Wednesday, September 6, 2017

September 7, 2017 - This Week's Box Contents, Featuring Tomatoes

Cooking With This Week's Box

We know summer is coming to a close soon and fall is right on its heels.  Next week’s box will likely have a different look than the last several boxes.  This is the last week for melons, cucumbers and zucchini.  Watermelons are close to the end as well.  Hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy tomatoes and peppers for several more weeks, but there will be some new crops landing on next week’s harvest list.  Right now we have tentative harvest plans for leeks and celeriac!  But back to this week’s box.  Lets talk tomatoes.  There is a hearty bag of tomatoes in this week’s box and you’ll find several delicious tomato recipes to consider using for the large tomatoes as well as the little grape or chocolate sprinkles tomatoes in this week’s box.  I’d recommend giving the Tomato Jam (see below) recipe a try.  When you’re making this recipe, take a little time to separate the juicy seed portion from the flesh of the tomatoes.  Use the flesh to make the tomato jam and save the juicy seed portion to make the Tomato Seed Vinaigrette (see below).  These two recipes are very complementary and will leave you with very little waste left over.  The jam is a nice condiment to use on a hot ham and cheese sandwich or spread it on a cracker with cream cheese.  The tomato vinaigrette can be used on salads or drizzled on roasted vegetables or used as a dip.  You’ll still have about a pound of tomatoes remaining after these two recipes.  If you’ve never tried pairing tomatoes and watermelon together, consider doing so this week.  Sam Sifton’s recipe for Tomato and Watermelon Salad is very easy to make and includes just a few ingredients, including feta cheese.

You thought we were done with tomato talk, but not just yet.  We still have those little tomato gems to find a use for!  This week’s newsletter and blog features one of Heidi Swanson’s recipes for Oven-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes (see below).  There are a lot of different ways you can put these to use, but I’m going to use them as a garnish on top of a warm bowl of Melissa Clark’s Fresh Corn Risotto.  You might have a few ears of corn left over, which will be just enough to make this Roasted Red Pepper and Corn Salsa to serve on taco night this week!  Either variety of sweet peppers in this week’s box will work for this recipe and you’ll need your jalapeño for this one too!

Wow, we have had a great year of edamame harvest!  One of our members shared this recipe for Edamame Hummus in our Facebook Group.  This will make for a great lunch item served with carrot sticks and sweet peppers in this week’s box as well as some crackers or pita bread and olives.  Put it all together Bento Box style and feel good about packing in so many different vegetables in one simple meal!  Any extra carrots and edamame will come together in this Edamame and Carrot Salad with Rice Vinegar Dressing.  This is a very simple salad that will come together quickly and go well with these Chicken Teriyaki Kabobs for dinner.  This salad recipe calls for green onions, but thinly sliced red onions will work just fine. 

That brings us to the bottom of this week’s box.  You might still have a little bonus item remaining to find a use for, possibly a little zucchini or cauliflower to add to a frittata or roast up as a side dish for dinner this week.  Start thinking fall vegetables as you get ready for next week’s box.  I’m feeling some soup coming up soon in our future.  Have a great week!
—Chef Andrea 

Vegetable Feature:  Tomatoes! 

Summer isn’t summer without fresh tomatoes! Tomatoes are actually a fruit, referred to by some as a vegetable-fruit.  Technicalities aside, tomatoes are a very diverse crop and are represented by a wide range of sizes from less than 1 ounce to as much as several pounds per tomato!  They are also diverse in colors ranging from white to red to green and may be either a modern hybrid or a traditional heirloom.  I’m not sure anyone really knows how many varieties of tomatoes there are across the world, but I do know that one seed company, Tomato Growers, offers over 500 varieties in their catalog!

Stake and tie method of weaving the
tomato plants to keep them upright.
We have a carefully selected lineup of tomatoes we’ve found do best in our valley.  Especially in a wet year, we can see disease set in early which causes the vines to die before the fruit is fully ripe.  Thus, we mostly plant more disease resistant hybrids and ‘heritage’ tomatoes which have some heirloom genetics in them, but also carry some modern hybrid characteristics which make them more attractive to our growing situation.  We use a stake-and-tie method for our tomatoes where we weave twine around the main stem and vines as the plants grow in order to keep the tomato plant upright and the fruit off the ground.  It’s a pretty labor intensive system, but it helps the foliage dry out faster and makes it easier to pick the tomatoes and keep them clean.  We also consider flavor, texture and color when selecting our varieties.  What makes a good tasting tomato?  Well, I suppose that’s up to every individual, but we look for tomatoes that have a good balance of both acidity and sweetness.  Some varieties, such as gold slicers, tend to be lower acid in general but still have a nice balance of sweetness and good “tomato flavor.”  There are some varieties that look beautiful, but when you taste them they lack actual flavor and are just kind of “blahh.”  Please refer to our blog post from August 27,2015 for pictures of the tomatoes we grow which will help you identify them and figure out what use they are best suited for.

Black Velvet tomato, our preferred variety for
fresh eating and to use on sandwiches.

Tomatoes may be found in cuisine across the globe from Europe to the Middle East, Asia and the Americas.  If you are ever at a loss as to what to do with your tomatoes, take a minute to look around, there are so many different things you can do with them!  Around here, BLT sandwiches are at the top of the list.  We typically reach for black velvet or gold slicer tomatoes for sandwiches because they are the most “fleshy” tomatoes and have a little less juice to run down your arm and make the bread soggy. Farmer Richard also wanted to mention that you don’t have to limit your “BLT” to just those three ingredients.  We often make variations on this popular sandwich that include toppings such as thinly sliced onions, basil leaves, baby arugula or baby kale mix, avocado, and even thinly sliced sweet peppers.  Every variation we’ve tried is excellent! 

Red Riviera tomatoes, excellent for eating fresh or cooking.
Tomato sauce is another popular way to use tomatoes.  There are so many different versions of “tomato sauce” ranging from spicy tomato sauces such as the Italian Desperata sauce that includes jalapeños to cookbook author Marcella Hazan’s popular recipe for buttery tomato sauce that has just four ingredients (tomatoes, butter, onion and salt).   When you are making sauce, it is generally recommended to use a “paste” tomato which is a descriptor for roma tomatoes.  Our Riviera tomato is also recommended for cooking and makes a delicious sauce.  The reason these varieties are often recommended for cooking is two-fold.  First, their flavor is enhanced by cooking and second, they are a more fleshy tomato with less juice in the seed cavities.  The benefit to this is a more concentrated sauce that will cook down faster with less moisture to evaporate out of the sauce.  If you’re planning to just eat your tomatoes fresh, either as a fresh tomato salad or just slices of salted tomatoes, pretty much any tomato will serve you well.  However, we do eat with our eyes so it’s nice to have a variety of colors and textures on a plate. 

Tomatoes pair well with a wide variety of ingredients including herbs such as thyme, oregano, basil and parsley.  They go well with butter, cream, cheese, olive oil, olives and a variety of meats.  Since tomatoes themselves are a fruit, it’s no surprise that they pair well with other fruits such as watermelons, peaches and cucumbers.  Of course, tomatoes pair well with a wide variety of vegetables including peppers, fennel, garlic, onions, greens, eggplant, squash, sweet potatoes, etc. 

Tomatoes are also a popular selection to preserve for use year round.  There are a variety of ways you can preserve tomatoes.  You could do something such as the tomato jam recipe in this week’s newsletter or make salsa and can it.  Of course you can also can tomato juice, diced tomatoes or make tomato sauce and can or freeze that as well.  I often don’t have a lot of time during tomato season for complicated preservation, so I tend to go the route of either freezing tomatoes whole or freezing tomato puree.  If you want to freeze tomatoes whole, simply wash them and cut out the core.  Pop them into a freezer bag and put them in the freezer.  When you thaw them, they will collapse and be juicy, but that makes them perfect for using in soups, chili, sauces, etc.  You can choose to either pull the skins off before you use them or I usually just blend them into the sauce.  For my quick method frozen sauce, I just chop up any extra tomatoes I have, skins and all, and cook them down on the stovetop in a wide pan.  Once they have cooked down, I cool them and puree them in the blender.  Pour the puree into freezer bags and lay them flat to freeze into “pillows.”  In the winter, when I have more time, I pull out the puree and turn it into spaghetti sauce, etc. 

Enjoy these fresh tomatoes while we have them.  If it looks like we’re going to get an early frost, we may have to pick green tomatoes and get creative with ways to use them! 

Sweet & Hot Tomato Jam

Tomato Jam early stage.

Yield 1 quart

2 pounds ripe tomatoes
1 Tbsp honey
Zest and juice of ½ of a lemon
1 jalapeño pepper, sliced paper thin
1 ½ tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
½ tsp red pepper flakes

  1. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil.  Set up an ice bath near the stovetop.  Using a paring knife, score the tomatoes with an X on the bottom and carefully drop the tomatoes into the boiling water for 30 seconds, then transfer to the ice bath.
  2. Peel the skin off the tomatoes then chop them and place in a medium saucepan with the honey, lemon zest, lemon juice, jalapeño, salt, sugar, and red pepper flakes.  Stir and bring to a simmer.  
  3. Clip a candy thermometer to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture registers 220°F (it should have a thick, syrupy consistency).  This may take 1 ½ to 2 hours.
  4. Put the jam in a jar or use immediately.  It will keep covered tightly in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Recipe borrowed from America—Farm To Table, by Mario Batalia and Jim Webster.
The author offers this commentary:  “It takes a little time to make, but this is a condiment I will put on anything from Parmigiano-Reggiano, to an omelet, to fried chicken.  I must warn you about its addictive properties…So beware, and stock up.”
Tomato Jam cooked down.
Use this jam as a spread on a grilled chicken sandwich or grilled ham and cheese.  Spread cream cheese on a cracker or toast and top with a spoonful of the jam.  Use this jam as a dipping sauce for egg rolls, sweet potato fries, or any other fried goodie such as onion rings or fried zucchini.  Serve it alongside corn fritters or pancakes.

Tomato Seed Vinaigrette

Yield:  approximately 1 cup

3 Tbsp sherry vinegar
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves or 1 ½ tsp dried
1 Tbsp mustard seeds
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 very ripe large tomatoes
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, thyme, mustard seeds, and red pepper flakes.  
  2. Halve the tomatoes crosswise and gently but firmly squeeze out the seeds and juices into the bowl with the vinegar mixture—be sure to get most if not all of them.  (Reserve the tomato flesh for another use).  
  3. Whisk together, then continue whisking while you drizzle in the oil to form a viscous emulsion.  Season to your liking with salt, pepper and/or a bit more vinegar as needed.

Recipe borrowed from America--- Farm To Table by Mario Batali and Jim Webster.

Oven Roasted Cherry/Grape Tomatoes

Yield:  About 1 cup

1 pint cherry, grape or other small tomatoes
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp natural cane sugar or maple syrup
Fine-grain sea salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F with an oven rack positioned in the top third of the oven.
  2. Slice each tomato in half and place in a large baking dish or on a rimmed baking sheet. 
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, sugar, and a scant ½ tsp salt.  Pour the mixture over the tomatoes and gently toss until everything is well coated.  Arrange the tomatoes cut-side up and roast for 45 to 60 minutes, until the tomatoes shrink a bit and start to caramelize around the edges.
  4. If you aren’t using them immediately, let the tomatoes cool, then scrape them into a clean glass jar along with any olive oil that was left in the dish.  Sometimes I top off the jar with an added splash of olive oil.  The tomatoes will keep for about 1 week in the refrigerator.

This recipe was borrowed from Heidi Swanson’s book, Super Natural Every Day.  These oven roasted  tomatoes can be used in a wide variety of ways.  Serve them as a topping for pan-seared fish or chicken along with a handful of chopped fresh herbs.  Spread fresh goat cheese on a piece of toasted French bread and then top it off with these oven-roasted tomatoes and freshly ground black peppers.  Mix these tomatoes into a bowl of cooked pasta and garnish it with freshly grated cheese.  Use these to garnish soup, such as a creamy sweet corn chowder.

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