The last of the tomatoes
Last weekend, belatedly, I found time to get out to the garden and strip the last tomatoes from the vines. For all my complaining about the late ripening – and for all my desultory gardening habits – it was a good year for tomatoes; once they finally got around to ripening, my six heirloom plants kept me in ripe tomatoes for nearly two months before they succumbed to the advancing autumn. Lots of BLTs, salads, and just plain sun-ripened, sliced tomatoes, and a few interesting experiments in stuffing the Pepper Tom variety (a tomato that ripens like a bell pepper, with sturdy outer walls and an almost-hollow center.
Two weeks ago, a surplus of very ripe tomatoes heading toward over-ripe prompted me to make a couple of pans of my infamous Tomato Goo: tomatoes, onion and garlic, flavored with the last of the basil from my herb garden, slow-roasted until nearly all the liquid is gone and shoveled into serving-sized freezer bags for the winter.
This week it was time to deal with the remaining, unripe tomatoes. In other years, I’ve wrapped them lovingly in newspaper, put them in a box and set them down in the cool of my unheated basement/garage; stored that way, unblemished tomatoes will continue to ripen right into winter, a few at a time. I’ve had ripe tomatoes for Christmas, some years. Not quite as luscious as sun-ripened, but miles better than anything you can buy in a supermarket.
This year’s green tomato harvest was modest, though, with lots of smallish fruit, so I decided to deal with them immediately, and make food for what promises to be a busy weekend: A green tomato salsa, and a delicious tart-and-savory curried tomato soup.
Does anyone invent recipes from thin air? I rarely do. Rather, I read cookbooks (and other people’s foodblogs) avidly, consider what ingredients I have on hand and what flavors I like together, and improvise, taking notes as I go. What results may or may not be recognizable as the original recipe.
That’s almost certainly true of this soup, which started out as a found-on-the-Internet recipe for a chilled summer soup. The basic elements are still there – green tomatoes, potatoes, loads of onion and garlic, curry powder – but I wanted a something warm and hearty for fall. The original called for lots of cilantro and mint; I don’t much like cilantro, but I still had lots of aromatic basil on hand, and my Italian parsley is coming back strong after the summer bolt. The original directed me to peel the tomatoes and potatoes – not a bad idea if you buy them from the supermarket, to eliminate pesticide residues, but mine were grown organically, and there’s a lot of nutrition in those peels, so I left them on. It also called for sugar – rather a lot of it – to balance the tartness of the tomatoes. Why cook with sugar when you’ve got a couple of nice, sweet-tart heirloom apples on hand? And so it went, an adjustment here, another there, until my soup barely resembles the original at all. You can do the same, and make the recipe your own.
Curried Green Tomato Soup
(Makes 4-6 servings)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 3-6 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 medium union, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp good curry powder
- 1 large (or 2 medium) potatoes, cubed
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 cups chopped green tomatoes (4-6 large tomatoes or a bunch of small ones
- 1 large (or 2 small) apples, cored and chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
- 2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parlsey
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- salt and pepper to taste
- Additional parsley and curry powder for garnish
In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add garlic, onion and curry powder. Cook, stirring often, until onion begins to soften, about five minutes. Add potatoes, stir to blend, and brown slightly. Add stock. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes until potatoes are tender.
Stir in the tomatoes, apple, basil and parsley; cover, and continue simmering for 10-15 minutes more.
Remove from heat and use a wand blender or food processor to blend until fairly smooth. If you want a silky soup free of bits of peel, pass it through a coarse strainer and return to burner if necessary to reheat. I didn’t bother; the peel is tender and adds some texture. Stir in cream. Taste; add salt and pepper if you like.
To serve, ladle into bowls, and garnish with a drizzle of cream, a sprinkle of curry powder and a sprig of parsley. Serve hot.
Green Tomato salsa
Makes 3-4 cups
Ingredients (measurements are approximate and not critical. Use what you have):
- 1 pound green tomatoes
- 1-2 ripe tomatoes
- 1 seranno (or other) pepper, minced (seeds and all); use two if you like your salsa fiery
- 1/4 tsp cayenne (or more, as above)
- 1 small onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- 1-2 tsp salt, to taste
Cut the fruits/vegetables into chunks; mince the chiles. Dump everything but the salt into a food processor and pulse until it’s chopped fine, but not pureed. Taste, correct seasoning. Transfer to a lidded bowl and allow to ripen at room temperature for an hour or so, then refrigerate. Keeps several days in the fridge.
Besides making a great dipping salsa (I like it with flour tortilla chips, but use what you prefer), this stuff would be fabulous with fresh seafood…
Oven Roasted Tomatoes (aka Tomato Goo)
A method. Make as much or as little as you like. I often make two pans at once, rotating them between the upper and lower shelves of my oven a couple of times during the cooking.
- 8-10 Garden-ripe tomatoes, quartered (cut off any green stem bits and or bad spots)
- 1 medium onion, peeled cut in wedges
- One head of garlic, separated into cloves, peeled and slightly crushed with the flat of a knife
- A generous handful of fresh basil
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
Preheat oven to 250F. In a large roasting pan, spread the tomatoes, onion and garlic in a single layer. Scatter with basil and drizzle with olive oil.
Roast in oven for 2-4 hours or longer*, stirring every half hour or so, until almost all of the liquid is gone, the onion and garlic have caramelized and the tomatoes have taken on a deep red hue. Cool; spoon into serving-sized freezer bags, squeeze out the excess air and freeze.
* If your tomatoes are especially juicy, or you pack too many into the pan, it can take an entire afternoon to reduce the liquid down. This is a fine project for a lazy fall afternoon, and will fill your whole house with the aromas of tomato, onion and garlic.
The result is a frozen slab of a rich, chunky paste/sauce, slightly sweet from the caramelized onion and garlic and with the same intense flavor as sun-dried tomatoes. Thaw to use, or simply cut off frozen chunks. Use as a basis for a home-made tomato sauce, toss it with pasta, spread it on toasted Italian bread rounds, add it by the spoonful to home-made soups and stews – anywhere you want a jolt of garden tomato in the deep of winter. Best. Stuff. Ever.