Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Make the Most of Harvested Tomatoes

It's harvest time. And in Colorado local tomatoes have ripened a little late this year -- better late than never!

Via my urban farm friend, Barbara, I've learned of heirloom tomatoes with names like Zebra, Aussie, German Green (pic at left), and beefsteak varieties like Carnival.

I've been sampling them all too, trying to distinguish flavor differences. But to tell you the truth, I haven't noticed obvious variations. I did however, notice that they're all sweet, juicy and succulent.

Because sweet, juicy, and succulent is the feature of ripe, good quality heirlooms and beefsteaks there's really not much that you need do with these beauties other than serve them at room temperature, sliced, drizzled with a little olive oil, & sprinkled with salt and freshly ground black pepper (pic above.)

Room temperature will enhance the intrinsic flavor of fresh produce. I hate to state the obvious, but straight from the fridge, produce like tomatoes, simply taste cold and fridgey.

If you have an abundance of ripe tomatoes, keep them refrigerated so they don't spoil, but keep a stash on a platter on your kitchen bench for room-temperature consumption. As you eat them, replace those tomatoes with a couple from your fridge.

Tomatoes that are not ripe are best left out at room temp to ripen. If they're quite hard, put them on a windowsill where they'll get sunlight.

Tomatoes that fail to ripen will be absent great flavor. Tomatoes that are over-ripe and mushy are great made into the following:

If you have an abundance of tomatoes that you'd rather not cook, dry them instead.
  1. Slice them
  2. Sprinkle slices with salt and herbs if you wish
  3. Place them on a raised rack and put the rack in the sun covered with a light cloth, like cheesecloth--though this will need to be elevated so that it doesn't sick to the tomatoes.
  4. Bring tomatoes inside at night; depending on the strength of the sun, drying could take several days or a couple of weeks.
If the above drying technique sounds like a hassle, you could dry tomatoes in the oven, the microwave or a dehydrator. I know a number of people who've invested in a dehydrator so they can dry tomatoes, peppers, peaches, apples.

Drying produce is a great way to ensure a pantry of harvest produce over the winter.

But back to fresh beefsteaks, in particular the Carnival variety.

I made a polenta, chard and bacon cake this past weekend and though the Carnival I had was on the verge of being too ripe, it sliced well so I used it to top the dish ( pic left).

To keep the juicy tomato pieces from sliding off the polenta, I used a tablespoon of sour cream and thick, cold pesto to adhere them.

Vegetable & Bacon Polenta Cake with Tomato
1) Pour one cup of polenta into 4 cups of water. Stir over low heat for about 30 mins. Put lid on pot & set aside.
2) Smash and chop a clove of garlic; toss into pan with a sliced onion and some olive oil.
3) Slice a couple rashers of bacon, pork or turkey, toss in with onions and garlic.
4) Wash and chop a dark leafy green, like chard or spinach; add to pan. Stir pan contents about; turn heat to low and put lid on pan and let contents cook for about 10 mins.
5) At the 10-min mark, add pan contents to pot of cooked polenta. Stir with a wooden spoon, mixing veggies & bacon into polenta.
6) Toss a handful of dry, grated Italian cheese into polenta. Stir until cheese has melted. Taste test, and add salt and pepper to your liking. Pour polenta mix onto a plate and let it cool.
7) Once cooled, slice polenta cake and top slices with dobs of thick sour cream, sliced tomato and decorate with either a sprig of basil or parsley, or a dob of pesto.

You could stir the pesto into the sour cream and top the polenta slices with this mix, using it to adhere the tomato pieces.

To Serve: Present sliced polenta cake on a platter, as above, with a salad and meat dish, if you wish. You could also serve the polenta cake hot. In which case, once it has cooled and set, reheat it by covering it with foil and popping it in the oven. If serving hot, put the creamy pesto into a small condiment dish and serve it separately along with a simple platter of tomatoes, like the sliced German Greens in the pic above.

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