Despite the recent spate of disappointingly bleak weather, a crop of sweet, juicy tomatoes is hitting our local stores and farmers' markets. Many people around town, with a little luck, will pull big crops from their own yards. The three recipes below are designed to celebrate the tomato harvest. None is too tricky, and each is delicious.
This spectacular creation comes from Chef Rebecca Christensen of Blue Vervain in Manitou Springs. It is adapted from a recipe in Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook. Christensen's version is considerably friendlier for the home cook. Its impressive mix of fresh and roasted flavors can be enjoyed on toasted bread, as a salad or sandwich topper, or on a fork straight from the bowl.
4 large tomatoes cut into 1/8-inch thick slices (look for heirloom varieties)
8-10 fresh thyme sprigs
1 minced shallot
1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. olive oil (additional)
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400. Lay tomatoes on a baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sprigs of thyme. Roast at 400 until tomatoes darken and bubble, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
Pull thyme leaves from the roasted sprigs and slip skins from tomato rings. Mince thyme leaves and tomatoes until fairly fine. Place into a bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Toss gently and check for balance, especially between oil and vinegar.
This dish hails from Cordoba, Spain, and is essentially a stripped-down gazpacho. Fresh, tangy and creamy, it's often eaten as soup, but I like to serve it as a dip with many small slices of crusty bread.
1 lb. ripe tomatoes, cored, skinned, seeded and cut into quarters
2 garlic cloves
2 slices slightly stale bread
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (balsamic or cider is OK)
Add garlic to blender or food processor while it's running. Turn it off, add the tomatoes, vinegar and a few good pinches of salt. Blend, then add bread. With the blender running, add some olive oil to bring mixture to a smooth consistency. You shouldn't need more than 1/4 cup. It will be almost salmon-colored. Correct seasonings and allow to chill. Salmorejo is traditionally served with chopped hard boiled eggs and slices of Jam'n Serrano.
Roasted tomato sauce
This, my own creation, works great with overripe tomatoes, because their sweetness is an asset. If you have a bumper crop of small or even medium-sized tomatoes, you can use them whole in this recipe. Larger specimens should be split in half.
Garlic cloves, peeled but whole
Herbs (oregano, thyme, bay leaf, etc.)
Hot pepper flakes (optional)*
Special equipment: Food mill, burr mixer (stick blender), food processor or blender**
Preheat oven to 425-450. Place the tomatoes into a roasting pan that can accommodate them in one layer. If you have too many for one pan, use two. Add garlic cloves, herbs and optional red pepper flakes. Cover all of the ingredients liberally with salt and olive oil.
Roast for 30 minutes. Tomatoes should be soft, and some juices should have run into the pan. The whole assemblage should be bubbling and aromatic. Remove from the oven to cool a few minutes. Discard any woody fresh herbs or bay leaves.
Using your tool of choice, pure the contents of the roasting pan, stopping before it gets too thin. Your tomatoes are now sauce.
Next, working in small batches, push the sauce through a fine mesh strainer, using the back of a spoon to force it through. This will filter out the seeds and skins of the tomatoes. Check for seasoning. To eat the sauce immediately, bring it to a simmer in a saucepan. To freeze, remove sauce to ball jars or plastic containers and top with a thin layer of olive oil. In the freezer, it should last at least three months.
* If you plan to store the sauce, I recommend adding hot pepper flakes at that time.
** If you have none of these, you can follow the recipe as above, using a big fork to break down the sauce in lieu of the blending step. Remove as many skins as possible by hand, and be aggressive in pushing the sauce through the strainer.