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Jun 7, 201809:58 AM
Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

Tomatoes

I have had mixed luck growing tomatoes over the years. When I first started, I tried growing them in pots, and largely succeeded only in nurturing a host of inchworms and caterpillars. I think I got two tomatoes that year, which did not make up for the amount of effort I spent in removing pests, watering and generally stressing about my plants.

Since then I’ve had better results. There have been years when I’ve had too many tomatoes to reasonably use, though I pretty much used them anyway. This year my cherry tomatoes are producing, but the Creole and Roma plants have been spotty. Fortunately, my father in law has been sending us tomatoes from his garden, in return for which I’ve given him gazpacho.

When they’re in season, there’s not much better than a sliced ripe tomato with a bit of salt and maybe a little good olive oil. But that doesn’t make for much of a recipe, so I’ve got a couple of other ideas.

First, gazpacho. It’s too simple to list out as an actual recipe: to a blender or food processor add several ripe tomatoes that you’ve cored and if you’re picky skinned and seeded. Add about half that volume of peeled cucumbers (and again, seed them if you’re picky). Toss in a chopped green bell or other relatively mild green pepper (and here, you need to seed it) and a clove or two of garlic. Pour in a dash of sherry vinegar and about the same amount of torn, stale bread as the cucumbers, then puree it while adding olive oil to taste – and by “to taste” I mean, “a lot.” When it’s smooth, taste again and season with salt and perhaps some more vinegar. Strain it through a sieve if you like, and thin it with ice water if the texture is too thick. You can add other flavorings, too – hot chiles are good, for example.

Second is a quick sauce I use for paneer, a firm Indian cheese that doesn’t melt when heated. Peel three or four tomatoes and squeeze them into a sieve set over a bowl to catch the juices. Chop roughly and set aside.

Grate a tablespoon of ginger and about the same amount of garlic, then finely chop a chile and 3-4 sprigs of cilantro, with the stems (enough for about 3 tablespoons of the latter). Mince a small onion or a couple of shallots and dump the whole lot into a blender or food processor and puree.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil or ghee in a saucepan and add whatever spices suit your fancy; for the paneer dish, I usually add cumin and coriander seed. Let the spices pop for a second then add the paste. Cook for a couple of minutes (and beware, if your fat is at the right temperature, the water in the paste will spit and pop at you) then reduce the heat and let it reduce a bit. Add the tomatoes and the reserved tomato liquid and let it cook on low for about 20 minutes. At this point I usually bring my stick blender to the party and give it a good whizz, but if you prefer your sauce chunky, skip that step and season with salt to taste. If you’re cooking paneer, add the cubed cheese at this point and let it heat through; otherwise, you’re done.

I could write recipes for tomatoes for hours, but I am needed elsewhere. By all means, though, please suggest other interesting uses for tomatoes in the comments.  

 

 

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Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

about

Robert D. Peyton was born at Ochsner Hospital and, apart from four years in Tennessee for college and three years in Baton Rouge for law school, has lived in New Orleans his entire life. He is a strong believer in the importance of food to our local culture and in the importance of our local food culture, generally. He has practiced law since 1994, and began writing about food on his website, www.appetites.us, in 1999. He mainly wrote about partying that year, obviously.

In 2006, New Orleans Magazine named Appetites the best food blog in New Orleans. The choice was made relatively easy due to the fact that Appetites was, at the time, the only food blog in New Orleans.

He began writing the Restaurant Insider column for New Orleans Magazine in 2007 and has been published in St. Charles Avenue, Louisiana Life and New Orleans Homes and Lifestyles magazines. He is the only person he knows personally who has been interviewed in GQ magazine, albeit for calling Alan Richman a nasty name. He is not proud of that, incidentally. (Yes, he is.)

Robert’s maternal grandmother is responsible for his love of good food, and he has never since had fried chicken or homemade biscuits as good as hers. He developed his curiosity about restaurant cooking in part from the venerable PBS cooking show "Great Chefs" and has an extensive collection of cookbooks, many of which do not require coloring, and some of which have not been defaced.

Robert lives in Mid-City with his wife Eve and their three children, and is fond of receiving comments and emails. Please humor him.

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