August 20, 2015

Tomatoes: Fruit of the Gods

by Toni Leland

Bowl of fresh tomatoes from the garden
Daily harvest
What tastes better than tomatoes just off the vine, still warm from the sun? Nothing!

That was not a trick question.

All the hot weather this summer kept me busy with the hose, but tomatoes love the sun and ripen almost faster than we can eat them. In addition to a Better Boy slicing tomato, I tried a Roma cherry tomato and an heirloom “Chianti Beefsteak” this year. Not sure I like the cherry tomatoes as much as grape tomatoes, but even mediocre fresh tomatoes taste better than those pale orange baseballs at the supermarket!

Last year, I discovered that the raccoons also like warm, fresh tomatoes. To my dismay, the batch I'd intended to pick "first thing tomorrow morning" had already been picked over. Most of them were on the ground with big bites out of them. I was not pleased.

So this year, as the fruit gets to within about 1 to2 days of picking, I go out at dusk and pluck the almost-ripe fruit and put it in a basket on the kitchen counter, where the tomatoes will continue to ripen. I may not be picking at the peak of perfection, but it's better than Mr. Raccoon's leftovers!

Sliced fresh beefsteak tomatoes
One of my favorite breakfasts as a child was fresh chunks of tomato swimming in cream and sprinkled with sugar and nutmeg!  Oh my. Try it–you'll like it!

And who can resist a beefsteak tomato sandwich on fresh sourdough bread?

Or in Vegetable Lasagna? Try this version of mine, with compliments.

Creamy Vegetable Lasagna

Serves 6

Instead of heavy tomato sauce, this light cheesy sauce enhances the flavor of the fresh tomatoes.

3  tbsp butter (salted or unsalted)

2  tbsp Wondra Quick Mixing Flour

1/4  tsp cayenne pepper (optional, but really good!)

2  cups 2% milk

1/2  cup grated Parmesan cheese

2  tbsp canola oil

1/2  of large sweet yellow bell pepper

1/2  cup Vidalia or other sweet onion

2  tsp minced garlic (or 3 cloves fresh)

2  cups low fat cottage cheese (2%)

1/3  cup chopped fresh basil leaves

3  cups shredded mozzarella cheese

9  whole grain lasagna noodles, cooked

2  medium zucchini

2  medium beefsteak tomatoes

Preheat oven to 375˚F. Use a 13 x 9 baking dish.
nutritional data for vegetable lasagna

  1. Slice yellow pepper lengthwise. Cut zucchini into 1/4” slices. Slice tomatoes 1/4” thick. Slice onion thinly.
  2. Melt butter in a medium pan and stir in flour and cayenne; cook until bubbling, stirring constantly.
  3. Add milk slowly, stirring to blend. Cook until mixture thickens, stirring constantly.
  4. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 3 minutes. Add Parmesan cheese and garlic, stir, and set aside.
  5. Combine cottage cheese and basil.
  6. Spread 1/4 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. Place 3 noodles on top. Add half the cottage cheese mixture.
  7. Layer the sliced vegetables starting with the tomato, then onion, then zucchini, then bell pepper.
  8. Add 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese and 1/3 of the sauce.
  9. Repeat two more times, starting with noodles and ending with sauce.
  10. Cover and bake 55 minutes.
  11. Uncover and bake an additional 20 minutes. Let stand for 10-15 minutes before cutting.

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