Jun 7, 201809:58 AM
Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene
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.