tomato lust—and lament

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So after running up and down the East Coast three times over the course of two weeks, I finally returned home to seven not-so-thriving tomato plants. Now, I didn’t have high hopes, because here in my neck of the Philly woods, the weather during the spring and early summer was not the most favorable. We had lots of rain, which I actually appreciated and even lamented not bucking up and outfitting my yard with some of the shrubs and trees on my wish list. But, temperatures fluctuated from super cold, to super hot, to super wet, then super hot and finally super cold before getting, you guessed it… super hot.

Without me being home to supplement my tomatoes—this year planted in pots, a practice that has rewarded me with wonderfully flavorful, and abundant crops for the past couple of years—I lost an opportunity to give them a much-need nutrient boost to spur those promising yellow blossoms.

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Now that August is here, reality is setting in: My tomatoes are a flop.

At least I can shrug it off as not putting enough time and energy into caring for my dear plants, rather than bumming out about how hard I worked for the same result. And, the truth is, there are plenty of resources for yummy tomatoes wherever I turn.

Just the other day, I purchased two large green quart containers of locally grown heirloom tomatoes. All week, we’ve been slicing, chopping, halving and forking into our mouths, a colorful and juicy array of odd-shaped tomatoes, all perfectly ripe and worth the mere $3.99/quart I paid for them. (Thank you, Wegman’s.) The photo above is an oldie but goodie from Jack’s Farm.

Hopefully, you’ve had better luck than me this season, and are proudly displaying your daily harvest to dinner guests, dressed up in basil chiffonade, balsamic and EVO, slivers of garlic, chunks of feta or thickly-sliced buffalo mozzarella. I am envious, but I am far from deprived. And, I am already refreshing my head with different recipes that will showcase this coveted, seasonal fruit from now through mid-September.

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My favorite way to eat tomatoes are chunky, in wide bowl, with fresh, ripe avocado pieces, sweet summer corn off the cob, red onion, buffalo mozz, also chunky, accented with salt, pepper, minced garlic, fresh basil, EVO and lemon juice. Second favorite, is as bruschetta, with LOTS of finely minced garlic, salt, pepper, basil, EVO and just a wee bit of balsamic—served on crusty, grilled sourdough bread that’s been brushed with additional EVO and rubbed with garlic cloves after being grilled. Any leftovers, goes right into a bowl of linguine the next day.

Then of course there’s fried tomatoes… green being the best, of course, but if you choose underripe tomatoes, cut your slices thick enough, and drain them on a paper towel for a bit, you can make some very tasty tomato slices to go with a side of scrambled eggs with chives and crumbled goat cheese. (That grilled bread goes down quite well with this combination.)

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Stuffed tomatoes are surprisingly a hit with my kids. Just cut the top of, scoop out the insides (save for that bruschetta), and fill with a mixture of sautéed baby kale and spinach, feta cheese, toasted pine nuts, sautéed onions and garlic, chopped kalamata olives (these, the kids do NOT like) and a few coarsely cut pieces of artichokes—all tossed together with good quality EVO and topped with breadcrumbs that have first been mixed with a little Kerrygold herb butter. This dish makes a fantastic accompaniment to butterflied leg of lamb (drooling just thinking about that beautiful pink on the inside, charred on the outside, sweet and juicy meat) or a whole roasted (or grilled) bronzino, red snapper, or butterflied whole grilled chicken seasoned with Greek spices. (I have an amazing recipe for this that I promise to dig up and post.) The preparation is called “spatchcock” and is one of those superb entertaining recipes that leaves your guests feeling like you put in a lot more effort than how it actually went down.

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At this point, you probably have gathered that I am not a cook bound by recipes. In fact, I am a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants cook, who luckily, gets away with it more times than not. So if you’ll bear with me, I will dig up some delicious recipes for you to test out over this final month of summer, and I hope that you will share a few with me in return. For now, here’s a stash of tomato recipes that I borrowed from one of my favorite resources, Huffington Post (@HuffPostTaste).

I hope that you enjoy, and more so, that you’ll come back and see what else is cooking. Oh and by the way, I just made a kicka*@ dinner in about 35 minutes just by going shopping in my fridge, freezer and pantry.

Not the best photo, but extra delicious with oven-roasted asparagus on top.

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tagliatelle with pan-grilled chicken, shrimp and red onion; tossed with browned garlic chunks, fresh basil, lemon juice, Poggio Etrusco olive oil (from last year’s honeymoon!) homemade crushed red pepper flakes (my friend makes the best) and shaved manchego cheese.

If you want to learn how to cook “by the seat of your pants,” I can help you out. Though I can handle the more formal techniques and preparations, with five kids and a job, it’s often a last-minute dash to the dinner finish line. My secret: a well-stocked pantry. We’ll talk about that someday too. Thanks for tuning in.

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