By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
For those of you who grow your own tomatoes, you know what I’m talking about. How many ways can you deal with your massive crop of one of the most versatile vegetables (actually a fruit) in your garden? Don’t you wish the season would last for months and months so you could continue to enjoy that undeniable wonderful taste of homegrown tomatoes?
By now, in the beginning of fall, the purveyors at the farmers’ markets aren’t just offering tomatoes by the pint or quart. Look down at your feet at most of these stalls and you’ll see bushels of them lined up under the table. They gotta go!
Our family friend, Joyce, a master gardener, raised the most beautiful crop of tomatoes this year. We were lucky enough to be the recipients of her plum tomatoes. My husband, Bob, and I happened to go shopping with Joyce last spring to a plant sale for a fundraiser at a school. We planted the same plants. His crop was small, with small tomatoes that had interesting shapes and patches of weird colors. Needless to say, it was not a successful tomato season for Bob.
On the other hand, Joyce’s crop was spectacular! The difference between her crop and ours was astounding. Same plants, same climate, hmmm. Joyce offered to school Bob about tomato growing for next season. We visited her lovely garden last week. Joyce generously shared her knowledge, Bob got the lesson, and I got nice tomatoes to cook. Win, win.
One thing I’ve learned from my readings is that plum tomatoes are a particular group of tomatoes. In general, these tomatoes have a lower water content and a chewier texture. Three common varieties are Roma, San Marzano, and grape tomatoes. The first two are commonly used for sauces and pastes because of their meaty consistency. They cook down beautifully in a saucepan to create rich pasta and pizza sauces and tomato paste, which add body and flavor to a stew or soup. Since their skins are thick, before turning them into sauce, I always remove the skin. (See recipe below for the technique).
When winter is upon us and the only tomatoes to buy are shipped from faraway places, I only buy plum tomatoes. They still keep some semblance of flavor, texture, and color. When eating them raw, it’s a must that they have a good taste. Don’t you just hate it when you order a salad in a restaurant and the tomatoes arrive with an unappealing pink color? Those puppies were probably ripening on the truck in transport. Obviously, they were picked way before their time and the natural sugars never had an opportunity to develop. Why bother serving or eating them?
My go-to method for saving tomatoes has always been to make sauces and freeze them. Even though I make jam, I’m not a tomato canner. One has to be so precise with the method, I can’t muster the energy for the task. Recently, I learned that you can freeze raw tomatoes with a good result. The texture, of course, will not be great as the freezing process draws the water out of the tomatoes. Upon defrosting, they are quite watery.
To freeze raw tomatoes, you can cut the tomatoes into 1/2” slices, lay them on a cookie sheet and freeze them. When the pieces have frozen, gather them into a Ziploc bag and return to the freezer. Alternatively, one can cut the tomatoes in half, remove the core, and put the halves in a Ziploc bag. Same method, just cutting the tomatoes differently.
Joyce tells me when she gets to the end of tomato season, after she has made sauce, risotto, salsas, caprese salads, tomato salads, ratatouille, gazpachos, and so on, she’s out of new ideas. Today, I have a delicious way to use up 1 1/2 pounds of tomatoes for an entrée, and it’s not pasta! The vegetables are roasted together and topped with fish at the end. Truth be told, these are really great cooked vegetables on their own. I’m using fresh tilapia from Mexico but those in the East or Midwest can easily substitute whitefish or walleye.
Are you up to your neck in tomatoes? Tell us here at The Insider what you do with the overflow. We’ll compare war stories!
Tilapia with Roasted Tomatoes & Green Beans
Yield: 4 servings
1 1/2 lb. firm ripe plum tomatoes, cut into 6 wedges if small tomatoes, 8 wedges if large
1 lg. onion, halved through root end, each half cut into thin wedges
8 oz. fingerling potatoes, cut in half lengthwise
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
8 oz. green beans, trimmed, cut diagonally into 2” pieces
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
2 tsp. curry powder
1 1/2 lb. Tilapia filets
fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 400°. Cover a jelly roll pan with foil, spray with pan release. Combine tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and garlic on prepared pan. Drizzle on oil; toss to coat. Spread in an even layer. Sprinkle generously with coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper. Roast until the onions begin to brown, stirring occasionally, about 35-40 minutes.
Mix beans, curry, and ginger into tomato mixture. Roast another 10 minutes. Remove pan from the oven. Increase temperature to 450°. Top with fish. Season with salt and pepper. Roast another 10-12 minutes or until the fish is opaque and heated through.
Put vegetables on dinner plates. Top with fish. Squeeze on fresh lemon juice and sprinkle with parsley.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.