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Tomato, Tomah-to: Recipes Using Summer's Star Ingredient

 

August is a special time. Gardens are full to bursting with beautiful produce. And while you’ll find ripe corn and peaches, hefty zucchinis and ravishing red strawberries, the real star of the late summer garden has got to be tomatoes. A bounty of red, green, yellow, purple and orange beauties are just waiting to find their way onto your table.

Making the most of Kentucky tomatoes means getting creative. Tomatoes are best when they’re plucked from the vine juuuuust shy of perfectly ripe. This widens the window of time for you to get cookin’ with these summer jewels. Even if you don’t love green tomatoes, a little green on ‘em is a good thing; most will ripen right on the counter, or speed up the process by placing them in a brown paper bag.

Perfect Pico de Gallo

  • 1 lb. ripe, fleshy red tomatoes 1 c. onion
  • 1 medium jalapeño
  • 2 limes
  • 1 c. corn cut from the cob
  • 1/2 c. fresh cilantro
  • Kosher salt

Finely chop the tomatoes, onion, and jalapeño. Combine in a large bowl. Juice the limes over the mixture, and sprinkle generously with salt. Add in the cilantro and corn, then toss to combine.

The flavor will develop with time, so let sit in the refrigerator at least an hour before serving. Great with chips, over grilled chicken, or tossed over scrambled eggs.

Chilly Gazpacho

  • 2 lb. tomatoes
  • 1 cucumber (about 8” long), peeled
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1/2 small, mild onion, peeled
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 T. red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 c. olive oil

Chop tomatoes, cucumber, onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Add to a blender with vinegar and salt, then blend.

Drizzle in olive oil, blending until combined and smooth.

Taste the mixture. If it needs brightness, add an additional splash of vinegar. Pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Garnish with croutons and fresh parsley or basil. Serve with crudité or grilled cheese triangles. Store gazpacho over ice if you’re serving outside to keep it perfectly chilled.

Summer Tomato Tart

  • 1 sheet thawed puff pastry
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 pound tomatoes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread puff pastry into a large rectangle on parchment paper – dust your rolling pin and surface with flour or cornmeal only if necessary. Transfer the parchment onto a rimmed baking sheet.

Prick the pastry surface with a fork, leaving a border around the edges. This will allow the edges to puff up and get crispy.

Combine garlic and 1 T olive oil in a small bowl and brush the puff pastry, avoiding the edges. If desired, sprinkle on some chopped basil or oregano.

Slice tomatoes to 1/4” thickness, either using a very sharp knife or mandoline. Pat dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Arrange on top of the puff pastry. Drizzle with remaining olive oil, again avoiding the tart edges as much as possible.

Bake around 30 minutes until edges are browned and puffed. Let cool at least 10 minutes before cutting. (Adapted from bonappetit.com)

Note: this is a great way to use whatever tomatoes are growing in your garden or available at your local farmers’ market. A mix of tomatoes is what makes the tart an eye-catching summer centerpiece! Feel free to add cherry tomatoes or slightly unripe green tomatoes for visual variety.

Serving suggestions:

• Grate fresh Parmesan on top when you pull the tart from the oven. Serve with a light-bodied red wine, such as Barbera.

• Serve with olive oil and Italian spices. Pair with a Mediterranean white or French rosé wine.

• Has this page got you craving lemons? You’re not crazy! A squeeze of fresh lemon over the unadorned tart adds a zing of – dare we say it? – tartness that will brighten up the whole meal. Enjoy with a citrus-forward white wine.

Fried Green Tomatoes

  • 3 medium green tomatoes
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 T Cajun seasoning
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c. buttermilk
  • 1/3 c. cornmeal
  • 1/2 c. bread crumbs

Select firm, green tomatoes. Slice into 1/2” slices using a sharp knife or mandoline. If they’re very wet, gently pat with a paper towel.

Lightly salt, and let stand while you mix the coating.

In one bowl, combine flour and Cajun seasoning. In another, whisk together the egg and buttermilk. In a third bowl, combine the cornmeal and breadcrumbs.

In a skillet, heat 1/4 - 1/2 c. canola oil (depending on the size of your skillet) over medium heat.

Dredge each slice of tomato in the flour, then dip into the wet mixture. Quickly drop into the cornmeal mixture, flip and add to skillet.

Fry 3-5 minutes on each side. You’re looking for a golden-brown color and crispy fried texture. Set on paper towels to drain. (adapted from simplyrecipes.com)

Whip up a quick remoulade using 1/2 c. mayonnaise, 1 T. pickle juice, 2 T. dill pickle relish, 1 T. Creole mustard (or 1 T. Dijon mustard + 1/2 tsp. horseradish), 1 tsp. Louisiana-style hot sauce, 1 tsp. Cajun Seasoning and 1/2 tsp. paprika.

Pick a Winner!

Selecting the perfect tomato when you’re at the farmers’ market can be a daunting task. If you’re eating it right away, you want the tomato to be at the perfect ripeness for a juicy, delicious, firm slice. But if you’re storing it for a couple of days, how do you decide what’s just ripe enough?

• Avoid tomatoes with blemishes or dark spots, as this can indicate rot throughout the whole tomato.

• Smell the stem. That wonderful aroma of tomato vine should be present and strong.

Want a really juicy tomato? Pick one that’s heavy for its size compared with its neighbors.

• Obviously, a ripe tomato will be fully in its color, whether that’s red, orange, purple, yellow, or striped. However, if you won’t be eating the tomato right away, select one with some green throughout, as it will ripen as it sits. Be wary of tomatoes that are green only towards the top and somewhat firm there: this can be yellow shoulder disorder, which can mean the flesh there is tough. If you’ll be cooking the tomato, this will not matter in the least.

• A good tomato should be firm, yet should give under pressure; the softer a tomato is, the closer it is to being overripe, and the faster it needs to be eaten. However, for the sake of your farmer, don’t go around squeezing the tomatoes! Grip one that you’re fairly confident is a winner; if it has just a little give, take it home with you.

• An overripe tomato will be soft and can have skin that starts to loosen and wrinkle (just like all of us!) Any leaks or holes are a sure sign that it’s a loser – bring this to the seller’s attention so that they can discard it.

That’s all well and good, but what if you actually want a green tomato? Look for ones with glossy skin that has a whitish-green coloring, or even signs of pink. If you’ll be frying them, select a variety that is fleshy and firm, such as a good beefsteak.

How to ripen tomatoes:

Place them in a windowsill that gets lots of indirect light. Placing them stem-side down will prevent bruising.

Sort your tomatoes by ripeness, and put like groups together into a cardboard box or paper bag. Place them in a single layer with room between each.

Need your tomatoes to get ripened up in a hurry? Add a banana to the cardboard box or paper bag. This will increase the ethylene gas in the container, speeding up the process. (Check them daily to ensure the banana hasn’t gotten overripe to the point of leaking or attracting fruit flies.)