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I have wished for the hazy, hot, humid — and tomato-filled — summers of my East Coast youth for much of my adult life. A summer in which I could plant tomatoes without them laughing at my naivete for trying year after year in a Pacific Northwest climate. (There are many reasons to miss Seattle, but growing tomatoes is not one of them.) And this summer, my first full growing season in Lancaster, my wish has come true. I am queen of a backyard nightshade jungle, a massive tangle of vines heavy with fruit, my fingers stained with blossom pollen, the air filled with that unmistakable tomato musk. I am rich in lycopene, the pigment that paints their skins, and I am completely smitten.
In just over a week, I have picked about three dozen orbs of various shapes and sizes, and I know the harvest is just getting started. Bring it, says this first-timer. There are far worse problems to have and countless ways to celebrate the bounty, whether it’s yours or from local farms.
Even when I couldn’t grow my own tomatoes, these three recipes are the ones I turn to at this time of year and know like the back of my hand. It’s the least I can do for the gift of eight to 10 hours of direct Lancastrian sunlight.
Slow-roasted cherry tomatoes
If your cherry tomato plants are working faster than your appetite, consider roasting a bunch to prolong their lifespan. “Slow roast” in this case means cooking at 275 F, which allows for the tomatoes to dry without burning. As the tomatoes shrink (they will decrease in volume by about half), they intensify in flavor. You can throw them into pasta, atop crusty bread or eat them out of the jar like candy. Herbs are completely optional; over the years, I have become partial to equal parts fresh rosemary and dried lavender.
Adapted from “PNW Veg” by Kim O’Donnel.
Makes about 1 cup.
- 1 pound cherry tomatoes (about 1 pint), halved
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Optional: 4 teaspoons finely chopped herbs of your choice: fresh rosemary, thyme, oregano, lavender
Preheat the oven to 275 F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
Place the tomatoes in a large bowl and add the salt and oil, and herbs if using. Stir together until well coated.
Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, in a single layer on the pan. Roast until the tomatoes are shriveled but still have a little bit of juice, about 90 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the tomatoes inside for up to 30 minutes to passively cook.
Use right away, or store in the refrigerator in an airtight container or jar, drizzled with olive oil. The tomatoes will keep for several days.
Cherry tomato cobbler
This riff on the colonial-era dessert proves that cobber isn’t just for stone fruit and berries. After all, the tomato is a fruit. This is cobbler for dinner or brunch, please. Warning: You may not be able to stop eating.
Note: Like any fruit cobbler, there will be some residual juice at the bottom of the dish. You could spoon this juice over the biscuits or coat the tomatoes in a tablespoon of flour before adding to the pie plate to slow the juicy flow.
Excerpted from “PNW Veg” by Kim O’Donnel.
Makes about 6 servings.
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, well chilled
- 2 cups thinly sliced onion (from about 1 large onion)
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 pounds cherry tomatoes (about 2 pints), stemmed
- 1 cup all-purpose or white wheat flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
- 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
- 3/4 cup buttermilk (Plan B: 3/4 cup milk plus 2 teaspoons lemon juice or white vinegar, stirred together)
- A few dashes of Tabasco or favorite mild hot sauce
Measure out 2 tablespoons of the butter, then return the rest to the refrigerator until ready to make the topping.
Place the butter in a 9- or 10-inch skillet and melt over medium heat, tilting the pan to coat. Add the onion and turn with a wooden spoon or pair of tongs until well coated. Cook until very soft, about 20 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed to avoid burning. Season with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper.
Transfer the onions and any residual butter to a 9- or 9 1/2-inch pie plate and spread around until the bottom of the pan is covered.
Slice the tomatoes as needed (larger cherry tomatoes will cook more evenly if cut in half). Layer the tomatoes on top of the onions.
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Meanwhile, make the biscuit topping. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, thyme, and the remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Cut the remaining 4 tablespoons cold butter into small dice. With your hands, “cut in” the butter with the tips of your fingers until the mixture looks like fluffy sand. You should not be able to see clumps of butter. (You can also use a food processor, pulsing briefly to incorporate.) Stir in the cheese.
Make a well in the center of the flour, then add the buttermilk and hot sauce. With a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, gently stir the batter until it just comes together; it will be wet and sticky.
With a tablespoon, drop the batter all over the tomatoes, gently spreading until the fruit is thoroughly covered. (Don’t worry if you miss a spot; the batter spreads during baking.) Place the pie plate on a sheet pan and bake for 50 to 55 minutes. The topping should be golden brown and firm to the touch, and the filling should be actively bubbling.
Let cool for about 15 minutes before serving warm or at room temperature. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days (if it lasts that long!). Reheats well.
Small-batch freezer marinara
I am a self-described canning nerd. In addition to various pickles, salsas and jams, I put up tomatoes for sauce, to the tune of 15 quarts, for the winter. Usually this involves 40 pounds of tomatoes and two back-to-back days of processing. Not for everyone, and that’s OK.
You can still dip your toe into sauce making with this small-batch method, which I like to call “training wheels sauce.” You’ll use a fraction of the tomatoes and freeze the sauce instead of processing in a water bath canner.
Sauce tomatoes are also known as plum and paste tomatoes. They are dense and meatier than slicing tomatoes, with a greater pulp-to-seed ratio. Varieties include: Roma, Amish paste, Granadero, San Marzano and Stupice.
Excerpted from “PNW Veg” by Kim O’Donnel.
Makes about 6 cups (3 pints).
- 5 pounds plum tomatoes
- 1/2 cup finely diced onion
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
Thoroughly wash the tomatoes, remove any signs of bruising, and slice in half lengthwise.
Place the tomatoes in a large pot fitted with a lid and add a few tablespoons of water. Over medium heat, warm the tomatoes so that the skins begin to soften and the juices start to release. Use a potato masher to crush and stir the tomatoes, making sure they do not burn. You want the mixture to be warm and well crushed.
In small batches, process the tomatoes through a food mill to remove the skins and seeds.
Pour the puree into the pot and add the onion and garlic. Bring the mixture to a lively simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook until the sauce thickens. The final texture is cook’s choice, but at a minimum you want a sauce with the thickness of heavy cream, which should take 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Cool the sauce to room temperature, then transfer to a roasting pan or baking dish that can easily fit into your refrigerator. Chill thoroughly for at least 1 hour.
Ladle the sauce into freezer-safe pint jars or freezer bags, leaving a few inches of room for the marinara to expand as it solidifies. Keeps well for up to 6 months.
Thaw in the refrigerator.