Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Wealth of Tomatoes

At the farm stand where I currently work, it seems like just when I thought the tomato season was going to end, four - or five, or six, LOTS of - black crates of new heirlooms and seven or so boxes of field variety appear on the morning truck. They just keep coming! There's nothing in the world that tastes like a fresh tomato, though, so I'm not really complaining. When I interviewed for this job, Mrs. Farmer Joe asked me if I could heft a 50-pound bag of corn. At first I thought she was kidding and, caught off guard, responded, "Uh, maybe a 25-pound bag but I'm not really sure!" At that time I had no idea how much I could actually lift; it's been about two years since I've lifted weights in a gym (or been in a gym at all...) She assured me they'd work me up to it, and before I knew it I was slinging boxes and crates with the best of 'em. (What really scares me are the boxes of potatoes...)

For those tomatoes I found a plethora of fresh tomato recipes. But I live by the rule that you eat what you have before buying new things, whether that's canned or boxed things in the pantry or the vegetables you bought last week. Thus when I offered to make lunch for the team I knew I had to start with what we had in my mom's pantry.

When my mom cooks nowadays, it's usually from a can, cooked in a skillet. It's just her in the house - the cat doesn't like tomatoes - so I can understand. Cooking is WAY more fun when you're doing it for other people. Cooking for us entertains me because it's for us; I love cooking for myself, but it does get a little old having the same thing for lunch the next three days because you just made a family-sized portion of whatever recipe you tried. (I recall a Buzzfeed list of single-person problems which includes, "Craving a brownie? Or 12?") My mother also likes to buy large quantities of one thing when it's on sale, like boxed couscous, any type of prepared artichoke, marmalade, or variously prepared tomatoes. I took stock of our pantry and found at least four cans of stewed, diced, or pureed tomatoes and knew that I had to use those up first.

Thus - to the Internet! Most of my recipes come from AllRecipes.com but the two I used came from Food Network and MyRecipes. The first is a Rachel Ray recipe incorporating pasta, pesto, tomato sauce, and cheese. I gave myself Bonus Points for using an entire jar of pesto from the pantry.

Pesto Pasta Bake with Tomato Sauce
(adapted from Rachel Ray)

This is the tomato sauce for the bake. It's made from stewed tomatoes, onion, garlic, olive oil, and spices. The smell wafting from that pan was miraculous. 

I used spaghetti instead of pasta because that's what I had. I had to take this photo because 

This is what the spaghetti looked like with the pesto and cheese. This is the base of the bake before being smothered in the sauce.

This is how it looked after adding the tomato sauce and mozzarella. It's Liuzzi's mozzarella from Farmer Joe's farm stand; it's really fantastic and you should go buy some. Now.

This made a LOT of food and fed our entire team. Everyone loved it - I was so glad and had such a grand time cooking! 

The second recipe, the tomato bread pudding, is really different. I'd never thought of adding sugar to tomatoes but the resultant taste is quite exquisite. This recipe came from MyRecipes and I call it a Southern-style tomato bread pudding.

It's very simple and doesn't look like much in the photographs. 

It looks like even less because my kitchen's lighting is terrible. 

But don't let the photos fool you - the taste is OUTRAGEOUS. You add brown sugar to the mixture of stewed tomatoes, cubes of stale bread, butter and pepper. Then you bake it all and the sugar caramelizes the tomatoes to make this sweet, chewy thing that is really surprising. Farmer Joe didn't love it as much as the pesto pasta dish, but everyone has their own tastes. 

What do you like to cook with the bounty of summer (and fall, apparently) tomatoes?