Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce

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September can be the time of tomato burnout, at least if you have your own garden or are friends with someone who gardens. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but fresh tomatoes at every meal do pall after awhile. We don’t personally have that problem this year, but we were inundated last year, especially with cherry tomatoes. I love the bounty of fruit you get from a cherry tomato plant, in July and August. By September I am usually faced with bowl after bowl of cherry tomatoes that no one is really all that interested in anymore.

The typical answer to too many tomatoes is to make sauce. This can be problematic with cherry tomatoes. No one is going to peel those babies and they sometimes have very thick skins. Last year I tried an experiment to deal with them in the quickest way possible. It was about a hundred degrees (I’m not exaggerating) and I wanted to get in and out of the kitchen in the shortest amount of time.

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Now, this does involve turning the oven on in the summer heat, but it isn’t on for long and the results make it worth it in my book. Long story short – roast those luscious nuggets of summer sunshine until they are browned and shriveled, which takes very little time since they are so small. Let them cool a little and then chuck them into the food processor. A quick whirl and they break down into sauce that is thickened by the pureed skins.

I like to freeze the sauce flat in ziplock bags, like I freeze my zucchini, to save freezer space. It also makes for easy and fast thawing later. You can thaw in the fridge overnight or put the bag in hot water. It also works to cut the bag off the frozen block of sauce and put it right in a pan to thaw over low heat.

Print or download the recipe.

Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce
From The Cook’s Life
Yield varies

Cherry tomatoes
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash and dry the tomatoes. Spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet with sides. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake 20 minutes, or until softened and browning in spots. You might hear some of the tomatoes burst as they are cooking. There will be a fair amount of liquid on the pan from burst tomatoes and it might be caramelizing in spots. That is fine.

Let the tomatoes cool, on the pan, for about 30 minutes. The scrape, pour or otherwise transfer the tomatoes and all their juices to a food processor or blender. Process the tomatoes into a sauce. Scrape down the sides once and process again.

Pour the sauce into ziplock bags. Be sure to label them with the contents and date before you fill them or you’ll be writing on squishy bags. I like to use quart bags and fill them with about two cups of sauce. It is easiest to place the bag in a straight-sided glass or glass measuring cup before filling. Place the filled bags flat on a plate or a cookie sheet and place them in the freezer. Once frozen solid, you can store the bags upright like books or stack them flat.

When ready to use, thaw the bags overnight in the fridge or float in a bowl of hot water for about half an hour. You can also cut the bag off the frozen sauce and thaw it right in your cooking pot. Use the sauce as the base of any soup or stew, or spice it up for pizza or pasta.

Summer Days and School Days

School started this week in our area. Calvin started ninth grade this year – the dreaded and exciting high school. Though he has been in the same school district since kindergarten, and he has always started school this early in August, it still seems insanely early to me.

School, when the summer cicadas and katydids are still singing? School, when it is still blazing hot? Well, not this year, but I’m not complaining at all about the beautiful weather. School, when we are still eating summer produce in all its glory?

DSC_0053Though the school year is in full swing, and our activities feel like fall, I am hanging onto summer at least a few more weeks. The fall spices, pumpkins and apples can wait a while, as far as I’m concerned. Summer is still here and I’m hanging on to it – long days, garden vegetables, lemonade and all.

Summer cooking for me has involved a lot of zucchini this year, and not quite as many tomatoes as usual. It all comes down to what is doing well in the garden. We have had spotty success with tomatoes for the past few years, so this spring we decided to give the soil a rest from tomato plants and raise them in pots.

Well, that was a failure – we had a grand total of eight cherry tomatoes and one larger one. The plants just never took off in the pots, and the deer took care of most of the fruit we did get on the vines. To top off the season, a deer ate two of the plants down to stubs. I bagged the whole experiment in mid July. I am trying a second, fall crop of tomatoes, but in the garden this time, behind the lattice fence that was supposed to keep out the rabbits. It seems to be doing a fine job deterring the deer too.

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We have had good luck with zucchini this year, at least. I have one plant, count it, one. It currently is taking over the garden. We have had several huge zucchini that escaped our notice under the insanely huge leaves. One weighed three pounds and the other was over four. There really was nothing to do with those but shred them, since they were so big. They found their way into zucchini tots, lemon zucchini muffins and the freezer. We have had a lot of smaller zucchini too, using those on pizza, and in zucchini chips and zucchini planks.

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Calvin’s first week of school is just about over. I think it calls for a celebration, which in our house usually means something special from the kitchen. I wonder if he’d go for zucchini cake? Probably not. Guess it’s time to break out the chocolate.

Fresh Corn, Tomato and Bean Salad

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I came up with this salad last summer, but then forgot to post the recipe before the corn and tomato season was over. I almost did it again this year, but we still have a few weeks left before the summer’s bounty gives way to fall harvests.

When I developed the recipe, I was looking for a different salad to take to a barbecue. I wanted to use in-season vegetables and I wanted to make a dish that would hold up at room temperature for several hours. I started with the corn I had in the fridge, thinking while I cut the kernels off the cobs. Tomatoes were a given – we had a bowlful begging to be used. Lemon zest and juice provided a bit of a tang without taking over like vinegar might have. I added shallots, but caramelized them to soften and deepen their flavors.

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I mixed and tasted and thought. The colors were there, with the red of the tomatoes and the yellow corn. The flavors were there, with the sweet corn and shallots, the bright lemon and the fruity tomatoes. The textures were there with the crunch of the corn and the soft tomatoes. But there was still something missing. I had a can of black beans. Dark, slightly salty, creamy beans. Color – check. Flavor – check. Texture – check. The beans were the key to bringing it all together.

Be sure to make the salad with in-season tomatoes. If you use insipid grocery store tomatoes they will look pretty, but they won’t add much to the dish. You want the tomatoes that smell like summer when you cut into them. The ones that make you realize that you were kidding yourself with tomatoes over the winter. The ones that make you say, “Yes, that is why I fight the deer and the squirrels to grow tomatoes.” The ones that make a trek to the farmer’s market worth it.

Download or print the recipe here.

Fresh Corn, Tomato and Bean Salad
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 8-10

This salad is fabulous with fresh corn cut off the cob. If you can’t get good corn, or don’t want to mess with cutting it off the cob, use the same amount of frozen corn – no need to thaw.

1-2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium shallot, diced
1½-2 cups fresh corn kernels, about 3 ears (see head note)
1 tablespoon water
1 large or 2 small tomatoes
1 15 oz. can black beans, low sodium preferred, drained and rinsed
1 lemon
cayenne (optional)
freshly ground black pepper
salt

Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add shallot and reduce heat to medium low. You want to slowly caramelize the shallot, so lower the heat if necessary. Add another teaspoon of oil if shallot starts to stick. Prepare the rest of the salad while the shallot cooks.

Mix the corn with the tablespoon of water in a large microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Cut the tomatoes in half and use a spoon to scoop out the pulp and seeds. This will keep the salad from being too watery.

Dice tomatoes into pieces about the size of the kernels of corn. Add the diced tomato to the corn. Add the beans and the caramelized shallot. Zest the lemon and add it to the mixture. Toss gently to mix.

Juice the lemon into a small bowl or glass measuring cup. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and whisk to combine. Add cayenne and black pepper to taste. Pour dressing over the bean mixture and stir. Taste and add a touch of salt if necessary. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

This keeps for several days in the refrigerator.

Zucchini Muffins

I think I have mentioned that my parents grow a large garden. It is my dad’s baby more than my mom’s, but she is out there, doing plenty of the watering, weeding and planting. She just doesn’t get into it as much as Dad does. Vegetable gardening is Dad’s passion (one of them) and Mom prefers the flowers, I think.

We can count on coming home with a bounty of vegetables almost any time we visit my parents during the gardening season (which we totally appreciate!). We were at their house a few weekends ago and the zucchini was growing like gangbusters. They had several on the counter, waiting for us to take home, and we found several more in the garden when we walked out for our customary tour. One had grown overnight into baseball bat size, as zucchini tends to do. We took them all, from babies to bats.

I decided that zucchini muffins or bread were in order. I paged through cookbooks and found a recipe I liked. Of course it only called for one cup of zucchini. I needed something that called for pounds of zucchini. But I settled for doubling the recipe.

The muffins were very good, though I was adapting a bread recipe and should have watched them more closely. They got a little brown on the bottoms and were a little dry. But they were tasty and I am going to make them again, maybe today. The bat sized zucchini grated into six cups and a slightly smaller one came out to five. I froze several bags of grated zucchini, ready for recipes. And we have eaten zucchini at least every other night with dinner for the last two weeks. I think we are down to two zucchini in the fridge. Any takers?

Whole Wheat Zucchini Muffins
Adapted by The Cook’s Life
From “Country Baking” by Ken Haedrich
Makes 12 muffins, easy to double

The original recipe was for bread, baked in an 8 ½ by 4 ½ inch loaf pan. Baking time was 50 minutes.

1 2/3 cups white whole wheat flour
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
2 eggs
1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional, I didn’t use it)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup grated zucchini (don’t peel it and don’t squeeze it dry, you want all the moisture)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease 12 muffin cups. Mix the white whole wheat flour, the all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs; then add the oil, brown sugar, lemon juice (if using) and vanilla. Mix well, then add the zucchini and mix again.

Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix gently until all the flour is mixed in and there are no dry streaks. Do not beat. Batter will be very thick.

Divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups. Bake 15-18 minutes, or until the centers are firm when pressed or a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Cool the muffins in the pan on a rack for 5-10 minutes, then remove from the pan and let cool on the rack. The muffins will get moister the next day from the zucchini. Store in an airtight container for a few days or freeze for longer storage.

 Download the recipe here.

Suburban Gardening Season

We have had an early spring, and even summer-like weather here in Missouri. I think most of the country has had warmer than usual weather. The weather is glorious, the flowers (and weeds) are happy, and the garden is calling.

We have planted lettuce three times now, once from seed and twice from transplants. And we have harvested not one leaf. The rabbits are getting nice and fat off our bounty. I have organic rabbit repellant, which has worked well in the past, but our frequent rains have made it a job to keep up with respraying. I saw a fat one in the garden this week, when the trees were still dripping rain from the latest storm. I ran across the yard, shrieking at it to get out of my lettuce. I’m sure the neighbors thought it was hilarious. It was satisfying, until I realized how crazy I looked.

At least these plants are growing back from the rabbits’ feasting.

We hesitated to put tomato plants out until the danger of frost was past, so we just got ours out a couple of weeks ago. They are starting to flower now and we are already impatient for homegrown tomatoes. I wish we had been more on the ball, and less cautious, so we would be closer to red, ripe tomatoes with flavor. Patience…

We have a small garden – 8 feet by 4 feet, so we only have three tomato plants. We have tried to grow four in the past, but they really don’t have enough room. Around the edges of what are now small plants, we will have basil, sweet peppers, garlic and some marigolds for color. In a good year that gives us enough produce to eat all the fresh tomatoes we want, make tomato sauce once or twice, and make pesto all summer, along with a good supply of fresh basil for cooking.

Of course, the last few years have not been good years. I think we have harvested a total of four tomatoes in the last three years. One year was too wet and cool, last year was too hot and dry and every year we battle the squirrels for the tomatoes. As soon as the fruit starts to turn they are out there, sitting on the tomato cages, eating like mindless little machines, spitting seeds out one side of their mouths and skins out of the other.

Rich is ready to give up on homegrown tomatoes, but I am determined. We’ll see if this year is any better. I can already taste the fresh tomatoes, warm from the sun, dripping off the edge of a BLT. Or diced and sautéed for a quick pasta sauce, complete with garlic and basil harvested minutes before we cook them. Is it July yet?