Meditations

Tomatoes: Eat ‘Em While You Can


In mid-September, just a few days before the autumnal equinox, the days are getting noticeably shorter and the sunlight is transitioning from blazing to soft. This is perhaps the best time to eat fresh, ripe tomatoes—you know they’re fleeting, they’ll be gone from gardens and farm stands in about a month, and there’s a sort of desperation about eating them while they’re still around. Mario Batali calls this scorpacciata—a lovely Italian word that conveys this desperate obsession with eating as much of a seasonal food as you possibly can, but only in season (i.e., no supermarket tomatoes in February!).

So I’m buying tomatoes by the shopping bagful at our farmers’ markets with the aim of preserving their goodness for later enjoyment. A dozen perfect Big Boys spent about 10 hours in the oven this weekend, becoming deeply concentrated oven-dried tomatoes. I have another 2.5 pounds ready to be peeled and turned into tomato-basil jam. In another week or so, I’ll set aside another dozen or so to be frozen. (Here’s how to preserve summer tomatoes, while you still can.)

Meantime, I’m using fresh tomatoes in as many ways as I possibly can. Like in this simple, summery appetizer.

basil leaves stuffed with goat cheese

makes 20 appetizers

20 large, unblemished basil leaves
4 ounces plain fresh goat cheese, softened at room temperature
2 Tbsp. cream or half-and-half
1/4 cup finely diced tomato
2 Tbsp. pine nuts, skillet-toasted
olive oil
salt & pepper

In a small bowl, mix together goat cheese and cream; add salt and pepper to taste. Using two small spoons, scoop a bit of goat cheese in the curve of each basil leaf. Top with finely diced tomato and pine nuts. Just before serving, drizzle each with a bit of good olive oil and sprinkle with cracked pepper.

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