There was a time when I didn’t get the big deal about tomatoes.
Sure, I liked tomato based pasta sauces, and I had no problem eating the occasional BLT… but what I liked best about that sandwich was the bacon, not the tomato. Tomatoes looked pretty. I like red. And cherry tomatoes were kind of cute, being all miniature like that.
Thing is, back then I didn’t really know what a tomato tasted like.
I ate them all the time, sure, but the only tomatoes I saw came from the grocery store. Large or small, there was a sameness to them. They were uniformly red, kind of hard, and more or less flavorless.
Tomatoes have changed of late. And by ‘of late’ I mean over the past decade and change. More of the heirloom varieties that aren’t uniformly round, uniformly red, and uniformly tasteless have become more common. I remember a time when roma tomatoes were exotic. Now I can walk into the local big box grocery store and get varieties like green zebra, or golden jubilee with no problem.
People are beginning to grow tomatoes not just for their practical qualities for shipping, but also for flavor. More people know now what a tomato can taste like, and it’s exciting.
This is the time of year when my weekly CSA box is bursting with tomato goodness. The last box contained two and a half pounds of mixed variety tomatoes, and a pint of cherry tomatoes.
Of course the downside of all these tomatoes is their fragility. They don’t refrigerate well, and they don’t last long on the counter. I needed to use as many as possible quickly.
What to do?
Well, it’s hard to go wrong with a good, chunky pasta sauce, and I did have some ravioli in the freezer. Yeah, I love the homemade and the handmade and someday I may well try my hand at making pasta from scratch again, but you know what? Having a bag or two of a good brand of ravioli in my freezer is a huge time saver that’s worth it to me.
So the ravioli was easy. Pasta sauce can take all day. I didn’t have that long. After a late night, I decided to take a quick nap in the afternoon… and woke up when Mr. Twistie got home from work at 6:30!
Plan B has always been my friend. Obviously I wasn’t going to simmer tomatoes for hours. Then again, I like a kind of chunky, rustic, seat of the pants sauce, too. Here’s how I got dinner on the table in less than an hour while still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes.
First step, heat a large skillet with a good dollop of olive oil. Put on the pot of salted water for the ravioli.
Chop aromatics. In this case, I had half an onion, some roasted garlic, and some celery. As soon as the onion and celery were chopped, I tossed them into the skillet to cook for a couple minutes, until they started to soften a bit. Then I added the garlic. Garlic burns much more quickly than onion or celery, so it goes in after they do.
Chop tomatoes. I chopped about four large tomatoes into large bite sized chunks. Once I got them into the pan, I added a handful of cherry tomatoes. Some of them I added whole, and some I cut in half, just for a variety of textures.
By this time the water for the ravioli was boiling, so I opened up the bag and dumped them in.
Tomatoes, onions, garlic, and celery are all very well, of course. I could have left it at that, and it would have been tasty. But I’m not a minimalist kind of gal, as I’ve mentioned before. I wanted to add a little more to the pan. As it turned out, I had a jar of roasted red peppers. I chopped up a couple of those and added them to the pan.
At the very end, I tossed in some finely chopped basil and celery leaves. If I’d been using dried herbs, I would have Added them earlier, because they benefit from longer exposure to heat. With fresh, they work better at the last minute.
By then the ravioli were done, so I drained them and dumped them into the skillet with the sauce. A couple quick stirs, and dinner was ready.
The tomatoes had released a lot of juice into the skillet, but they still had their own unique textures and flavor variations. The herbs and celery leaves were refreshing on a warm evening. Oh, yeah, and dinner was done not much more than half an hour after I woke from a heavy slumber.
This is something I would absolutely do again, even without the urgency of the situation that created it in the first place. It was delicious and very satisfying. It’s also endlessly variable depending on what you happen to have in your fridge and pantry.
What’s your favorite way to use tomatoes?