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Tomato Time! | Manolo for the Big Girl

Tomato Time!

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?

11 Responses to “Tomato Time!”

  1. Margo A July 29, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    My fastest and easiest recipe is tomato artichoke salad. Chop tomatoes into chunks, open a jar of marinated artichoke hearts. Toss together. Eat with crusty rustic bread.

  2. ChaChaHeels July 29, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    I’ve got the beginnings of the tomato bounty on my kitchen table at the moment–no fancy heirlooms for me, as those are good to use only in salads. But the Romas make a great sauce of any kind, and the brandywines are fantastic in fresh caprese, or hot chili pepper and tomato salads that are a summer staple for me.

    I used to can/bottle tomatoes every year with my mother. She’d never can a fully made sauce (too limiting, and you don’t always want to make one kind of tomato sauce), she’d just pass the tomatoes through a mill so their seeds and skins were removed, and then the remaining juice was cooked off to evaporate some of the water content. That liquid topped off with a couple of basil leaves and canned. Later, it could be used for anything you wanted to make–soups, meatless sauces, meat sauces, you name it. It was a ton of work, the taste was worth every minute of time spent, but today you need days to do this properly every year. So for me, it doesn’t make sense. I can buy passata at the supermarket now and that will have to do.

    What I like doing now is oven roasting the tomatoes with garlic and fresh herbs. You slice them in half, put them in baking dishes with garlic bulbs you’ve prepared to slow bake, some herbs that will withstand the slow baking (I have a lot of fresh thyme around, so I use that), some good, fruity olive oil and salt and pepper. Just before it’s done, I stir in fresh basil leaves. You can mash the whole thing up or use as is on pasta, pizza, or crostini: or you can package it up in bags created for use in the freezer and freeze it for use when summer’s gone. If it lasts that long.

  3. skye July 29, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    Yum! A home or locally-grown tomato is a thing of beauty. My pathetic attempt at growing some of my own this year can only be improved upon next year :-)

  4. TropicalChrome July 29, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

    My favorite way to eat tomatoes is pull off the vine, wipe them off on my tshirt, and eat immediately :).

    I grow only cherry tomatoes, and they freeze well – as long as you’re planning to cook them after they’re defrosted. Quick sauces, a handful goes in my calabacitas, to enrich a soup – they’re perfect. I just rinse them off, throw them in a ziplock bag, and toss in the freezer.

    There’s also a tomato pie recipe from Food and Wine baked in a biscuit crust that’s lovely, but feeds an army :).

  5. Michelle Evans July 29, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

    Tomato Sandwich. One slice crusty bread with garlic aioli, one slice tomato (thick), salt and eat. Yum.

  6. Jelly July 29, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

    What a timely topic, as I look out into my backyard and see four pots of slowly ripening tomatoes.

    But until they are ripe (or until I want green ones), I will have to content myself with the grocery-bought variety. Recently, I’ve been chopping them into salads. Sometimes, they ARE the salad. I also sometimes put grape tomatoes into a pesto/tomato sauce over chicken and/or pasta.

  7. Lora July 30, 2012 at 12:06 am #

    Love them sliced with sliced avocado sprinkled with a little olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper. Best part of summer dinners!

  8. Amy July 30, 2012 at 12:28 am #

    1. Michelle’s tomato sandwich, with the addition of a few fresh basil leaves and some cracked pepper
    2. Panzanella
    3. Caprese salad using fresh homemade mozzarella

    Can’t miss with any of those, IMO!

  9. Sheryl July 30, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    Fresh Salsa – can be eaten with tortilla’s or with crusty bread. It’s a huge hit with everyone and I love taking it for lunch.It’s from the recipe book “Simply in Season” which if you don’t have I highly recommend. The recipes are divided into seasons.

    6 medium fresh tomatoes (diced)
    1 medium red onion (diced)
    1 large green pepper (diced)
    2 hot chili peppers
    1/4 bunch fresh cilantro (chopped)
    4 cloves garlic (minced)
    3 Tbs fresh basil (chopped)
    2 Tbs vinegar
    1 Tbs lemon juice
    1/2 tsp salt

  10. Kim August 4, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    Halved cherry tomatoes, chopped spinach, olive oil, grey salt. Toss with cooked penne. Voila.

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