When it comes to seasonal food, perhaps the most anxiously awaited time of the year is tomato season. That much lauded flavor of the season’s first vine ripened tomato, followed by an endless supply of delicious mouth watering morsels for weeks to come, is enough to give most of us hope through the cold months of winter and the early rains of spring. Timing of the tomato also coincides with the first wash of summer heat, which is made more bearable by a mouth full of juicy sweetness to counter the sun's burning rays.
Perhaps the tomato's popularity resides in its amazing versatile nature. Raw, cooked, canned, frozen, puréed, diced, sliced or whole, tomatoes seemingly fit into pretty much any cuisine, providing us with an endless supply of culinary choices.
The tomato’s versatility is second only to its varietal offerings. Available in thousands of different types that vary in size, shape, color and flavor, tomatoes offer a little something for everyone at the table. Native to the western portion of South America, the tomato was first introduced to Europeans sometime during the 16th century. Originally thought to be poisonous, perhaps because of its resemblance to the deadly nightshade or perhaps because all other parts of the tomato plant, aside from the fruit, contain toxic alkaloids, tomatoes did not gain popularity in colonial North America until the early nineteenth century.
Tomatoes are a great source of many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Well regarded for their cardiovascular support and anti-cancer benefits, tomatoes have also been linked to a reduced risk of certain neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, and are often included in weight reduction or cholesterol controlling diets.
When shopping for tomatoes, choose ones that have rich colors and smooth skins. Tomatoes stored at room temperature, away from direct sunlight, will retain their flavor and nutritional benefits for up to a week, depending on how ripe they were when they were purchased. Over ripened tomatoes can be stored in the refrigerator for several days, if necessary. Fresh whole tomatoes or chopped tomatoes can also be frozen for future use in sauces, soups or cooked dishes.
When tomato season is in full swing, it is often hard to keep up with the copious amounts of fruit available from the garden or at the farmers market. Tomatoes can be added to pretty much any dish or they do well when utilized as the main focus of a simple snack or meal. Try a ramped up version of the traditional BLT by topping thick whole grain bread with fresh mozzarella, several basil leaves and a few slices of oven roasted tomatoes. Press the sandwich firmly and heat in a lightly oiled skillet until the mozzarella is melted. For an added taste sensation, top with a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar by bringing a half cup of balsamic vinegar to boil over medium heat and allowing it to simmer for 8 – 10 minutes, until it is reduced to a syrupy deliciousness.
For a quick side dish, or healthy main attraction, halve a bowl full of cherry tomatoes, add a decent amount of fresh chopped basil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then toss with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar mixture.
Canning tomatoes is always a great option, but for those of us a little more culinarily challenged, slow roasting or pickling are great ways to preserve the seasonal bounty for future use.
To slow roast tomatoes, halve cherry or grape tomatoes or slice Roma tomatoes and spread in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Sprinkle intermittently with several cloves of garlic, top with fresh rosemary and a dusting of salt and pepper. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil over everything and roast in a pre-heated oven at 225 degrees Fahrenheit for about three hours, or until the tomatoes are shriveled and dry.
Serve with your favorite dish, or refrigerate for a later date in canning jars topped with olive oil.
This week at Cottin’s Hardware Farmers Market you can choose from a wide variety of heirloom and hybrid tomatoes, including Beefsteak, Roma, Sungold, and various other varieties. You will also find a great selection of summer squash, cucumbers, potatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, garlic, onions, mushrooms, meat and dairy products and more.
My Neighbor Steve will be on hand with his delicious ready made Basil Tomato Sauce, which is perfect served over a steaming plate of Fieldstone Orchards Spaghetti Squash!
Mr. Bacon BBQ will be the hot food vendor for the day and Mojo National will set the mood with their stirring Django Jazz instrumentals. Hit the sidewalk sales early and then head on over to Cottin’s for a cold Free State beer, a taste of BBQ and a bushel or two of some of the best tasting produce in town!
Cottin’s Hardware Farmers Market is located in the back parking lot of Cottin’s Hardware and Rental, 1832 Massachusetts Street, Lawrence, KS. The market runs from 4:00 pm – 6:30 pm, Thursdays, through October.