Get saucy with tomatoes

They're best this time of year, so use them in salads or to top your pizzas.

tomato 88 (photo credit: )
tomato 88
(photo credit: )
There's a greengrocer on Rehov Ashtori Haparhi in Tel Aviv that I fondly (and sadly) refer to as "the thief," because I never seem to get away with spending less than NIS 100 there. And no wonder. I may fully intend to buy just one or two items, but the selection of first-class and unusual fruits and vegetables is just too fabulous to resist. I'm hooked. Although I try to buy mostly organic fruits and vegetables, I recently walked in there to buy a few micro greens and picture-perfect vegetables for a photo shoot. Next to the normal looking tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, roma tomatoes ("agvaniot tamar"), cherry roma tomatoes and green-striped red cherry tomatoes, there were still-on-the-vine fragrant tomatoes that reminded me of the scent of the backyard-grown tomatoes of my childhood. It was simply intoxicating. Although we have tomatoes year-round, there's no better time to buy them than now, when nature intended us to eat them. You can even grow them in a bucket on your porch (starter plants are available at plant nurseries) and use only organic fertilizers and pesticides (if necessary). And if you're industrious, on a budget and/or ecologically-minded, this is also a great time to cook and freeze homemade tomato sauces and sun-dried tomatoes. You can even pop them in the freezer chopped or whole (yes!) in a plastic bag or container for future use. Sliced or chopped tomatoes take kindly to a seasoning of extra-virgin olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar, a sprinkling of coarse sea salt, black pepper and garlic. They'll be delicious as a salad but can also be added to hot spaghetti for a quick supper (especially good sprinkled with Parmesan). Add a few capers and black olives for a gourmet touch. For cooked dishes, it's better to use oval roma tomatoes, which are meatier with fewer liquids. And here's a quick tip: To peel tomatoes, use a sharp knife to make a small "x" in the bottom of each tomato and drop it in boiling water for 30 seconds or until the peel rips. Remove with a slotted spoon and wait a minute, or drop in a bowl of ice water for a few seconds to cool and facilitate peeling. DOUBLE-TOMATO PIZZA IN A FRYING PAN This is a wonderfully fun recipe that requires no yeast, no heavy kneading and no waiting at all. To make it you'll need whole wheat self-rising flour or whole wheat pastry flour ("kemah maleh menupeh") with one-and-a-half teaspoons of baking powder and one-quarter teaspoon baking soda added for each cup of flour. If you don't have time to make the tomato sauce (which is definitely worth making a double batch of and freezing), use 4 tablespoons of commercial tomato sauce. You'll also need a 22-24-cm. frying pan (using a 24-cm. size will yield a thinner dough) that can be placed under the grill in the oven for a few minutes. Makes 4 heavenly servings For the sauce: 4 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 4 1 small onion, chopped 4 1 garlic clove, crushed 4 450-500 gr. fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped 4 1 Tbsp. fresh chopped basil or oregano 4 Salt and pepper to taste For the dough: 4 225 gr. (13⁄4 cups) self-rising flour 4 More flour for kneading 4 1 Tbsp. mixed fresh herbs like oregano, rosemary, basil 4 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided 4 5-6 Tbsp. water 4 Coarsely ground black pepper For the topping: 4 150 gr. mozzarella cheese, regular or smoked, cut into 2.5-cm. cubes 4 1⁄4 cup sun-dried cherry tomatoes (or regular sun-dried tomatoes), drained and chopped (reserve the oil) 4 12 black olives, pitted and sliced 4 1⁄3 cup sliced fresh mushrooms 4 2 Tbsp. capers (optional, but recommended) 4 2 Tbsp. torn basil leaves 4 Salt and pepper to taste To make the sauce, heat the olive oil and cook the onion and garlic together for a minute on a medium-low flame. Add the chopped tomatoes and basil, season with salt and pepper and continue to cook 20-25 minutes until the liquids evaporate and the mixture thickens. Sift the self-rising flour, salt and pepper into a bowl and add the chopped herbs. Make a well in the center and add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 4 tablespoons water. Mix with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough. Add a little extra water, if necessary, to get the right consistency. Flour a working surface and knead the dough briefly. Using a rolling pin or the palm of your hand, form a 22-24-cm. circle to fit the frying pan. Heat a tablespoon of the remaining olive oil in the frying pan and add the dough. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes or until the underside is lightly browned. Turn out on a plate. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the pan and return the dough to the pan with the uncooked side facing down. Cook 5 minutes. While cooking, heat the grill in the oven. Spread the tomato sauce on the pizza, sprinkle mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, mushrooms, capers and torn basil leaves. Season with salt and pepper and pour over the oil left from the drained sun-dried tomatoes. Continue to cook until the bottom of the dough is crispy and golden (check by lifting up with a spatula). Stick the frying pan under the grill (or transfer the pizza to a baking sheet and slip under the grill to melt the cheese and heat the toppings. Remove from the oven and gently place on a serving plate. Let stand till just warm before cutting with a serrated knife or scissors.