3 Recipes From La Vista's Annual Tomato Fest
You say tuh-MAY-to, I say tuh-MAH-to
Knowledge is knowing a tomato from a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
You could say the tomato suffers from an identity crisis. Is it a fruit or is it a vegetable?
Let’s define our terms. A fruit develops from the ovary in the base of the flower and contain seeds of the plant. In that sense, tomatoes would fall under this category, as would cucumbers, peppers and okra.
But fruits are also classified as having a sweet flavor, which tomatoes don’t have – not like berries or peaches have anyway.
On the other hand, the definition of a vegetable is any edible part of a plant that has a savory flavor. These would include a multitude of items such potatoes, beets, broccoli….In culinary terms then, tomatoes would be here as well because they have a savory, not a sweet, flavor. (But to muddy the waters even more, there are such dishes as tomato sorbet and tomato jams.)
No matter how you slice it, you could say a tomato is an edible piece of summer. Who doesn’t love holding a sun-drenched tomato in our hands? Pop a cherry tomato right off the vine and into your mouth and its sweet juiciness glides over your tongue.
Tomatoes are de rigueur for summer vegetable gardens. The typical plant often produces more than the average home gardener can eat, which is why you often see roadside stands and farmers markets loaded with tomatoes in late summer.
What to do with all those tomatoes?
Once considered poisonous, tomatoes are now grown worldwide by small farmers, large commercial farms and in household gardens. There are about 7500 varieties of tomatoes and you’ll find a type for all of your needs.
Cherry, grape or pear
Salads, shish kabobs, eating out of hand
Sweet, easy to grow
Beefsteak is the most common variety. Range from deep red, to yellow and even slightly pink. The deeper the red, the more intense the flavor. Yellows are milder and pinks are mild and sweet Romas Making sauces, stuffing These are less juicy, have thicker skins, best for cooking
Making sauces, stuffing
These are less juicy, have thicker skins, best for cooking
Tomatoes are low in calories and high in vitamins A and C but the most important health benefit of tomatoes is that they contain lycopene, one of the most powerful natural antioxidants.
There are so many uses for tomatoes – salsa, sauces, sliced on sandwiches. But one thing you don’t want to do is store your tomatoes in the refrigerator. That kills its taste and juiciness. Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature and eaten within a couple days. If you can’t eat all the tomatoes you have, preserve some of that summer sweetness for winter by canning, drying or freezing them.
How do you use your tomatoes?
Have a tomato fest!
When August, rolls around, La Vista’s shareholders look forward to getting together and celebrating the bounty of the late summer season during our annual Tomato Fest.
Last spring, several of us went out to La Vista to help our farmer plant tomato seedlings. We planted about 600 of them, including slicing tomatoes, Paul Robeson heirloom tomatoes and Romas. The farmers had already planted two types of cherry tomatoes. About a month later, we did another planting, all with an eye toward our annual Tomato Fest.
The Tomato Fest started during our first full year in operation as a CSA. I wasn't a member then, but board members decided it would be a great time to share recipes and have a little friendly cook-off. We also play games using overripe tomatoes -- even bobbing for tomatoes! - and just generally come together as a community to visit and enjoy the fruits of our labors.
In years past, Jacques, a bona fide chef, visited La Vista for a nearby retreat and was judge and jury for our contest. This year, judging was by popular vote, a People’s Choice Award. The winning recipe, Tomato Spelt Bread, is a fragrant bread that is great slathered with garlic butter. Or use it to make a grilled cheese sandwich. Crystal, our farmer's wife, is a creative cook. Her Ciabatta Bruschetta was runner up. I've also included a pico de gallo recipe I enjoy.
Perhaps the best part of this year’s Tomato Fest was welcoming a new addition to our community. Iris Ann Moore-Stevens, was born July 30, 2011, joining her family - parents Eric and Crystal Stevens (our farmers) and big brother Cayan.
Alison’s Tomato Spelt Bread
1/4-1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 cups spelt flour (or bread flour)
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 1/2 teaspoons dried onion flakes
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 -1 1/2 teaspoon dry active yeast
Note: This recipe calls for using a bread machine. Use a regular size loaf pan and if you are using spelt flour, be sure to use all of the liquid called for in the recipe.
1. Place all ingredients in the order listed into a bread machine (unless your specific machine calls for it to be put in the opposite way).
2. Set the machine for: 1 pound size; light crust
3. When bread is done, remove from the pan and let cool for 1 hour before slicing.
Basil Garlic Butter
4 cloves garlic
15 leaves fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup butter
1. Place garlic, basil, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the garlic is in small bits. Add the butter, and process just to mix together. Spoon into container, and refrigerate until firm.
Remove some of the inside of several Ciabatta rolls so they aren't too thick, then lightly toast them.
1-8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
2 oz. goat cheese
about 20 leaves of chopped basil
3 tsp. agave nectar
dash of Spike seasoning
salt, pepper, pinch of dill weed
Sliced tomatoes marinated in balsamic & olive oil and broiled 30 minutes
Cut Ciabatta rolls into triangles. Top them with the cream cheese spread, then a basil leaf, then tomatoes.
Pico de gallo
This is one of my favorite recipes because I love pico de gallo. Adjust the amount of peppers to your liking - Anaheims are very mild, serranos are hotter, jalapenos are in between. Be careful not to touch your nose, eyes or mouth after handling peppers.
Mix the following together. This tastes better the next day.
4 medium tomatoes, diced (seeds and juice removed)
1 medium sweet onion, diced
1 Anaheim pepper, minced
1 serrano pepper, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1/2 c finely chopped cilantro
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper to taste
This is the eighth in a series of monthly hubs I’ll be writing in 2011 about La Vista Community Supported Garden in Godfrey, Illinois. I joined La Vista in 2005 and became a member of its board of directors a year later. This series – La Vista: Nurturing land and people – will take the reader through a year at the farm, sharing the struggles and triumphs of operating a CSA and the benefits of membership. I hope you find this series useful and interesting and, as always, feel free to leave a comment.
Next month: Fire-Roasted Vegetables