Too Many Tomatoes?

Never! Of course not! They’re totally tasty and terrific! Yet I couldn’t resist the fun flow the words took on for the title, no less than I can help but throw in the gratuitous alliteration above. And the fact is, if you’re gardening, it is possible to be a tad overwhelmed by these plump luscious vegetable-fruits at their height. The average person only has so many stove standby hours to devote to soup and sauce-making (even though that’s so worth it), and refrigeration has a fleeting window before lost nutrients noticeably detract from flavor. On the other hand, whether you’re reaping the rewards of your backyard garden or tempted by the  your local produce, it’s a shame not to enjoy the luscious richness tomatoes can offer at their sun-ripened best.

Lending themselves to sweet or savory, slippery, saucy, or crunchy dishes, tomatoes do way more than simply delight your palette. They’re packed solid with nutrients. One of the most touted is probably lycopene, a hot antioxidant noted for cancer-prevention that is best released with heat, making tomatoes one of few foods that are improved when processed. One cup of tomatoes also contains more than half your daily needs for vitamin C, plus a host of valuable nutrients like vitamin K and A, manganese, copper, folates, magnesium, potassium, some of your Bs, and more. But let me get back to the point. I labeled this post “Too Many Tomatoes” because our small garden plot of tomatoes transformed into what amounts to a jungle for two people mid- summer. They’ve added much appreciated texture and taste to my sandwiches and salads, and the little grapes and cherries have made ideal snacks, but the basketsful we’ve brought indoors have begged me in their roly-poly sunniness to get creative and take stock of options. Here are a few of my favorites right now:

Tomato and Cucumber Pita Salad

This recipe is very similar, particularly in appearance, to a toasted pita salad recipe featured in Cooking Light this summer, but is flavored with balsamic vinegar, is lighter, and utilizes far fewer ingredients. One thing I really love about it is its versatility. You can cut back on cost, alter ingredients, or transform it pretty easily, and enjoyably!

Ingredients

  • 2  (6-inch) whole wheat pitas, split in half horizontally
  • 3  cups  chopped tomatoes
  • 2  cups  chopped cucumber
  • 1-2 tablespoons each to taste of chopped fresh oregano, chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, and chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1  teaspoon  ground cumin
  • 2  teaspoons  extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • dash garlic salt, optional

 

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Place pitas on a baking sheet; bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until crisp. Cool completely; break into small pieces.

3. Combine  remaining ingredients in a bowl, tossing lightly to combine. Add pita pieces to bowl; toss gently.

Variations:

Add some protein by including 1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed.

Lighten up more by leaving out the olive oil altogether. It may seem a little less refined, but still tastes great.

Transform into a salsa: leave out the pita chips and vinegar, dice the tomato and cucumber, add finely chopped red onion to taste plus a sprinkling of chili powder and a good handful of cilantro. It’s even better with a mix of tomatoes. Play with it by adding lime juice, pepper, capers…whatever you like!

Ease up on cost: if fresh herbs aren’t handy, uses a little dried Italian seasoning. When tomatoes are freshest and ripest, they often don’t need any enhancement to still be wonderful.

My Mom’s Easy Baked Tomatoes with Feta

This simple side is both easy and elegant enough for company. My Mom doesn’t really go by recipe amounts, just on feel.

Slice the tops off tomatoes and scoop out the insides, creating tomato bowls. Discard the seeds and chop the pulp. Mix pulp with crumbled feta cheese, fresh wholegrain bread crumbs, and torn fresh herbs (basil, oregano, parsley) and spoon into tomato shells. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and bake at 350° for approximately 15  minutes.

Even easier: don’t bother scooping out pulp or seeds, just slice tops and sprinkle with a little of the cheese, bread crumbs and herbs.

Two of Jamie Oliver’s Quick and Simple Tomato Recipes

I love Jamie Oliver’s recipes; they’re usually surprisingly simple and extraordinarily flavorful. My only problems have been, not being an internationally renowned chef with the freshest ingredients at hand, sometimes the recipes are a bit pricey when done right, geared as they are, admirably, to doing justice to the food. Recipes tend to be a bit richer than I like, too, so I often tweak a little. For these two from “Jamie Olive, The Naked Chef”, however, there’s room to experiment but no need:

Roast tomatoes: Wash a bowl of cherry tomatoes (whole if small, halved if large) and add a little chopped garlic, chopped fresh thyme, chopped fresh basil, dried oregano, a little olive oil (about a tablespoon or less) salt and pepper to taste, and a touch of dried or fresh chili. Roast quickly on a roasting tray in a hot oven (I do about 500 degrees for up to 15 minutes) just to dry them out. Allow to cool and scatter over pasta or salad.

Tomato salad: Thinly slice a variety of tomatoes (yellow, red, cherry) and lay them flat on a plate. Finely chop a small amount of garlic (I sometimes just sprinkle with a little garlic powder or salt) and a small amount of red onion and scatter over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and dried oregano. Scatter fresh torn basil leaves across.  Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

Marinated Tomatoes

Nigella Lawson marinates her red onions in oil and vinegar before putting together her Greek salad (Forever Summer) to take some of the bite away. They become this clearish pink and are much milder. Vary by adding whatever fresh or dried herbs you like, such as oregano or thyme. You can also do away with the sugar and water.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3/4  cup  balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin  olive oil
  • 2  tablespoons  water
  • 2  teaspoons  sugar
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  pepper
  • good handful of torn fresh basil
  • thinly sliced tomatoes, about 5 or 6

 

Preparation

Combine onion slices  in a bowl with vinegar and next 5 ingredients through pepper; let stand an hour.

Whisk together vinegar, olive oil, 2 tablespoons water, and next 4 ingredients. Stir in basil.

Spread tomato slices in a shallow dish. Top with dressing and onion mixture. Cover and chill 30 minutes or more. Garnish with fresh basil or parsley. If desired, sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese to serve.

Grilled Tomatoes

You can’t get much simpler for a summer supper side. Halve tomatoes width-wide, and remove seeds. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and brush lightly with olive oil. Heat on a grill pan or rack about 4 minutes and carefully remove with a spatula.


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