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Nothing is better than a ripe, juicy tomato

By Deirdre Parker Smith

deirdre.smith@salisburypost.com

Did you know tomatoes were once considered poisonous? On the other end of the spectrum, they were considered an aphrodisiac by European apothecaries, and earned the French name pomme d’amour or love apple.

Early tomatoes were small, like modern cherry tomatoes, and they were often yellow or golden, earning another Spanish or Italian name, pomi d’oro. Native Americans loved tomatoes, and Italians were the first in Europe to embrace tomatoes as a food.

It became a food crop in America, but not before a New Jersey colonel shockingly ate a basket of tomatoes in front of a crowd, causing one woman to faint. His doctor was convinced the good colonel’s blood would turn to acid, he’d have convulsions and die.

About 20 years later, the tomato was showing up in seed catalogs.

And while hardy varieties like Big Boy or Better Boy are abundant, there has been a return to heirloom varieties, which come in all shapes and colors and have interesting names like  Aunt Gerties Gold or Cherokee Purple (a personal favorite) or Mr. Stripey or even Mortgage Lifter, which was created in West Virginia.

And here’s what you need to do: NEVER store fresh tomatoes in the refrigerator. Leave them on the counter. Grocery store tomatoes will never taste as good as home-grown. Even if you let the pale grocery store varieties sit for a few days, they may get softer, but won’t develop much more flavor.

Be sure to wash any tomato before using. Some people leave the skins on, which is fine. Others don’t like the chew factor of the skin. The easiest way to peel a tomato is to plunge it into boiling water for about 30 seconds, and then into ice water. The skin should come right off.

Some recipes call for eliminating the juice and seeds, but you can save that liquid, strain it and use it in soups, sauces or even drinks.

Fresh tomato sauce is a great treat in summer, and can lead to a fast meal. Use the best quality tomatoes you can find, preferably home-grown or from a farmers’ market or produce stand. Get a mix of heirloom, cherry or grape tomatoes and mix up colors, yellow, pink, red. Chop the tomatoes coarsely, until you have about 4-5 cups. Add 1/3 cup torn fresh basil, finely chopped garlic to taste, a tablespoon or two of olive oil, salt and pepper.

Now you can serve it over hot pasta, spread it over a pizza crust, use it for a flatbread base, smear it on grilled sourdough bread or slices of grilled eggplant.

Chunky Fresh Tomato Salsa

2 fresh serrano chile peppers or 1 fresh jalapeño, stemmed and halved

1 clove garlic, peeled

2 large, fresh tomatoes

1/3 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves

1 green onion, thinly sliced

1 Tbsp. lime juice or vinegar

In a food processor, combine the chile and garlic.Pulse until finely chopped, scraping down sides as needed. Cut one tomato in quarters. Add quarters and cilantro to food processor and pulse four to six times until you have a coarse puree. Transfer tomato mixture to a medium bowl.

Cut remaining tomato into quarter-inch pieces. Add tomato, green onion and lime juice to the bowl. Season to taste with salt. Makes about 2 cups.

Here’s an easy, quick dinner. You can add your favorite ingredients, such as peppers or cucumbers, but it’s good just like it is.

Tomato Chickpea Salad

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 (15 oz.) can garbanzo beans, drained, rinsed and patted dry

Kosher salt

2 tsp. ground cumin

2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (or cilantro)

For vinaigrette

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar

1 tsp. minced shallot

Salt and pepper

Heat 2 Tbsp. of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the chickpeas and spread into a single layer. Cook, undisturbed, until lightly browned on the bottom, 3-4 minutes. Stir, spread out again and cook 2 more minutes, then stir and spread until golden brown and blistered on all sides. This takes 6-7 minutes total. Some of the beans will pop like popcorn; don’t be alarmed.

Remove skillet from heat and add cumin; toss to coat.

For the vinaigrette, place 2 Tbsp. oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes and parsley or cilantro and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

the kitchn

This is a simple and delicious Italian sandwich that benefits from the freshest ingredients you can find.

Caprese Sandwich

French baguette or Ciabatta loaf

1 Tbsp. olive oil

2 (8 oz.) heirloom tomatoes, sliced

4 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4-inch slices

12 fresh basil leaves

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. balsamic vingar (optional)

Use a grill pan or skillet. Cut baguette or Ciabatta crosswise into pieces so there is crust on both sides. Brush the inside with olive oil. Layer bottom half of bread slices with tomato slices, cheese and basil leaves. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and vinegar, if desired. Cover with top halves.

Place sandwich in the grill pan or skillet and cook 2 minutes, or until golden brown and the cheese melts.

Tomato Gratin

4 large tomatoes, sliced

4-5 thick slices of crusty bread

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

Extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup shredded parmesan or romano cheese

1/4 cup torn fresh basil

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut or tear bread into 1-inch cubes. In a large, oven-proof skillet (12 inches), heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil and toast the bread cubes. When almost done, add minced garlic and cook until fragrant. Add sliced tomatoes and cook until some juices have soaked into the bread. Sprinkle with basil, salt and pepper. Bake in a preheated 450-degree oven for 10 minutes, then sprinkle cheese over and bake 5-10 minutes more.

Tomato Salad with Cucumbers and Avocado

2 large tomates, chopped

1 medium cucumber, seeds removed, sliced

1/2 medium red onion, sliced

2 avocados, diced

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (1 medium lemon)

1/4-1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Salt and pepper

Place chopped tomatoes, sliced cucumber, red onion, diced avocado and chopped cilantro into a large salad bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

If you don’t like cilantro, parsley, oregano or dill work well.

If desired, add 1 garlic clove, grated on a fine grater.

Note: You could substitute fresh zucchini for the cucumbers.

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