It’s tomato time

Shopping for tomatoes is a joy at this time of year, with more varieties available than during the rest of the year.

Spain tomatoes 521 (photo credit: REUTERS/Francisco Bonilla)
Spain tomatoes 521
(photo credit: REUTERS/Francisco Bonilla)
Tomato-lovers wait all year for this period of summer, when tomatoes are at their peak – plump, juicy and sweet. For gardeners, this is the time when picking tomatoes is pure delight. Shopping for tomatoes is a joy too, with more varieties available than during the rest of the year and at more reasonable prices.
There are countless ways to enjoy tomatoes but it just so happens that the fruit arrives in all its glory when the weather is uncomfortably hot. As much as I love to simmer tomatoes in big pans of ratatouille (along with eggplant, other vegetables, garlic, herbs and olive oil) and to bake tomato tarts with a variety of cheeses, I usually wait to prepare such favorites when the weather is slightly cooler.
At the moment, I use my tomatoes mostly in two ways. During the daytime, I put them in dishes that require little or no cooking. At night, when it’s cooler, I cook tomatoes to turn them into easy-to-make sauces to add to our meals or to freeze in order to savor the summer-ripe tomato flavor at another season.
One of the easiest no-cook tomato sauces is made basically of tomatoes blended with extravirgin olive oil. I add a touch of lemon juice, salt, pepper and fresh herbs and serve the dressing with grilled or broiled fish.
If I want an oil-free sauce that needs no cooking, I might make a relish from diced tomatoes with finely chopped onion, diced sweet peppers, lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, parsley and salt.
This relish is good as an accompaniment for grilled chicken, fish or eggs prepared any way you like them, or to liven up a lentil or rice salad.
Capers go well with tomatoes in such no-cook sauces. Yotam Ottolenghi, author of Plenty, adds capers to a sauce of quartered cherry tomatoes, sweet yellow peppers, red wine vinegar and olive oil and uses it to dress eggplant tricolore, his variation of the famous fresh mozzarella-and-tomato salad made with the addition of roasted eggplant slices.
During the hot season, I particularly like to have a bowl of refreshing tomato gazpacho for lunch or supper. I learned from my friend Dana Jacobi, author of Cook & Freeze, that this celebrated uncooked soup can be frozen. Jacobi makes her gazpacho by pureeing fresh ripe tomatoes with garlic and blending in bread, wine vinegar, tomato paste, olive oil and hot pepper sauce. Before serving, she garnishes each bowl of the chilled soup with finely diced fresh vegetables, including cucumber, tomato and onion.
Spicy sauces are perfect for stimulating summer appetites. One that I like to prepare calls for cooking fresh hot peppers with tomatoes. It does not require long simmering and is good for serving with pasta, rice, fish or eggs. The recipe is included here
Arlene’s gazpacho
This recipe is from Cook & Freeze. Author Dana Jacobi writes, “For maximum flavor, make this soup when local tomatoes are at their peak, the vines overloaded with sun-warmed fruit coming ripe all at once. Freezing then lets you continue to enjoy their flavor weeks after the season has ended... With roughly 1⁄3 cup of chopped vegetables in each serving, this gazpacho is a lovely contrast of creamy soup and salad-fresh crunch.”
If you’re making the gazpacho in advance, you can refrigerate the base, without the diced vegetables, until it is just chilled and then freeze it for up to 4 weeks; add the diced vegetables at serving time.
Makes 6 servings 4 large, ripe tomatoes, 1 to 1.4 kg (21⁄2 to 3 pounds), seeded and diced (see Note below) 2 to 3 large garlic cloves, quartered 1 cup tomato juice 2 slices stale white bread, preferably firm sandwich bread, crusts removed 3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar 2 to 3 Tbsp tomato paste 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil 3 generous dashes hot pepper sauce 1 tsp. salt Freshly ground pepper
To serve: 2⁄3 cup finely diced cucumber 2⁄3 cup finely diced sweet green pepper 2⁄3 cup finely diced tomato 2⁄3 cup finely diced raw zucchini 2⁄3 cup finely diced celery (optional) 2⁄3 cup finely diced red onion (optional) 6 Tbsp croutons (optional) In a blender, whirl the tomatoes and garlic to a pulpy puree.
Add the tomato juice and whirl to blend.
Strain the soup into a bowl to remove all bits of skin, then return the strained soup to the blender.
Add the bread to the blender and whirl until the soup has a pulpy texture. Whirl in the vinegar, tomato paste, oil, hot pepper sauce and salt. Season with pepper to taste.
For serving now: Transfer the soup to a container, cover tightly, and chill for 3 to 4 hours or overnight.
Return the chilled soup to the blender and whirl until it is silky. Divide the soup among individual bowls and add a generous tablespoon each of the diced cucumber, sweet pepper, tomato and zucchini, plus the celery and onion, if using. Drop in 1 tablespoon of croutons, if you wish. Serve the chilled gazpacho immediately.
Note: To seed tomatoes, halve them horizontally.
Hold each tomato half over a bowl, cut side down. Squeeze tomato to remove most of seeds and juice.
Fresh red onion, tomato and sweet pepper relish
This fat-free, easy-to-make relish requires no cooking. It is a tasty accompaniment for roast chicken, grilled fish and simple grain, bean or pasta dishes.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1⁄2 cup finely chopped red onion small yellow or green bell pepper, finely diced 350 to 450 gr. (3⁄4 to 1 pound) ripe tomatoes, diced 1 to 2 Tbsp. lemon juice a few drops hot pepper sauce, or to taste 1⁄4 cup chopped parsley salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste Combine onion, pepper, tomatoes, lemon juice and hot pepper sauce in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes or up to 1 day.
A short time before serving, add parsley and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Serve cold.
Hot pepper tomato sauce
Spoon this sauce over grilled meat or tofu, omelets or scrambled eggs, served on a plate or in a pita. If you have slices of grilled eggplant or strips of grilled peppers, they make a good addition to this sandwich.
If you’re making the sauce in advance, you can refrigerate it for up to 3 days or freeze it for up to 4 months.
Makes 4 or 5 servings
5 jalapeno peppers or other fresh hot peppers, green or red 900 gr. to 1.4 kg (2 to 3 pounds) ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced (see Note below) 3 large garlic cloves, chopped 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil salt and freshly ground pepper
If you prefer a sauce with less heat, remove the seeds and membranes from the jalapeno peppers, or use fewer peppers. Either chop or slice the peppers.
Put peppers in a large saucepan. Add tomatoes, garlic and oil. Bring to a simmer, stirring. Cook uncovered over medium-low heat, stirring often, for 15 to 25 minutes or until the sauce is as thick as you would like it. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve hot or cold.
Note: To peel tomatoes: Cut cores from tomatoes, turn each tomato over and, with point of paring knife, slit skin on bottom of tomato in an Xshape.
Put tomatoes in a saucepan with enough boiling water to cover them generously. Boil tomatoes for 10 to 15 seconds or until their skin begins to pull away from their flesh at the X. Immediately remove tomatoes from water with a slotted spoon and put them in a bowl of cold water. Leave for a few seconds to cool. Remove tomatoes from water and peel with aid of paring knife.
Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home and of the award-winning book, Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook.