar, butter, and cayenne.Bring to a boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until reduced by at least 1/3.Remove from heat.Add basil to pot and blend, either with an immersion blender, or carefully in batches in a regular blender until smooth.Salt and pepper to taste. If using half and half, return to pot, stir in half and half and reheat just until hot.


This salsa is bright, tangy and super quick.Be sure to pick the larger tomatillos that fill out the husk they grow in.When ready to serve, peel off outer husk and rinse well.

Cherry Tomato and Tomatillo Salsa             makes 2 cups


– 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.

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