By Linda Bassett
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I opened the back door this morning to inhale August. The air turns from July soggy to smelling heavy and sweet, salty and grassy, of flowers and big fat bulging tomatoes, round and shiny and crimson, tasting of green along with the red.
I don’t grow tomatoes in my backyard, but I smell them in the memory of all the Augusts of my life. Starting with the ones my grandfather grew in neat rows. Usually a kind, gentle man, he was strict about his garden, forbidding me to touch, threatening with tomato worms, those terrifying, horned things that I imagined might grow into dragons. But the ripened vines beckoned and I staged several raids over the course of the month, eating the tomatoes out of hand, like apples. I ate indiscriminately — cherry tomatoes, romas, big boys — whatever was red and ripe and pulled off the vine fast enough.
My uncles couldn’t wait to slice those tomatoes into sandwiches slathered with mayonnaise. My grandmother skipped the lettuce in her salads. Garden tomatoes and cucumbers were enough.
When my own kids were very tiny, they inherited my taste for the August fruit. We grew a few plants just outside the back door, and as they ripened, we crayoned triangles of paper into “tomato flags,” unearthed toy drums, and held raucous parades to celebrate before dinner.
Now I buy my tomatoes at a farm stand, giving in to the temptation to bite into one in the car. Once home, I stack them with sliced mozzarella and basil leaves, drizzling with good olive oil; hollow, fill and bake them; slice them thickly and roast them slowly with fresh herbs and balsamic vinegar; toss them into salads with watermelon chunks and feta cheese and mint; pulse them with other of fresh veggies into gazpacho; slap them onto pizza dough; chop them into a bowl with celery, arugula, onion and chunks of crisped bread.
TOMATOES ON A STICK
Put those wooden barbecue skewers to work for lunch or appetizers while watching the grill. Make sure each one features a sweet cherry tomato. In Spain, they are called banderillas. Samples below:
- Marinated mushroom, pitted black olive, cherry tomato.
- Cube of cooked chicken, piece of marinated artichoke, cherry tomato.
- Cooked shrimp, good-quality ham, cherry tomato.
- Chunk of watermelon, cherry tomato, feta cheese.
- Chunk of cooked steak (marinated in olive oil and vinegar), blue cheese, cherry tomato.
Makes 6 servings
- 12 medium or 6 large ripe tomatoes
- 5 tablespoons bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1/4 cup minced parsley
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
- Salt, pepper
- Up to 1/2 cup olive oil
1. Film the bottom of a baking dish with olive oil. Set the oven to preheat at 375 degrees.
2. Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally. Squeezing each half gently, to loosen the seeds, shake them out into a large bowl of the kitchen sink. Remove any that cling to the inside with the tip of a paring knife. With a melon scoop, hollow out the tomato halves; reserve the pulp.
3. Transfer the milk and crumbs to a bowl to soak for 5 minutes. Add tomato pulp, parsley, garlic, egg yolks, cheese, salt, pepper. Fill tomatoes with this mixture. Drizzle olive oil over the tops.
4. Bake in the preheat oven for 30 minutes, until the tops are golden. Serve hot or warm.
TOASTED BREAD, TOMATO AND ARUGULA SALAD
Makes 6 to 8 servings
The sea salt is not here for snob appeal; it really makes a difference. No chemical taste!
- 8-10 slices good hearty bread
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
- 6 very ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 large red onions, cut in half, then thinly sliced
- 2 sticks celery, with leaves, diced
- 1 large bunch of arugula, washed, stemmed, and coarsely chopped
- 1 to 2 tablespoons high quality extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- Sea salt, and ground black pepper to taste
1. Put the bread slices on sheet pans and toast at 250 degrees in the oven, turning once. Cut the garlic clove in half, and rub the cut side over the bread, then cut it into cubes. Set aside.
2. Toss all the vegetables with the oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Chill for 30 minutes.
3. Toss together the bread and the vegetable mixture with wine vinegar just before serving.
Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by email at KitchenCall@aol.com. Read Linda’s blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com. Follow Linda for quick recipes on Twitter at @Kitchencall.
Kitchen Call: Tomatoes - the fruit of August
By Linda Bassett