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Garden tomatoes are fleeting seasonal treat; get them while you can

Wed., Sept. 19, 2012, midnight

Gardeners in the Inland Northwest waited longer than usual for garden tomatoes only to have a rude awakening last week.

Two nights of lower than normal temps – it actually froze in some area gardens – left many scrambling to cover crops or bring in tomatoes. The bounty reminded us how important it is to find ways to enjoy those garden tomatoes while you can and even extend the season.

We talked to area farmers and chefs for ideas and tips for preserving or enjoying the crop while the season lasts.

Freeze whole

Shelly and Bob Berryman had a row of boxes filled with organic heirloom tomatoes at the Liberty Lake Farmers Market on Saturday. They grow tomatoes among the crops at Twin Springs Organic Farm near Rice, Wash. They are also at the Thursday Market in the South Perry District.

Shelly Berryman said she discovered that freezing whole tomatoes is a great way to save the harvest, especially if you’re busy. “It works really well. Just wash and put them whole in a gallon freezer bag,” she said.

Warm the frozen tomatoes slowly in a saucepan to defrost and the skin and core can be easily removed.

Slow roasting

At the Spokane Farmers Market, farmers and customers were talking about the delicious intensity of garden tomatoes that have been slow roasted in the oven.

Su Sawyer, volunteer at the Women’s and Children’s Free Restaurant who was shopping at the farmers market last week, said she likes to halve and core the tomatoes (maybe add some garlic, onion and olive oil) and then roast them in a slow oven for hours. Once they’ve cooled, she puts them into a quart-size freezer bag so she can easily break off small chunks for soups and sauces.

A recipe from Deborah Madison’s “Local Flavors” is a great place to start, if you’re uncomfortable winging it (recipe follows).

Antioxidant boost

Spokane Valley farmer Dan Jackson is growing a new tomato variety for the first time this year and it is on the menu at a few local restaurants.

The Indigo Rose tomato was developed by Oregon State University and researchers there say the fruit is high in the antioxidant anthocyanin. The tomatoes develop a beautiful purple hue where they are exposed to sunlight.

The sweet, fruity tomato is being served at Stella’s Café, 917 W. Broadway Ave., where chef and owner Tony Brown is letting the flavor of the tomato shine in simple salads. I tasted it last week in a salad of tomatoes, arugula and goat cheese. It was delicious. Brown said he’s also made a tabbouleh salad with the tomatoes.

Jackson said chefs at South Perry Pizza, 1011 S. Perry St., are using the tomato and it’s for sale at Main Market Co-op, 44 W. Main Ave.

Ripen indoors

For anyone who had to bring in green tomatoes to avoid the frost, or anyone who ends the season with a bunch, they can be ripened indoors.

Over the years, our readers have had the best luck with this method from TLC’s How Stuff Works website.

Ripening Green Tomatoes

1. Cut the green tomatoes off of the vine with pruners. If the stem pulls off the fruit it will hasten rotting there.

2. Wash and dry completely.

3. Wrap each tomato in a sheet of newspaper or tissue paper.

4. Pack the wrapped tomatoes in a box, up to two layers deep.

5. Store the box of green tomatoes in a cool, dry area. An unheated basement, insulated garage, or enclosed porch would work very well.

6. Check the tomatoes every week. Remove any that are starting to ripen, and let them finish ripening on your kitchen counter. Also, check the tomatoes for signs of rot. Any rotting tomatoes should be removed.

Tomato Stack

The August issue of Cooking Light magazine has a recipe for a beautiful stacked salad starring tomatoes with avocado and corn. It could be the perfect way to celebrate the end of the season. The recipe follows.


If the cool mornings and evenings have you craving soup, consider the tomato soup recipe from author Mark Bittman’s latest cookbook.

The tomato soup from “How to Cook Everything: The Basics,” relies on fresh market or canned tomatoes and comes together very quickly (recipe follows).

Savory Tart

The Culinary Institute of America teamed up with Weight Watchers to create an eggplant, tomato and goat cheese tart that a friend said is one of her favorite ways to enjoy summer tomatoes. This is the perfect time of year to make it. The recipe follows.


If you have a bounty of green tomatoes at the end of the season try making green tomato relish or traditional tomato preserves. The Green Tomato Relish from “Gifts Cooks Love” by Diane Morgan (recipe follows) would be an unusual gift during the holidays. Traditional tomato relish is making a comeback with new canners. Find the recipe from the “Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving” on the Food section blog, Too Many Cooks, blogs/too-many-cooks.


My husband will make BLT sandwiches this time of year until he is absolutely sick of the time-honored combination. Nothing beats the simplicity of thick slices of tomatoes, with crisp bacon, lettuce, mayonnaise and lightly toasted bread.

Or, branch out with the recipe for BLT Pasta from the “America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook” due out in October (recipe follows).


We’re still skeptical, but reader Marvel Carlson called to rave about a pie she baked with sweet cherry tomatoes. Carlson, the daughter-in-law of one of the former heads of the Dorothy Dean Homemakers Department at The Spokesman-Review, said she has won over people with the unusual pie.

Carlson started with the classic Dorothy Dean recipe for Sour Cherry Pie and tweaked it. Her call left us talking about more unusual tomato recipes, including tomato cake and pudding. Share your favorite strange tomato recipe, and get Carlson’s, on the Too Many Cooks blog.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

From “Local Flavors” by Deborah Madison. Madison writes that this recipe freezes well. She likes a combination of red and yellow paste tomatoes.

1 1/2 pounds paste tomatoes

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon chopped oregano, thyme or marjoram

1 garlic clove minced

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Lightly oil a large shallow baking dish. Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise. Set them cut side up in the dish, then brush the tops with the oil, using about a tablespoon in all. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and add the herb and garlic.

Bake, uncovered, for 2 hours. Check after an hour and drizzle a little more oil over the surfaces if they look dry. If you don’t plan to use the tomatoes right away, store them in the refrigerator or freeze them and use in soups and stews come winter.

Yield: 16 to 20 pieces

Tomato Stack Salad with Corn and Avocado

From Cooking Light magazine, August 2012

2 bacon slices, halved

1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons canola mayonnaise

2 teaspoons cider vinegar

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

2 ears shucked corn

Cooking spray

2 large beefsteak tomatoes, cut into 8 (1/2-inch-thick) slices total

2 globe tomatoes, cut into 8 (1/2-inch-thick) slices total

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 ripe peeled avocado, thinly sliced

4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the grill to high heat.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add bacon to pan; cook 8 minutes or until crisp, tossing occasionally to curl. Drain bacon on paper towels.

Combine buttermilk and next 5 ingredients (through garlic), stirring with a whisk. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Coat corn with cooking spray. Place corn on grill rack; grill 8 minutes or until well marked, turning occasionally. Remove from grill; cool slightly. Cut corn kernels from cobs.

Sprinkle tomato slices evenly with salt. Alternate layers of tomato and avocado on each of four plates. Scatter corn evenly onto plates. Drizzle each tomato stack with about 1 1/2 tablespoons buttermilk dressing and 1 teaspoon oil. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper over salads; top each salad with 1 bacon piece.

Yield: 4 servings

Tomato Soup

From “How To Cook Everything, The Basics,” by Mark Bittman (Wiley, 2012).

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large or 2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced

1 carrot, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 sprig fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried

2 pounds tomatoes, cored and chopped or one (28-ounce can) diced tomatoes, including the juice

2 or 3 cups water or tomato juice

1 teaspoon sugar, optional

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves for garnish, optional

Pour the oil into a large pot over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the onion and carrot, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring until the vegetables begin to soften, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the tomato paste, lower the heat a bit, and continue to cook, stirring to coat the vegetables with the paste, until the paste begins to darken (don’t let it burn), 1 to 2 minutes.

Strip the thyme leaves from the stem and add them to the pot along with the tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down, 10 to 15 minutes. Add 2 cups of the water and bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so that the mixture bubbles gently. Let the soup cook until the flavors meld, 5 more minutes.

Taste and adjust the seasoning; if the soup tastes flat (but salty enough), stir in the sugar. If the soup is too thick, add some more water, 1/4 cup at a time. If it is too thin, continue to cook until it thickens and reduces slightly (this will also intensify the flavors). Garnish with the basil, if using, and serve.

Yield: 4 servings

Tomato Eggplant Tart


1 (1 1/2 pounds) eggplant, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick

1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided

Freshly ground pepper

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes, drained and chopped, see note

2 tablespoons capers, drained

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves or 1 teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

Sprinkle the eggplant slices on both sides with 1 teaspoon salt and place in a colander. Put a plate on top of the eggplant and weight it with a large can. Let the eggplant drain for 30 to 60 minutes. Quickly rinse the eggplant; pat dry with paper towels.

Meanwhile, preheat the broiler. Spray a nonstick baking sheet and a 9-inch ceramic pie plate with nonstick spray. Place the eggplant slices on a baking sheet and sprinkle with pepper. Broil 5 inches from the heat until lightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the eggplant from broiler and set aside. Set the oven control to 450 and adjust racks to divide the oven in half.

Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet, then add the mushrooms. Sauté until wilted and almost dry. Add the tomatoes, capers, basil, oregano, thyme, garlic, the remaining salt and another grinding of pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture has thickened, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Layer half the eggplant slices in the pie plate, overlapping as necessary. Top with half of the tomato mixture, then all the remaining eggplant. Spoon the remaining tomato mixture over the eggplant. Sprinkle the goat cheese slices evenly on top. Bake until cheese has melted, about 10 minutes.

Remove the tart from the oven and set the oven control to broil. Broil the tart 5 inches from the heat until the cheese is golden brown, about 5 minutes.

Note: Substitute slices of fresh plum tomatoes, if desired.

Yield: 4 servings

BLT Pasta

From the “America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook” due out in October, $34.95.

12 ounces bacon, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

12 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved

1 pound orecchiette

Salt and black pepper

5 ounces (5 cups) baby arugula

2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup), plus extra for serving

Cook bacon in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium high heat until crisp, about 5 minutes; transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat left in skillet, add garlic and tomatoes, and cook over medium-high heat until tomatoes soften slightly, about 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1  1/2 cups cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to the pot. Add bacon, garlic-tomato mixture, arugula, Parmesan and 1 cup reserved cooking water and toss to combine. Add remaining reserved cooking water as needed to adjust consistency and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with extra Parmesan.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Green Tomato Chutney

From “Gifts Cooks Love, Recipes for Giving” by Diane Morgan (Andrews McMeel, 2010). She writes that heirloom tomatoes are not best for this recipe. Instead use the firm completely under ripe tomatoes that are in the garden at the end of the season.

4 pounds green tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped

1 1/2 pounds (2 medium) yellow onions, chopped

1 pound (2 large) firm, tart green apples, cored and chopped

6 large cloves garlic

2 1/2 cups cider vinegar

2 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar

1/3 cup honey

1 1/2 tablespoons mustard seeds

1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground allspice

5 fresh medium-hot red chilies, with seeds and ribs, thinly sliced into rounds

3/4 cup dried currants

Combine the tomatoes, onions, apples, garlic, vinegar, sugar, honey, mustard seeds, salt, ginger and allspice in a large Dutch oven. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Decrease to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes. As the mixture simmers, use a wooden spoon to push down the tomatoes so they become immersed in the liquid.

Add the chilies and currants and continue to simmer until the chutney is thick and the liquid is reduced, 30 to 45 minutes longer.

While the chutney is simmering, prepare the preserving jars and bring water to a boil in a water bath canner.

Remove the chutney from the heat. Using a wide-mouth funnel and filling one jar at a time, ladle the chutney into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove any air bubbles by running a long wooden utensil, such as a chopstick or wooden skewer, between the jar and the chutney. Wipe the rims clean. Seal according to the manufacturer’s directions. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes for areas below 1,000 feet of elevation, and then turn off the heat. Add 5 minutes of processing time for each 1,000 feet of elevation. Wait 5 minutes, and then lift the canning rack and, using a canning jar lifter, transfer the jars to a towel-lined, sturdy rimmed baking sheet and let them rest. Check the seals, wipe the jars, and label.

Storing: Store the jars in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

Yield: Six 1 pint or ½ liter jars of the chutney

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