Simply Fresh by Julie Wern

This week was a clean and purge frenzy out our house…closets emptied and reorganized, 15 years worth of useless accumulations thrown out or given away. Once I got the bug, I decided to do the same to my freezer. It is amazing what turns up in one’s freezer during a clean out.

The result of this cleaning spree meant that my meal preparation followed a vastly different approach this week. Rather than my CSA bounty determining my meal choice and recipe development, the meat in my freezer dictated my creativity. That, plus the cooler weather and the fact that I had my own garden tomatoes to supplement my share from the farm, had me making lots of tomato sauce-based dishes. I thought it might be interesting to share these creations with you and as such, I have chosen to highlight tomatoes for this week’s featured item and have included three of my tomato based, freezer driven recipes that I came up with this week.

heirloom tomatoFeatured Item—Heirloom Tomatoes

There is much more to tomatoes than your typical red beefsteak. Don’t get me wrong; I love the red, juicy tomatoes we have been treated to this season. But the heirloom varieties that are coming out this year are truly special. They are often whimsically shaped, boldly colored from mahogany/black to creamy ivory, and are filled with a rich, complex and sometimes fruity taste.

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. BillyBest

Throughout this year’s distribution season we will be able to sample as many as 30 heirloom delicacies.  Here are a sampling:

  • Cherokee Green—beefsteak shaped and green or sometimes even orangish with occasional striping when ripe. Described as “bold”, “complex” and moderately “acidic”.
  • Cherokee Purple –a variant of Cherokee Green, this tomato is also beefsteak shaped but turns a dusty rose to purplish/red to even a blackish hue when ripe. It is often described as “dense”, “complex”, somewhat “smoky”, “juicy”, and “sweet”.
  • Black Krim–Dark reddish to purple with green shoulders, interior purple to black. Flavor is “rich” and “salty”
  • Brandywine–large, pink skin with red interior, “rich”, “spicy”.
  • Eva’s Purple Ball–Pink-Purple, round
  • Striped German–large, yellow and red with beautiful marbled interior.  Complex fruity flavor, smooth texture.
  • Golden Oxheart–Oxheart shaped, golden hued.  Flavor is “meaty” yet “sweet”–Oxheart shaped, golden hued.

Heirloom tomatoes can be prepared like any other type of tomato, but their unique qualities make them great in raw preparations where their colors and shapes can really shine. Showcase them sliced on a platter with salt and pepper and maybe a drizzle of a good olive oil or balsamic. 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.

While heirloom tomatoes may scream to be served raw like art on a plate, they are absolutely delicious made into sauces or stews.  As I mentioned earlier, I’ve come up with three ways to use the tomatoes this way.  See recipes below.

To store and ripen tomatoes, keep them at room temperature out of direct sunlight (which will soften them). Placing tomatoes in a closed paper bag for a few days can hasten the ripening process. However, once ripe or cut, tomatoes 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.

Beans, Beans, Beans…..

The beans have exploded in the field.  So much so that we may be picking as much as 4 quarts each to take home!! It’s time to hone up on some long term storage skills like pickling.  My favorite way to pickle green beans is to lacto-ferment them.  Lacto-fermentation is the process by which good bacteria in optimal conditions eat sugars and starches producing lactic acid, which gives fermented beans their vinegary tang.  Because of the presence of all those good bugs, these pickles are incredibly good for your gut and overall health PLUS they will keep well refrigerated for months (no need to heat process them).  Is it important to follow careful hygienic guidelines when undertaking lacto-fermentation.  (click here) for an easy recipe for lacto-fermented green beans.


Digestive issues have me avoiding dairy and gluten for the time being. I had a great time developing this dairy-free, grain-free lasagna recipe.

You can sub in all zucchini or all eggplant for the “noodles”. Also, if you prefer to use dairy, simply sub in fresh ricotta and Parmesan for the dairy free versions below. Finally, for a vegetarian version, sub in meat substitute or leave out the meat altogether.

This dish seems highly complicated and time consuming, but each component can be done ahead at different times (even roasting the veggies), making the final dish a cinch to put together. If lasagna seems too ambitious or heavy, make the ragu and simply serve it over pasta.

Rustic Ragu


– 1 pound ground beef

– 1/2 large onion, chopped

– 3 cloves garlic, minced

– 3 tablespoons tomato paste

– 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste

– 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes

– 2 pounds ripe tomatoes

– 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

– 1/2 teaspoon salt

– 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

– 2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil


  1. In a large sauce pan, brown beef on medium-high, breaking up with a wooden spoon while it cooks, until crumbled and browned. If the meat has released a lot of grease, drain off most the grease and return meat to the pan.
  2. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are soft, about 7-10 minutes. Add tomato paste, anchovy paste, and red chili flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until tomato paste turns dark red. Add tomatoes and Italian seasoning. Cook tomato mixture, stirring occasionally, until it reaches your desired level of thickness, at least 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in red wine vinegar and basil. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper if necessary.

Non-Dairy, Grain Free Zucchini and Eggplant Lasagna        Serves 6


– 1/2 large eggplant, sliced into 1/3″ slices

– 3/4 medium zucchini, sliced into 1/3″ slices

– coconut oil spray

– 1 recipe Rustic Ragu Sauce

– about 2/3 recipe “ricotta cheese”

– about 3 tablespoon “Parmesan cheese”


  1. Center oven rack in middle of oven. Preheat oven to 400℉. Spray a 7 1/2 X 9-inch baking dish with coconut oil spray.
  2. Spray one or two cookie sheets with coconut oil spray.   Arrange eggplant and zucchini slices in a single layer on cookie sheet(s). Spray with coconut oil spray and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with foil. Place in preheated oven and cook for 7 minutes. Turn slices and cook, covered, for 6-7 minutes more or until tender but not mushy and falling apart. Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to handle.
  3. Place about 2/3 cup of rage sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. Lay zucchini slices in a single layer over sauce, cutting slices as needed to fill in any holes. Spread a thin layer (about 1/2) of the “Ricotta Cheese” evenly over the zucchini slices. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon “Parmesan”. Evenly pour argue sauce (about 1/2-2/3 cup) over the lasagna layer. Top with eggplant slices. Repeat layering with “Ricotta Cheese” and “Parmesan”. Top with the remainder of the ragu.
  4. Place lasagna in preheated 400℉ oven for 20-25 minutes or until bubbly. During the last 5 minutes of cooking sprinkle the lasagna with the remaining tablespoon of “Parmesan” cheese. Remove lasagna from oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes to set. Cut into slices and serve.

“Ricotta Cheese”

Recipe adapted from Against All Grains by Danielle Walker


– 1 cup raw blanched almonds, cashews, or macadamia nuts

– 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

– 3 tablespoons water

– 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

– 4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

– 3 tablespoons coconut milk


Cover nuts with plenty of water in a glass bowl and soak for 24 hours. Drain and rinse well. Drain again. Place nuts and other ingredients except coconut milk into the bowl of food processor or blender. Pulse until you get the consistency of ricotta cheese. Add coconut milk as desired to achieve a creamier consistency. Refrigerate until ready to use.

“Parmesan Cheese”


– 1/2 cup hemp hearts

– 1/2 cup nutritional yeast

– 1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

– 1/4 teaspoon salt


Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until ground to Parmesan-like consistency. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.


This dish is fairly simple but surprisingly tasty. Serve it over rice or zucchini/squash noodles.

Chili Braised Chicken with Peppers                                                Serves 4


– About 2 2/12 to 3 pounds chicken thighs and drumsticks, skinned

– 1 tablespoon coconut oil

– half large onion, chopped

– 3 garlic cloves, minced

– 2-3 small poblano or bell peppers, deribbed and seeded and cut into thin slices

– 2 tablespoons tomato paste

– 1 cup white wine

– about 2-3 cups fresh chopped tomatoes, about 3 medium tomatoes

– 1/2 cup chicken broth

– 1 tablespoon chili powder

– 1/2 tablespoon cumin powder

– chopped fresh cilantro or parsley


In a very large skillet, heat coconut oil on medium-high heat until hot. Salt and pepper chicken pieces and add to skillet (do not crowd. Do it batches if necessary). Cook, turning every 3 minutes or so, until browned all over. Remove to a plate. When all chicken is done add onion, garlic, and peppers. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions and peppers begin to soften. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until paste darkens and is caramelized, a few minutes. Add wine. Scrape bottom of pan to dislodge any browned bits. Bring to boil and reduce to a medium simmer. Reduce wine by one-half. Add tomatoes, broth, chili powder, and cumin. Bring to boil. Return chicken pieces to pan and nestle in under liquid and between the tomatoes. Cover. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove lid and turn over chicken pieces. Return lid and cook for an additional 20 minutes or until chicken has cooked through to an internal temperature of 170℉. Remove chicken to a large serving bowl and tent with foil to keep warm   Simmer sauce until it reaches desired level of thickness, about 10 minutes. Pour over chicken and serve, sprinkled with chopped fresh cilantro or parsley.


I had several small amounts of shrimp buried in the freezer. Even though the shrimp varied in size, they all worked well together in this dish. If desired, serve the sauce over pasta or rice instead of zucchini noodles.

Cajun Seasoning

Adapted from Emeril Lagasse


– 1 tablespoon sweet paprika

– 1 tablespoon salt

– 2 teaspoons garlic powder

– 2 teaspoons onion powder

– 2 teaspoons black pepper

– 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste

– 2 teaspoons dried oregano

– 2 teaspoons dried thyme


Mix all ingredients well. Store in an airtight container.


Creamy Cajun Shrimp Over Zucchini Noodles                           Serves 4


– 1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined, peels reserved

– 1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth

– 1/2 cup white wine

– 8 ounces Andouille or chorizo sausage, cut into 1/3″ dice

– 1 medium onion, minced

– 3 cloves garlic, minced

– 1-2 jalapeno, seeded and deribbed, minced

– 2 tablespoons tomato paste

– 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning

– 2 1/2 cups chopped fresh ripe tomatoes, about 3 medium

-One ear fresh corn, kernels cut off cob

– 1/4 cup coconut milk or dairy cream

– 1 tablespoon chopped parsley

– 2 large zucchini, or 3 medium, spiralized or made into ribbons using vegetable peeler


  1. In a small saucepan, bring broth and wine along with the shrimp shells to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and strain out shrimp shells, reserving broth. Discard shrimp shells.
  2. In a large, deep skillet, cook sausage over medium-high heat until lightly browned and fat is rendered. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a paper-towel lined plate to drain. Discard all but 1 tablespoon fat in skillet and return to heat.
  3. Pat shrimp dry with a paper towel and add to hot skillet, spreading shrimp out evenly throughout the pan. Cook for 2 minutes and then stir, redistributing shrimp evenly across the pan. Continue to cook for 3-4 more minutes until shrimp begins to curl. Using a slotted spoon, remove shrimp to a large bowl. Return skillet to heat.
  4. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add onion, garlic, and jalapeño to the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft, about 7-10 minutes. Add tomato paste and Cajun seasoning and cook, stirring constantly, until tomato paste has darkened and is caramelized. Add broth mixture and tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have broken down and sauce has thickened, about 15 minutes. Add shrimp, sausage, and corn to skillet and bring to a simmer. Add coconut milk and cook for about 3 minutes, or until shrimp is completely cooked through and warm. Remove from heat. Stir in parsley. Serve over zucchini noodles.


Watermelon, Cucumber, and Mint Agua Fresca


– small watermelon, seeded and flesh placed in a large blender
– 1 small cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
– handful fresh mint


Blend all ingredients in a blender until completely smooth. Push mixture through a sieve into a large pot or bowl. Discard solids. Stir well and taste. You may add sweetener to intensify the taste or water to dilute the mix. Pour into a pitcher and chill until cold.

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