It’s tomato time!

by |
08/19/2010 12:00 AM |


Cold stuffed tomatoes with marinated crabmeat.

The tomato originated in South America and was brought to Europe following the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 16th century. In Europe it flourished, especially in Mediterranean climates. In Britain and its American colonies the tomato was at first considered unfit for eating and was used for ornamental purposes. One theory is that rich people in the 17th century used flatware made of pewter, which has a high lead content. The acidity of the tomato would cause the lead to leech out into the food, resulting in lead poisoning and sometimes death. Poor people ate off of wooden dishes, avoiding the problem.

During the 1800s, Italian immigrants introduced the tomato to America in a big way, and the invention of pizza made the tomato famous. The tomato is botanically a fruit but treated as a vegetable by chefs. It is found both raw and cooked in a wide variety of recipes and is considered one of the healthiest foods you can eat.

Today there are literally thousands of varieties of tomatoes grown for various purposes. On the North Fork we have many hybrid tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and others. Karen Lee of Sang Lee Farms, when asked what heirloom tomatoes are, said: “They are old-fashioned tomatoes like your grandmother grew. They were enjoyed for their sweet flavor, not for their shelf life or uniform size. They are certified organic.”

When in season and field grown, the tomato has a sweet flavor backed up by crisp acidity to make it the most delicious of vegetables. It is also the most popular vegetable in America. Here are some classic recipes:

Tomato Basil Salad

Rinse 2 pounds of field-grown tomatoes under cold water and remove their cores. Slice crosswise into quarter-inch slices and place in a deep serving dish. Peel 5 cloves of garlic and mash them with the blade of a chef’s knife. Place the garlic in a bowl and mash 2 teaspoons coarse salt into the garlic. Stir in 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar and let rest 20 minutes. Rinse 12 basil leaves and dry. Roll them into tight rolls and cut them into thin slices with a sharp knife (chiffonade).

At service time, strain the vinegar/garlic mixture over the tomatoes, sprinkle 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil over them and sprinkle the basil over all. For a more substantial salad, place slices of fresh mozzarella between the slices of tomato.

Serves 4.

Roasted Tomato Sauce for Pasta

Rinse 4 cups of cherry tomatoes and cut in half with a sharp knife. Place pieces cut side up on a sheet pan. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons coarse salt over them and grind about 1 teaspoon of black pepper over them. Finely mince 1 tablespoon garlic and sprinkle over tomatoes, along with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Place in a 250-degree oven and roast for 2 hours.

At service time, dice 1/4 pound pancetta and fry until crisp in a large sautà pan. Cook 1 pound of farfalle, orechiette or bow-tie pasta in 3 quarts of boiling, salted water. Toss the roasted tomatoes, pancetta and pasta in a large bowl and add 12 leaves of thinly cut fresh basil. Grate 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese and serve over the pasta. Add 1/4 cup of homemade tomato paste (see below) if available.

Serves 4.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes with Goat Cheese

Purchase 15 plum or other small tomatoes, rinse and cut off stem ends. Slice in half lengthwise and place on a sheet pan with the cut side up. Peel 4 cloves of garlic and cut into thin slices. Place 1 slice on each tomato. Sprinkle tomatoes with 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt and grind fresh black pepper over them. Sprinkle 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil over all and place in a 200-degree oven for 6 hours. Remove and cool.

Roll 12 basil leaves tightly and slice into chiffonade. Sprinkle over the cooked tomatoes. Break up a 4-ounce log of fresh goat cheese and place a small piece on each tomato half. If desired, slice a baguette into rounds and toast them in a hot oven. Serve tomatoes warm on the toast as crostini or serve cold by themselves as an hors d’oeuvre.

Baked Stuffed Tomatoes with Black Beans

With a sharp knife, cut off the stem ends from 8 large beefsteak tomatoes, about one-quarter of the way down the tomato. Hollow out the inside, leaving a quarter-inch wall. Save the pulp and the tops. Invert the tomatoes on paper towels to drain.

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil and add 1 cup brown rice and 1 teaspoon salt. Simmer until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 40 minutes.

Make a dressing by combining 3 tablespoons lime juice, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Whisk in 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil and mix with half of the reserved tomato pulp. Stir in 1 minced jalapeno pepper with the seeds removed. Toss this mixture with the cooked rice. Rinse 1 small can of black beans and add to the rice mixture along with 1/2 cup minced scallion and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro. Stuff the tomatoes with this mixture and place in a 350-degree oven until hot, about 20 minutes. Serve over wilted spinach with grilled fish.

Serves 8.

Cold Stuffed Tomatoes with Marinated Crabmeat

Purchase 6 beefsteak tomatoes and 1 pound of jumbo lump crabmeat. Make a marinade by combining 1/4 cup lemon juice with 1 teaspoon each of chopped tarragon, thyme, Italian parsley and chives. Season with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Stir in 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil and pour over the crabmeat. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Cut the tops off the tomatoes about a quarter of the way down and scoop out the pulp, leaving a quarter-inch wall. Turn the tomatoes upside down and drain on paper towels for 10 minutes. Stuff the tomatoes with the crabmeat and serve over fresh arugula.

Serves 6.

Tomatoes Stuffed with Pesto

Rinse 8 medium-sized tomatoes and cut off the tops. Scoop out some of the pulp, leaving a half-inch wall. Drain over paper towels.

Make the pesto by toasting 1/4 cup pine nuts in a dry sautà pan at medium heat for about 4 minutes. Coarsely chop 2 cups fresh basil and 2 cups Italian parsley. Add these to a food processor along with the pine nuts, 4 cloves of garlic, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. Season with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Process until smooth and spoon into the hollowed-out tomatoes. Place in a 350-degree oven and cook until hot, about 20 minutes. Serve over 1 pound of freshly cooked linguine tossed with 2 tablespoons butter and 1/2 cup grated cheese.

Serves 4.

Valeria’s Tomato Paste

Purchase 10 pounds of field-grown tomatoes (seconds are fine). Rinse, cut out stems and make an X on the opposite ends with a sharp knife. Plunge them in boiling water for 1 minute and remove. Peel off the skin and chop coarsely. Clean 2 red bell peppers and chop coarsely. Combine the chopped tomatoes, peppers, 2 bay leaves and 1 tablespoon sea salt in a large heavy pot and cook at medium heat for 1 hour. Press through a sieve into a clean saucepan and add 1 clove garlic. Continue to cook, uncovered, for about 3 hours at low heat, stirring to prevent burning. It will become quite thick and produce about 3 cups of tomato paste.

Note: Valeria Belich is a Southold resident who was born in Croatia. Years ago she gave me some homemade tomato paste that was one of the most delicious things I had ever eaten. This is her simple recipe. The final product has stunning flavor when added to most any pasta dish.

The street

filled with tomatoes



light is





its juice


through the streets.

… It sheds

its own light,

benign majesty.

Unfortunately, we must

murder it:

the knife


into living flesh,



a cool




populates the salads

of Chile,

happily, it is wed

to the clear onion,

and to celebrate the union





child of the olive,

onto its halved hemispheres,



its fragrance,

salt, its magnetism;

it is the wedding

of the day,



its flag,


bubble vigorously,

the aroma

of the roast


at the door,

it’s time!

excerpted from “Ode to the Tomato”

by Pablo Neruda