You Say Tomato

P1080378And I say tomate. They are at the height of their glory here in France these days, and we are enjoying them in so many ways.

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The uglier the better.

A summer tomato bears no resemblance to the winter hothouse versions, which are nothing but ghosts of tomatoes, lacking flesh, with their watery insides dripping from mere skeletons of tomato-ness. A summer tomato is full and fleshy. It’s sweet and juicy and substantial enough to eat alone.

But we do like to gild the lily.

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That big yellow-orange one on the left is a “pineapple tomato.” The BEST. Those sweet potatoes got turned into sweet potato-sage gnocchi by our kid/chef. But that’s another story.

IMG_4376A little onion. A little garlic. A little olive oil. Some parsley. Or basil. Or thyme. A little breadcrumb crust to soak up the olive oil-enhanced juices. So many possibilities. It’s a good thing, because when tomatoes are in season, we eat them a couple of times a week. Same as with asparagus, or strawberries. In season or not at all. So make that season count. And do not refrigerate!

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These tomatoes have never seen a refrigerator. Straight from the garden.

I had promised a while back to include the recipe for Christine’s tomates provençales from our cooking lesson. Here it is, at last.P1080367

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Tomatoes and beans from a local garden. The beans are “hand-picked,” it says.

IMG_4375How many tomatoes you need depends on their size (and what else you’re serving). If you have big ones, you might want just half per person, or one per person. If you have small tomatoes, like the roma variety, you might want one or two per person. We are tomato gluttons, and we like having leftovers, so I figure on a big tomato per person or its equivalent in smaller ones.

Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit (180 Celsius).P1080327Cut the tomatoes in half. Score them, sprinkle with a little salt, and turn them upside down to drain for 15 minutes or more. You can put them on a cooling rack or a flat strainer or just on paper towels. P1080322Chop up a big bunch of parsley. It makes no difference whether it’s flat or curly. Chop up two to eight garlic cloves, depending on how much you love garlic (there is no right or wrong in this recipe). The chopping is greatly aided by a food processor. Christine had a small one–a spice grinder–that she brought to the cooking class. I have only a knife and limited patience, so my parsley here is too big. You want it to be fine so that, when you mix it with the garlic and a generous half cup (15 cl) of olive oil, you end up with a green slurry. It’s good on lots of things–roasted carrots, chicken, potatoes… Persillade is to savory food as diamond studs are to accessories–it goes with almost anything.P1080331Place the tomatoes cut-side up in an oiled baking dish. Spoon the persillade over them and roast them for an hour. They should get caramelized but not hard or crusty.P1080335You also can cook them faster–20-30 minutes–in a hot oven (400 Fahrenheit/200 Celsius), but they don’t get as caramelized as the low and slow method. Also, the persillade risks browning too much (sometimes called “burning”). On the other hand, sometimes we don’t have an hour to get dinner on the table.

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Obviously, I did it the fast way here. 

Other tomato alternatives:P1080517

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This one was better caramelized…but I forgot to take a photo immediately. Why? Well, dinner was ready. Priorities. We ARE in France, after all.

I like to slice them, because it’s pretty, and I can tuck thinly sliced onions in between. Top with olive oil, or with breadcrumbs and olive oil, or with breadcrumbs and parsley and olive oil, or with persillade. You have options. This version benefits from low and slow because the sliced tomatoes aren’t drained, and the juices need time to evaporate.

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Breadcrumb + parsley + garlic version. Drizzle with olive oil.

Did you know that if you have burned something in a pot or pan, you can get it off easily by squirting a little ketchup on it? Just let it sit–overnight, maybe a couple of days. It will come off eventually! The acid in the ketchup works off the burned material without scrubbing (or scratching your pan). The wonders of tomatoes never cease.

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Tomatoes!

tomatoesSeptember is when the market is full of big, ugly tomatoes. The best kind. The inside is solid flesh. They have flavors, each variety contributing a different perfume.

tomato-slicesSeptember is also when the weather cools down so that indoor cooking again becomes possible. We don’t have air conditioning nor do we want it. But when it’s 95 degrees outside and 75 inside because of careful juggling of shutters and opening of windows at night, you don’t want to mess up your hard-won coolness. With day temperatures in the upper 70s and nights in the 60s, the stove can be used again.

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“Sale of garden plants” says the sign. The door on the left leads to a garage full of crates of vegetables.

The abundance of tomatoes at the season’s lowest prices (about €1 per kilo) coincides with ideal conditions for cooking. We have a number of gardens where fresh produce is sold out of a barn or hangar daily—no need to wait for the market. This is sometimes a good option, but then, we don’t go to the market just for vegetables but also for the social aspect.

However, the market involves a long walk back to the car, dragging the shopping cart. If 10 kg of tomatoes were in the cart, they’d be sauce before arriving at the car. So for the large quantities we head to the garden source.

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Chez Fufu, the vegetable gardener. Get a load of that fireplace!

Once you have homemade tomato sauce, the industrial version tastes strangely…industrial. I haven’t canned—you need to maintain a certain level of acidity to prevent botulism, and my resistance to following instructions makes me leery of risking food poisoning. Instead, I put the sauce in zipper bags and freeze them.

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Just part of Batch No. 1, millesime 2016.

Also, I put a lot more than tomatoes in my sauce. It’s an opportunity to toss in extra nutrients from other vegetables. So besides lots of onions and garlic, I add carrots, red peppers, beets, butternut squash—whatever’s on offer at the garden. Squash and beets make the sauce sweet without added sugar.

An aside here about stoves. We had gas but a few years ago got rid of our propane tank and switched to induction. What a dream! The first time we used it, to make pasta, we turned it on and off like kids, amazed at how it went from not boiling to a rolling boil to not boiling in a second.

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Cristel cookware, made in France.

I raved about it to French friends, who informed me they had induction for years. Count on the French to be on top of the best cooking technology. Induction is as quick and versatile as gas, but with advantages: it works via magnets, so anything nonmagnetic on the stovetop doesn’t heat up, even if the stove is turned on.

I did have to replace my nonmagnetic copper pans with new ones. They are Cristel, a French brand, whose ads say “buy once for life.” There’s a removable handle so they stack very compactly, yet the lips for the handle are big enough that I often don’t even need the longer handle. An excellent investment.

washedHere’s a recipe of sorts:

10 kg of tomatoes (about 22 pounds). Go for real ones: UGLY. Not the perfect, tasteless hybrids that are raised on chemicals.

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thyme

4 onions

10 cloves of garlic

A nice handful of fresh herbs (I cut some from my garden: mostly thyme that I rip off the stems, but also parsley, basil and oregano).

4 red peppers

4 carrots

1 butternut squash

1-2 big beets

choppedCut out the core of the tomatoes and chop them roughly. Some people peel them but that is just too much work!

Chop up everything else into about half-inch pieces. You want them to cook through.

Brown the onion and garlic in a tiny big of olive oil. Then dump everything else into a gigantic pot (I have to use two), cover and bring to a boil. I don’t add water—the tomatoes will let out plenty of liquid.

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Simmering

Reduce the heat to a simmer. This is where induction shines. You can put a pot on at the lowest temperature to simmer and it won’t burn on the bottom. Love it. Stir a few times per hour.

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Reduced by half. Almost no liquid left, which makes a nice, thick sauce.

Let it cook for several hours, until the volume has reduced by at least half. Cook longer if you like thicker sauce.

blenderUse an immersion blender to purée it, or else let it cool completely before running it in batches through the blender or food processor. Anyway, you need the sauce to be cool before it goes into the freezer.

spooning-in-bagTo put it in bags: put your bag in a plastic container that’s about the right size. This will keep the bag from flopping over as you’re trying to fill it. Use a measuring cup to ladle the sauce so you have an idea of how much is in each bag. Ideally, enough for a dinner.

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Suggestions/comments/other recipes welcome!

Tomato tarte tatin

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Tarte tatin–an apple upside-down pie–is a classic French dessert. But the same idea can work well with other things. Especially tomatoes, so bountiful in summer.

The beauty of this tarte, besides being beautiful, is that it’s good cold. So you can make it ahead.

This isn’t so much a recipe as a procedure. It works very well with cherry tomatoes, and you can play with different colors or all the same. I didn’t have quite enough cherry tomatoes, so I sliced a pretty yellow “ananas” (pineapple) variety to fill in. Remember, the bottom is what you see.

Tomato Tarte Tatin

3 cups of cherry tomatoes (enough to cover the bottom of a pie pan)

2 onions, sliced thinly

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 teaspoons of fresh thyme

1/2 cup black olives, sliced

olive oil, salt, pepper

2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar

a pie crust (not in the pan but rolled up, if you’re buying premade)

Make your pie dough. I wasn’t thrilled with how it turned out, so you’re on your own for that recipe. Pre-made works just fine.

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Showing off my awesome pastry board that was made for me when I was born (!!!) by my great-uncle. That’s some baby gift, eh? And it’s been useful for a very long time.

While the dough is chilling/resting, assemble the insides. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

P1040133Gently brown the onion and garlic in the olive oil. This works best if you have a pie pan that can go on the stove. My range is induction, and this metal pan works on it. That means all the caramelized goodness stays there. If you have a glass or ceramic pie dish, that’s OK–you just have to transfer the onions to it–you can put them on top of the tomatoes, which is prettier anyway.

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Sprinkle on the olives, thyme, salt and pepper. Deglaze the pan with a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar.

Arrange the tomatoes.

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Cover with the pie crust, tucking it down around the sides.

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Bake for about half an hour–until the crust is brown.

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Serving tip: Leave it in the pan like this until you’re ready to serve. Otherwise, all the tomato juices will soak into the crust, making it soggy. Place a plate over the pan and flip when you’re ready to take it to the table.