Tomatoes and basil

While technology and the advances of modern civilization have given us many useful and invaluable innovations, the year-round tomato is not one of them.

While technology and the advances of modern civilization have given us many useful and invaluable innovations, the year-round tomato is not one of them.

Go into a grocery store in the dead of winter, and you’ll find stacks of large, beefsteak-type tomatoes, shipped in from Mexico or Chile. Usually a sickly shade of pinkish-orange, these specimens have little in common with a real summer tomato: plump with vibrant color and a fragrance you can smell from an arm’s length away.

Ahead of their time, a few local restaurants are so devoted to the fresh and local idea that these establishments refuse to use tomatoes when not in season.

That season is here, and though not as long as most would like, it offers at least another month to gorge on some of our nearby farmers’ best specimens.

If you can afford it, shop for tomatoes at local farmers’ markets. Varieties are exotic and picked usually the night before. Prices are better at local markets, which have finally realized that customers prefer local produce. Inspect those you’re considering carefully, especially at the larger chains. The fruit should have a hint of that sharp aroma, even if not completely ripe.

Buying a firm tomato is not a bad idea if it is needed in a few days. Store in a brown bag in a cool spot and don’t stack, checking periodically for ripeness. Putting a ripe tomato in the fridge will transform the interior and skin into a gushy, watery mess. Do this only to save fruit intended for later cooking.

If you find yourself with too many ripe tomatoes, make sauce and freeze it. Put a bit of olive oil in a pan and cut the tomatoes in large chunks, throwing away the core. Add a bit of sea salt and cook over medium- low heat until the sauce is as thick as you’d like. Cool completely before transferring to freezer-safe containers. Do this and you’ll extend the flavors of summer far into winter.

And basil, of course, needs tomatoes like peanut butter needs jelly. Fortunately the markets are overflowing with the stuff this time of year, and it’s a steal at about $1.50 per bunch.

Give these classic recipes a try, and make sure to get your fix of these summer flavors before they are gone.

Caprese Salad (serves 4)

This is an Italian classic, served in restaurants across the globe.

3 tomatoes (medium round ones are best), cored and cut into 1/4 inch crosswise slices

1 small tub fresh mozzarella cheese, ovoline (oval) shaped, cut lengthwise, 1/4 inch slices

1 tablespoon sea salt

12 tablespoon fresh ground pepper

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Fresh basil leaves, pick about a dozen large whole leaves

Set out plates, and arrange tomatoes, cheese and basil, in that order, stacking each slice diagonally on top of the next, moving across the plate. Do this three times. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar.

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup with Basil Pesto (serves 6-8)

This recipe freezes nicely, and is a great way to enjoy an abundance of ripe tomatoes. Omit the last step (adding the stock) and you have a lovely roasted tomato sauce, perfect for pasta or any other use.

3 lbs. tomatoes, cored and cut into rough 1-1 フ_ inch chunks

6-8 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons sea salt

2 teaspoons fresh ground pepper

2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock

For pesto:

フ_ lb. fresh basil

3 cloves garlic

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

フ_ cup parmesan cheese (optional)

フ_ lemon, squeezed for juice

2 teaspoons sea salt

1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

For soup, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss to coat tomato chunks and whole cloves of garlic in olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread out in a roasting pan, lined with foil for easy clean-up. Roast in oven until lightly charred at edges. Allow to cool slightly, then puree in a blender or food processor until desired consistency. Pour into a large pot on stove, and add stock, heating gently at low heat. Taste to correct seasoning. Eat immediately, drizzling with pesto before serving.

For pesto, combine all ingredients in blender or food processor, and process until smooth. Taste to correct seasoning. This is a recipe meant for tinkering-if you like extra garlic flavor or would like a handful of roasted nuts in your pesto, feel free! Keep any extra in the refrigerator for adding to sandwiches, salads or pasta. Freezes well, too.

Open faced tomato and goat cheese sandwiches

This is a fantastic quickie lunch after a morning at the market!

Thick slices of country bread

1 whole garlic clove (optional)

Goat cheese or chevre, or any mild, soft cheese you like




Whole basil leaves

Toast slices of bread and, if desired, rub surface with a whole garlic clove for a kick of extra flavor. Spread cheese, top with a slice of tomato, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Finish with a whole basil leaf, and serve.