Tomato Love Affair

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Supermarket tomatoes really don’t taste or look anything like what tomatoes are supposed to be in their full glory. Think complex, slightly acidic flavors, velvety but firm flesh, ripe seeds nestled in delicious gelatinousness, and fully developed, rich color. That being said, what a wonderful time of year it is now that tomatoes are in season. I’ve come to look forward to it almost as much as Christmas.

The last few years were poor tomato seasons for me and other gardeners I consulted. But several weeks ago, much to my delight, it became obvious that we were off to a great start as the tomato plants began bursting with flowers. And now that the first tomatoes have gone from a pale rosy glow to deep red divinity, my mind jumps to one of my favorite dishes. Gazpacho.

Most gazpacho recipes I’ve tried at home or in restaurants were missing that, well, je ne sais quoi. So I set out to create my own. Somewhere along the lines, back in art school while studying ancient Rome, I found the roots of modern gazpacho. It has made its way from the Roman Empire through Spain and into the New World, and there are many variations. The original dish didn’t have tomatoes, cucumbers or peppers, since those all came from the Americas. It did start out with stale bread, olive oil, garlic, and sometimes almonds or grapes. I’m sure the Romans added whatever was local and seasonal as well. What most modern American versions of gazpacho have in common are tomato, onion, cucumber and bell pepper, and it is served cold.

My recipe has its roots in the Roman recipe with whole wheat french bread (or almond meal), olive oil and basalmic vinegar, which is then balanced delicately with garden fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, coriander, and poblano chiles. If you like gazpacho, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the texture and depth of this recipe.

Karrie’s Garden Fresh Gazpacho

(Like most of my recipes, the amounts are approximate. Adjust according to your tastes or what you have on hand.)

1 cup stale whole wheat french bread (or 1/2 cup almond meal)
1 tablespoon basalmic vinegar (to start, adjust if it needs more)
Approximately 1/3 cup water (this will vary depending on how thin you want the soup and how juicy the vegetables are)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons coriander (cilantro seeds, best fresh if you’re growing cilantro), crushed or minced
1 garlic clove
1/2 sweet onion, divided
5 medium garden ripe tomatoes
1 cucumber
1 to 2 mild to medium poblano peppers (or other mild pepper), depending on your taste
1 bell pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Cilantro and sour cream to garnish

In a food processor, break your bread into chunks and sprinkle the vinegar, water and olive oil over it.  Let it soak until the bread is soft. Then puree with coriander, garlic and half of the onion. If you are not using bread, you can add the almond meal at this point.

Finely dice 1/3 of the tomatoes, cucumber, peppers and the rest of the onion, and set aside. Put the rest in the food processor and process until most of the chunks are gone.

Mix the bread (or almond) puree with the vegetable puree. Stir in the diced vegetables. Taste and adjust salt, pepper, vinegar, etc. Let it sit in the fridge for at least a couple of hours, if not overnight. The longer it sits, the better the flavors blend. Garnish with sour cream and cilantro before serving, and serve from a glass pitcher, if possible, to enjoy the colors.

Another one of my favorite ways to enjoy garden tomatoes is in fresh Mexican salsa. It’s good to let the rich, vine ripened flavors be the star of this recipe, subtly accented with chiles, onion and cilantro. It’s OK to cheat a little and use lime, even though they are not locally, seasonally sourced. With this recipe, broiling or grilling the vegetables caramelizes the sugars to give a sweet, roasted overtone.

Salsa Mexicana

(Like most of my recipes, the amounts are approximate. Adjust according to your tastes or what you have on hand.)

5 tomatoes
2 to 3 chiles, your choice depending on heat level
1/2 onion
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tablespoon lime juice

Turn your grill or broiler on high and roast the tomatoes, chiles and onion until the skin begins to blacken and peel. Turn them over and do the same on the other side, but don’t fully cook the vegetables.

Put all of the ingredients into a blender or food processor and pulse briefly. If you like chunky salsa, leave it. If you like more liquidy salsa, go ahead and pulse it until you reach desired consistency.

Add salt, pepper and lime juice to taste.