Slow-Roasting Tomatoes

 

Plum Ts and toes

This year I have a very big crop of Fiaschetto di Manduria, an Italian plum tomato from Uprising Seeds. I grew this variety for the first time last year, attracted by the catalog description emphasizing its adaptation to our climate, its 2-3 ounce size, productivity, suitability for drying and determinate habit. Because of the advertized determinate habit, I grew last year’s plants in the cold frame where they produced well despite outgrowing the cold frame’s protection, and the manageable-sized crop made nice dried tomatoes. This year I grew a few more plants, six instead of four, and planted them in the greenhouse. Yikes! In this warmer environment, they grew twice as tall (definitely not your standard determinate habit), spread out in all directions, and produced at least four times as many tomatoes as last year’s plants. Now I understand the warning in the catalog description: “These small, 2-3 oz, plum shaped tomatoes…hang like grapes from the bushy determinate plants in such prolific quantities that we eventually had to just stop picking them because we couldn’t keep up with the processing.”

Luckily, I haven’t had to give up on picking. Just as the plants were sinking under the weight of ripening tomatoes, I found a great way to keep up with the processing. A September 6, 2017 Food 52 column titled “Molly Wizenberg’s Slow-Roasted Tomatoes with Sea Salt & Ground Coriander” arrived in my email just as the harvest was getting overwhelming. I remembered hearing about this recipe from Orangette years ago and I was grateful to be reminded of it again. As the author of this Food 52 column notes: “This is the single most genius thing you can do to a tomato. They’re best and most outrageous when made with ripe Romas or other meaty types, but as Wizenberg points out, slow-roasting will bring out the tomato in even the pale and off-season, if you feel the need. Make a lot. They keep for a week in the fridge, and are just fine in the freezer. Adapted slightly from Orangette and A Homemade Life (Simon & Schuster, 2009).”

Here’s the recipe:

drying plum Ts set up

Makes as many tomatoes as you want to cook

 Ripe tomatoes, preferably Roma

Olive oil

Salt

Ground coriander

Heat the oven to 200° F. Wash the tomatoes, cut out the dry scarred spot from the stem with the tip of a paring knife, and halve the tomatoes lengthwise. Pour a bit of olive oil into a small bowl, dip a pastry brush into it, and brush the tomato halves lightly with oil. Place them, skin side down, on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle them with sea salt and ground coriander—about a pinch of each for every four to six tomato halves.

Bake the tomatoes until they shrink to about 1/3 of their original size but are still soft and juicy, 4 to 6 hours. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, and allow the tomatoes to cool to room temperature. Place them in an airtight container, and store them in the refrigerator.

Dried tomatoes in pans

Still warm on the baking sheet, these slow-roasted tomatoes are amazingly delicious. It’s very easy to stand there and snack on them. The ground coriander is a subtle but perfect flavor addition, providing slightly nutty, very slightly curry overtones to the tomato’s sweetness. They are lovely as an appetizer with cheese and bread. Lightly chopped or pureed, they would make a perfect sauce for pasta or roasted vegetables. I’ve already roasted enough tomatoes to pack eight pint-jars for the freezer and will fill a few more jars with the last of the harvest. They will be a highlight of this winter’s meals.

Dried tomatoes in jars

And if you don’t have plum tomatoes to roast, cherry tomatoes, larger plum tomatoes like Speckled Roman or Amish Paste, or even big, lumpy heirlooms like Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter or Pruden’s Purple all roast well with this technique. I roasted a pan of Sunchocola and Orange Paruche cherry tomatoes the other day, transforming them into concentrated tomato-flavor treats.

drying cherry Ts terracotta

I also tried small a pan of Speckled Roman and Amish Paste and one Mortgage Lifter, equally delicious and already packed into freezer jars for winter.

Will I grow Fiaschetto di Manduria in the greenhouse next year? Yes, but no more than six plants.

 

 

 

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Beans and Tomatoes

As summer turns toward fall, the kitchen garden is providing an abundance of beautiful beans and tomatoes.

Beans in basket

Tomatoes '17 on table

The simplest preparation of these two stars of the season relies on olive oil and salt. Beans cook quickly in boiling water, emerging tender but still slightly firm after no more than five minutes. Drained, drizzled with olive oil then sprinkled with salt, they are pretty in a shallow dish, their shapes round or flat and their colors green or yellow, their rich bean sweetness delicious hot or at room temperature. Tomatoes need no cooking, just slicing, halving or quartering. Arranged in a bowl, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and maybe a little basil, their shades of red, orange or yellow hint at their variations in tomato flavor, sweet and rich to bright and acid, each as good as the next.

tomtatoes and beans in bowls

Beans and tomatoes star on their own but lately I’ve been pairing them with starches, specifically potatoes with beans and tomatoes with bread, to make a main course salads. One of my favorite bean and potato dishes is David Tanis’s variation on the classic nicoise salad from his June 22, 2012 New York Times City Kitchen column. I modify his vinaigrette recipe depending on whether or not there are anchovy eaters in the crowd but even without this flavor, the mustardy, herby vinaigrette is robustly flavorful, just what the potatoes need as the base for earthy beans and rich hard-boiled eggs. This summer I’m using either Daisy Finn (right) or German Butterball (left) potatoes, the varieties I’m growing this year.

Potatoes in basket

Bean Potato salad

As with many recipes for summer potato salads, this recipe invites additions and substitutions, but while I make some slight variations, adding cherry tomatoes or fresh peppers, I but don’t stray too far from this great recipe.

There are as many variations on the Italian tomato bread salad panzanella, as there are variations on the French salade nicoise. The recipe I use as my starting point comes from Orcas Island chef Christina Orchid who published it in the Islands Weekly years ago. Here’s the recipe from her website http://redrabbitfarm.com/classes/:

Panzanella: Italian style bread salad.

1 loaf hearty artisanal style French or Italian bread cut into 1 inch cubes.

1/2 cup grated Reggiano parmesan cheese or grana panda

2 pints garden ripe cherry tomatoes cut in half

1 cup basil, chopped

1 small red onion cut in thin slices and quartered

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

 1/4 cup superior quality red wine vinegar

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

 On a large sheet pan toss the bread cubes with enough olive oil to thoroughly moisten all, then toss with the grated cheese, and toast bread cubes in a 440 degree oven for 5 minutes or until crispy and golden.  Reserve.  Cut the tomatoes in half from the stem end and toss with the onions and red wine vinegar.  Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.  Just before service toss the bread cubes together with the tomato mixture and the chopped basil.  Drizzle with Olive Oil and toss until all is moistened.  Garnish with a drizzle of the balsamic vinegar.  Serves 8.

If you follow her recipe exactly, this panzanella provides a transporting mix of textures and flavors. Over the years, though, variations have crept into the panzanella I make. The biggest change currently is that instead of white flour French or Italian bread, I use  either seeded whole wheat bread or whole wheat walnut levain, breads I make from the Della Fattoria Bread cookbook http://dellafattoria.com. I love the way the wheat, seed and walnut flavors meld with the sweetly acid tomato flavors.

Bread on rack

The recipe technique of thoroughly moistening the bread cubes with olive oil then tossing them with grated Parmesan and toasting at high heat works wonderfully with this more hearty bread. For tomatoes, I often use juicy full-sized tomatoes like Cherokee Carbon or Cherokee Purple in addition to cherry tomatoes. The extra juice in these larger tomatoes soaks into the toasted bread cubes, softening them but not making them mushy. Sometimes I omit the red onion and use chives or instead of onion use a little chopped garlic but I always use basil. And because high summer tomato flavors are so complex and wonderful on their own, I often omit the red wine vinegar and the balsamic and rely instead on tomato juices for the acid. Despite these many variations that have evolved over the years, I still think of this panzanella as Christina’s and am grateful to her for sharing it. It’s a perfect way to celebrate the peak tomatoes of summer.

Panzanella green dish

 

French Potato and Green Bean Salad  David Tanis, City Kitchen, New York Times

 

  • 2 pounds medium potatoes, like Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large thyme sprig
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped anchovy
  • 1 tablespoon chopped capers
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound small French beans, or small romano or wax beans
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced chives
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped basil
  • 6 to 8 anchovy fillets, optional, for garnish
  • 8 ounces arugula, optional

 

  • Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes, bay leaf and thyme branch. Cook at a brisk simmer until the potatoes are firm but easily pierced with a skewer, about 30 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly.
  • While the potatoes are cooking, make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, stir together the garlic, anchovy, capers, mustard and vinegar. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisk again before using if the dressing separates.
  • When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skins with a paring knife and carefully cut into pieces 1/4-inch thick, or slightly thicker. Put the slices in a low bowl, season lightly with salt and pepper and add half the vinaigrette. Using your hands, gently coat the potatoes with the vinaigrette, taking care not to break them. Cover and set aside at room temperature.
  • Top and tail the beans. Simmer in salted water until firm-tender, about 3 to 4 minutes, then cool under running water and pat dry.
  • To cook the eggs, bring a medium pot of water to a rapid boil. Add the eggs and cook for 8 minutes for a somewhat soft-centered yolk or 9 minutes for a firmer yolk. Cool the eggs immediately in ice water, then crack and peel. Cut each egg in half and season lightly with salt and pepper.
  • When ready to serve, season the beans with salt and pepper, then dress with the remaining vinaigrette. (Reserve 2 tablespoons vinaigrette for the arugula, if using.)
  • Combine the dressed beans and potatoes, using hands to toss, and pile onto a platter. Sprinkle with chives, parsley and basil and arrange the eggs over the top. Garnish with anchovy fillets, if desired. Dress the arugula and send it to the table separately.

A Good Year for Fennel

Fennel growing '17

The fennel in the kitchen garden has been especially good this year, large, rounded bulbs that never bolted, tender and sweetly anise-flavored. Perhaps our consistently cool late spring and cool early summer contributed to these perfectly formed bulbs. In a February 2015 column on growing fennel, writer and gardener Barbara Damrosch explains that fluctuations in temperature with spells of either very cold or very warm weather could cause fennel to skip the bulb phase and shoot up a seed stalk, leaving a flat fan where a bulb should be. In the same article, Damrosch also adds that: “unwanted bolting is triggered by a protracted cold spell outside after germination in a warm place inside.” Maybe I was lucky with weather in late May when I transplanted fennel starts I’d planted inside in early April.

Or another reason for these beautiful bulbs might be the varieties I planted this year, Preludio from Johnny’s and Mantovano from Adaptive Seeds, both recommended by Damrosch who explained that they were bred not to bolt. Or maybe it was a combination of weather and variety, with a little good luck as well. Whatever the reasons, we’ve been enjoying fennel since early July and I’ve just started more fennel seeds indoors in hopes of as good a fall crop.

Fennel:fronds on table

This year the mandoline has been my go-to tool for preparing the kitchen garden’s early summer fennel crop. Its very sharp blade slices whole bulbs into 1/8-inch slices in seconds and the thin slices of raw fennel make a delicious salad dressed with lemon, salt and olive oil. Fennel mandoline

Fennel salad '17Parsley and black olives are tasty additions as are lightly steamed sugar snap peas. I’ve also added thinly sliced raw fennel to radicchio salads and to grain salads of red quinoa, emmer farro or einka farro. The touch of crispy fennel flavor enhances all these dishes.

Looking for more ways to prepare fennel but still play with the mandoline, I turned to Alice Water’s Chez Panisse Vegetables (1996) and discovered her recipe for caramelized fennel (page 155). Sautéed in hot olive oil, crisp, thin slices of fennel soften and caramelize at the edges and their licorice flavor mellows to a deeper sweetness. They are delicious hot from the pan or at room temperature.

Fennel saute

Caramelized Fennel

2 large fennel bulbs

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

 Trim stalks from fennel bulbs, and remove any tough outer bulb layers.  Cut really large bulbs in half vertically or leave smaller bulbs whole, then cut into 1/8 inch thick slices. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the olive oil.  When oil is hot, add the sliced fennel.  (If necessary, cook the fennel in two batches; the fennel should brown, not steam.) Cook, tossing occasionally, for 8-10 minutes until the fennel is caramelized and tender.  Season with salt and pepper.  Drain any excess oil and serve.  (This holds well and can easily be reheated; no additional oil is necessary.)

This technique was a great discovery but it did pose a dilemma: which way to serve fennel, raw or sautéed? Both are so delicious. We’ve settled on alternating or, even better, simply serving both, tossed together into a salad or side by side.

Fennel 2 ways

Equinox Thoughts

Half of the foliage filling the kitchen garden is signaling the end of spring and summer vegetables, yellowing corn stalks, withered squash leaves and leafless pole bean vines. The other half signals the rise of autumn and winter crops, robust tops of parsnips, carrots, turnips and celeriac, full leaves of kales, chard, leeks, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, all in healthy shades of green.

fall-equinox-yellow

fall-equinox-green

fall-equinox-green-leeksPoised between seasons, the garden at the autumn equinox encourages a look ahead to the meals promised by the green side, but just as much it encourages a look back at the garden year so far, at spring plantings and summer harvests and at the surprises and discoveries that this garden year has offered.

Sunchocola cherry tomato is my vegetable surprise of the summer. It has a kind of silly name but the Territorial Seed Company description tempted me to try it: “The 1 1/4 inch round, henna colored fruit are juicy and divinely sweet, with an added depth of slightly smoky, low acid flavor that’s unusual in a cherry tomato. Rambling indeterminate plants yield generous trusses of fruit early in the season and continue for the long haul.” All true!

tomato-sunchocola

tomato-sunchocola-vine

It’s a perfect cherry tomato, imagine a mini Cherokee Purple, and the vines are spectacular, requiring a ladder now for harvest. Eaten out of hand, halved in salads or, when there are just too many to eat fresh, roasted into a syrupy sauce, it’s truly delicious and has earned a permanent place in my greenhouse.

Then there is summer-grown kale. As I wrote in May, spring-seeded kale was surprising in its succulence and flavor, slowly converting me from my bias toward frost-sweetened kale. The conversion became complete this summer. We ate kale salads every day for lunch from kale that volunteered throughout the spring and early summer and grew into robust plants producing tender leaves. I still planted a winter kale bed in mid-July, and still look forward to frost-sweetened kale, but summer kale has been an unexpected treat.

So many pears this year, how to make time to dry them all? Our extra-abundant crop left me looking for ways to speed up the time it takes to peel and slice them for the dehydrator trays. I remembered that my friend Debbie uses a mandoline to slice pears for drying and that she even leaves the skins on. In one of the biggest equipment discoveries of the summer, we tried the mandoline and it works, cutting our preparation time from over an hour to fifteen minutes. And it doesn’t take that much more time to peel off the skin before slicing the pears with the mandoline. Ours is a Swissmar Borner V-1001 V-Slicer Plus Mandoline.

Another equipment innovation this summer was an electric raccoon fence. After losing most of our corn crop last year to raccoons, we knew we needed to be more prepared for predators this year. Our friends Maxine and Debbie showed us the electric fence they use to foil raccoons and gave us the Premier 1 Supplies catalog so we could order some. It will be a few years before the corn harvest pays back the cost of the fence, but it’s completely worth it to have worry-free corn harvests. In fact, the corn fence was so successful that I may plant a little less corn next year.

Deciding how much to plant each spring is a puzzle I return to every year. This year, I radically reduced the number of storage crops I planted: half a bed of potatoes instead of a whole bed, the same for onions, only one bed of winter squash instead of two beds, the same for bush dry beans. Looking back on the harvest from this vantage point of the autumn equinox, I think I made the right choice. Harvest was certainly quicker, storage easier. It won’t take so long to shell the dry beans. I made the change because I’d noticed that, in our mild winters, leeks and winter roots growing in the garden were more tempting than onions, potatoes and squash stored in the shed. By spring there were still storage vegetables left, some of them spoiled. Maybe winter will surprise me this year with extra cold temperatures and some crop failures, but it’s a gamble I’m willing to take, one I’ll assess next year at the spring equinox.

 

Summer Meals

In this busy summer of guests and dinner parties, I find myself reverting again and again to the simplest preparations of the summer vegetables bursting from the kitchen garden right now. Tomatoes, green beans, eggplant, peppers, fennel, first harvests of potatoes and onions can all go from garden to table with very little effort.

Vegetables in baskets

Sliced tomatoes drizzled with a little olive oil, sprinkled with salt and maybe garnished with fresh basil fill a platter quickly, colorful cherry tomato halves mixing with slices of red and yellow heirlooms.

Tomatoes in blue bowl '16

Green and yellow, skinny and wide pole beans cook in three minutes in boiling water and provide a lovely tangle of colors and textures in a shallow bowl.

Beans in vietri bowl '16

Eggplant quartered lengthwise, brushed with olive oil and roasted at 475 for about 20 minutes then pureed in the food processor with garlic, lemon zest and juice, ground cumin and tahini makes a lovely spread or dip, smooth flesh mixing with bits of charred skin. Chunks of potatoes and red onions, squares of red and yellow peppers and thick slices of fennel all tossed in a little olive oil, lightly salted and spread in a single layer on sheet pans roast in a 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes. Served warm or at room temperature they make a colorful, flavorful potato salad.

Vegetables summer on island '16

The pleasure in these meals starts with filling harvest baskets in the cool, early morning air and ends in the evening with friends around the sun-warmed table. Time in the kitchen is minimal, leaving the rest of the day open. Later on, when the calendar clears a bit, there will be time for more complex preparations but for now the flavors of summer nourish us with very little effort from me.

Kale Lessons

I’ve always planted kale in mid-to-late July and watched the plants grow into robust, dark green towers of kale by October. But I always waited to harvest any until the plants went through a frosty night or two and the leaves became deliciously sweet. The leaves before the frost seemed thin and almost bitter compared to the sturdy, sweet, post-frost leaves.

Over this past late fall and early winter, however, kale plants, clusters and singles, volunteered in various spots throughout the garden, along edges of beds where seeds had dropped and through cover crops from seeds that must have survived the compost heat.  Curious about how they’d taste, I let them mature. Kale volunteers

Kale volunteerMy prejudice for July-planted, fall frost-sweetened kale kept my expectations low but I’ve been amazed by how succulent and sweet these later appearing, later maturing kale leaves are. The only frost they got in this past year’s mild winter was when they were quite small plants.

The July-planted kale, which in its last weeks of early May growth gave us many meals of delicious flower buds, is finally in the compost bin but the volunteer kale plants are still providing welcome salads and even some flower buds. And more volunteers have sprouted here and there in the past few weeks. I’ll let them mature too and see how they taste as they grow in the frost-free summer. And if they taste as good as I’m hoping they will, I’ll change my kale planting plan for the year ahead to try to mimic what volunteer seeds and weather patterns have taught me. We may end up eating kale year-round instead of only from October to May.

Kitchen gardener’s habits need to be nudged in new directions now and then, prejudices and rules challenged. With our warming climate, kale may be the first of many vegetables that will cause me to rethink planting calendars and favorite varieties. I’ll pay closer attention.

 

 

 

Hot, Hot Summer

Garden view 8:15It’s been a very hot summer here in the Pacific Northwest with many days over 80 degrees, and our kitchen garden has offered lots of indicators of this unusual weather pattern. There have been a lot of “firsts.”

I just double-checked my harvest notes to confirm that I really did pick a Cherokee Purple tomato on June 27 and a Brandywine a few days later. It’s usually mid-July before we’re eating tomato sandwiches for lunch. Peppers usually turn red in mid-August but this year I started harvesting sweet, red Carmen the third week of July. Green beans and eggplant were early too, so early that the carrots and beets that usually fill the weeks before and after July 4th got passed over for these summer treats.

Corn thrives in heat and we were looking forward an amazingly early August harvest of a crop we usually harvest in September. So apparently were the raccoons. For the first time in the twenty-two years that I’ve grown corn here raccoons demolished my crop, first the sweet corn and then a week or so later the flint corn. Was it the heat that produced a crop that especially tempted the raccoons or had their usual food sources dried out? Whatever the reason, next year whether it’s hot again or cool I will follow my friends Debbie and Maxine’s plan and get a special raccoon fence.

Storage crops like shallots and onions, dried beans and winter squash can be a challenge to harvest before autumn rains in cooler years. Not a problem this year! For the first time ever the onion stalks toppled over without my help and the onions cured in the field. Usually mid-August onions still have green stems and I end up pulling onions and bringing them into the green house to cure. This morning I just took onions from the field to the storage room.
Onions cured in bedDry beans like Black urtle beans and white Drabo usually dry on the vine but not until mid-to-late September when I’m anxiously watching for rain that could cause the crop to mildew. This year they are dry on the vine now. I’ve just harvested Drabo and will harvest Black Turtle soon.  Who knows, I may even find time to shell them before winter.

Beans Drabo dryBeans, black dryBeautiful orange, green and dusty blue winter squash are emerging through the dying vines in the squash beds, early like all the other storage crops. As my friend Diane said the other day, maybe the squash will actually cure in the field this year. In years past, I’ve brought them inside to a warm place for a few weeks to cure before putting them in cool storage. Maybe this year, like the onions, they will go right from garden to storage.

Winter squash 8:15

All these harvest firsts are exciting but also alarming. Are my early harvest dates a kitchen garden indicator of the global warming I know is happening? Will this summer’s temperatures become the “new normal”? It will be next garden year before I know what these firsts mean but I’m hoping this year is just a novelty.