Summer Crop TomatoesSep 01, 2018 10:25AM ● By Lesley Stiles
September is synonymous with Labor Day weekend, back to school, sneaky late, hot summer days, and copious amounts of fresh tomatoes. Home gardens tangle up with snaky vines rambling out of control, seeking more and more sun along with ever needed water and escaping cages while comingling with pumpkins and squashes.
Originating, it is said, in South America, the Aztec word “tomatl” was probably adapted to “tomate” when marauding Spaniards introduced them to their homeland post pillage during the 16th century. Jump to USA and “tomato.” Fun fact for the gardener in you; tomatoes are a perennial in their native habitat while we just get the annual type in these parts of the Americas.
Salad Caprese is Italy’s gift to the U.S., and we thank them for it daily all summer long. Luscious chunks of still sun warm heirlooms sliced and tossed with fresh made mozzarella and torn basil should be illegal. Drizzle lemon oil and honey sweetened balsamic on with copious cracks of sea salt. Surprisingly, our tomatl marries excitingly well with the sexiest of all summer fruits, figs. Panzanella salad is another Italian idea for using up old bread. See recipe below, and consider adding Brown Turkey Figs.
Next to your tomatoes in the garden or on the table at the farmers’ markets lie the sainted cucurbit, cucumber. Freshly peeled and seeded, if necessary, sliced thin or chunked, mixed with red, old school tomatoes, rice vinegar, olive oil, basil and the ever present shake of good salt, this is yet another dish that will score you points anywhere while brightening flavor on anything culinary it touches.
Pickles of all kinds figure large in our cuisine as sour, one of the six components of umami -- total flavor bliss. Personal to a point, everyone that makes pickles has the best pickle recipe and wants to generously share with all that will taste. For salad and raw eating you will want an English, Japanese or Persian cucumber, to name a few. Pickling cukes are a different breed altogether. Typically nameless at farmers’ markets, the variety is usually Kirby, but all kinds are presented. Variety and complexity abound, but most kinds are bumpy to the point of a little rough with a slight sticker feel on the fingers. They have a pretty tough skin and bigger seeds in the center as well as being somewhat bitter on tongues. Size is where they differ and choices are a bit personal, but small ones will have smaller seeds in the center and be firmer fleshed because of it. Varieties of pickles could easily denote size of cuke at purchase. Dill spears are going to be on the torpedo scale, all the better to spear my love, while cornichons or baby dills along with sliced bread and butter pickles are going to be smaller in size.
Dreaming of homemade pickles happens to us all at one time or another. Fortunate are those whose grandmothers and mothers actually made pickles and canned goods and passed down techniques for preserving summer bounty. Divinely inspired by sheer mass of product dictated “putting up” in days of yore, but now we do canning cause we are addicted, as if in a narcotic haze of vinegar and boiling herbs and spices to fill those jars and pass them along.
Probably simplest to concoct are overnight vinegar, sugar, and pickling spice marinade to house sliced cucumbers and onions or possibly carrots, green beans or asparagus. A bit more complex are fermented pickles, which usually just use water and salt, a combination that takes months to cure. In between are processed dills or bread and butter pickles, an easy favorite reward for instant pickle gratification.
So, once again, summer waxes and wanes in our part of the world, making way for the next season of amazing fruits and vegetables we are beyond fortunate to eat and grow in our precious Diablo Valley.
This recipe is from my dear friend Jackie Hopkins -- always a reminder of a particularly fun afternoon in her kitchen. It is insanely easy and can be done tout suite!
Bread and Butter Pickles
15 cups sliced pickling cucumbers
3 onions, sliced thin
3 red bell peppers, sliced thin
1/4 cup coarse salt
5 cups cracked ice
3 cups cider vinegar
3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
2 tablespoons celery seed
1 tablespoon dill seed
1 tablespoon cumin seed
12 small 6 ounce jars with rings and lids
Wash jars thoroughly. Place on a sheet pan. Bring a large canner of water to a boil. Place a small sauce pan full of water on low heat. Place lids in to sanitize.
Combine cucumbers, onions, peppers, salt and ice in a large bowl. Mix well.
Put a weight on and allow to sit 1 to 3 hours. (For a weight, I use a plate with a gallon bottle of vinegar or water on top of it).
Rinse and drain thoroughly.
Toast spices dry in a small saucepan.
Combine vinegar, sugar and spices in a large pot.
Add drained cucumbers.
Place pot on medium low heat.
Bring almost to a boil but DO NOT ALLOW TO BOIL.
Remove from heat.
Fill into sterilized jars, process 10 minutes in a hot water bath / canner.
Makes 12 small jars
Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad)
1 loaf sturdy, day old bread such as ciabatta or sour dough
3 large heirloom tomatoes, cubed
½ cup water
½ bunch fresh basil, chiffonade
½ bunch fresh parsley, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 small sweet red onion, sliced in half moons
½ cup nice red wine or balsamic vinegar
½ cup good olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper
Tear the bread into bite sized pieces and place into a large salad bowl. Pour water over the bread and squeeze it together until the bread is soft. Squeeze the water out of the bread and discard the water. Toss the tomatoes, onion, herbs and garlic into the bread and mix it up. Add the vinegar and oil and stir to mix it all up. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish w/ freshly grated Parmesana Reggiano cheese. Serves 4.