Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tomato Heaven

I email subscribe to the Just a Pinch Recipe Club and today there was an article called "Savoring the Goodness of Homegrown Tomatoes" in the Janet's Notebook blog.  While I don't have homegrown anything I do love tomatoes and so had to share this article and recipe links with you.

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Growing up, my friend's grandfather always told us girls that to enjoy a fresh tomato all we needed was a sharp knife and a pinch of salt. Indeed, there were tomatoes served at every one of their meals during those hot, sticky summers. And as he would slice in to the fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes, juice would flow like a roiling creek. It was a wonder to my youthful, wide eyes. As a frequent dinner pest - er, I mean dinner guest - I was always first in line to sample his latest garden finds.

This certainly is the time of year to celebrate that bounty. Tomatoes are in their peak around the country, each one ripe for the tasting. While just a pinch of salt does do wonders, there are also some terrific tomato recipes out there that really get my taste-buds tingling.

Capreses are about the best thing to happen to the tomato since the invention of salt. Simply meaning a combination of basil, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, capreses come in many shapes and sizes: sandwiches, flatbreads, pasta, salads. Nikki Smith of Hemet, CA thinks that caprese pizza is the way to go. She uses fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes, freshly chopped basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese and olive oil to embellish a refrigerated pizza crust. The simplicity of the preparation is matched only by the simplicity of the flavors. Happily, they come together to form one delicious, crowd-pleasing treat.

Stuffed tomatoes are also a great way to make use of excess produce. Cherry tomatoes transform into darling, bite-size appetizers at the hand of Texas cook Jeanne Benavidez. She uses a mixture of cream cheese, onion, garlic and avocado to fill her party-ready Avocado-Stuffed Tomatoes. "A friend brought this to a back yard party once and I really liked it," says Jeanne. "She was kind enough to give me the easy recipe. I have made it several times and everyone seems to really enjoy the little morsels of coolness."

Equally cool, figuratively speaking, is Judy Sprague's recipe for full-size Stuffed Tomatoes. This fellow Kentuckian bowled me over with her bacon, broccoli and onion stuffed 'maters. Topped with panko breadcrumbs and salty Parmesan cheese, it's easy get creative with this one and add in other veggies of your choosing. (Extra zucchini, perhaps?) "I love the taste of this!" says Judy of her super summery dish. "It is a very easy side dish to make a meal special!"

Now, rather then cooking up his leftover tomatoes, Greg Honeycutt of Birmingham, AL chooses to preserve them in an especially unique way. "I dehydrate extra ones," he says. "I slice them as thin as I can, put them on a Silpat in a low oven and leave them be. 200 degrees for several hours usually does the trick. I then crush them to powder with mortar and pestle. Great for a tasty, colorful garnish, or to add a bit of flavor to anything you wish." Imagine how good those freshly dehydrated tomatoes will taste come soup-making season!

And Greg's not the only one preserving summer freshness for colder days ahead. Linda Scharek of Wildwood, FL described her favorite preservation method during a recent conversation in the Cooking Tips and Hints Discussion Group. "You can freeze tomatoes," she says. "Cut in quarters and put in a Ziplock bag. When you need tomatoes for sauce, just take them out of the freezer, skin will come right off, and use for whatever."

These great cooking ideas are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to celebrating the dear, humble tomato. Enjoy them simply sliced and sprinkled with a pinch of salt, baked atop an olive oil coated pizza crust, or stuffed with the freshest of herbs and veggies from your garden. No matter the how, simply enjoy. These warm days of bounty are meant to be savored.

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To finish off this entry I wanted to share a (different) caprese pizza recipe I'm dying to try - I'm going to have to alter the cooking instructions though because I don't have an outdoor grill.

Grilled Caprese Pizza with Balsamic Reduction

1 (14 oz.) can pre-made pizza dough
2 tomatoes, sliced
6-8 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced
5-6 leaves fresh basil, minced
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
olive oil
salt and pepper

Unroll the pizza dough onto a sheet pan. Lightly coat each side with olive oil and cut into four pieces. Set aside. Prepare all the ingredients on a platter and set aside.

To make the Balsamic Reduction: Bring the balsamic vinegar and sugar to a light boil in a small sauce pan. Allow to boil, while stirring constantly for 4-6 minutes, or until reduced in half. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Preheat a grill over a medium high flame until grates are very hot. Hot grates are important to ensure the dough cooks quickly and doesn’t stick. Gently stretch each section of dough and carefully lay it across the grates. Cover and allow to cook for 2 – 3 minutes. Check halfway through to make sure they don’t burn. Flip using two tongs. Evenly distribute the tomato and mozzarella slices. Cover and allow to cook for an additional 2 – 3 minutes, or until the cheese is slightly melted. Remove from the flame and cut in half. Drizzle each slice with the balsamic reduction and sprinkle with minced basil. Salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4 as entree. Serves 6 – 7 as side.

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