The very first subject that I wrote about on Ali’s Epicurean Gems was tomatoes. Once again, I find myself drawn to new tomato recipes as the season winds down. Growing tomatoes is often a peculiar challenge. There are so many variables in the outcome – rainfall, temperature, soil and insects just to name a few. Typically, in the environment that I have created for my vegetable crops, I yield tomatoes well into the fall. Not so much this year. From eight plum tomato plants I only canned twelve quarts and all the other beauties are now slowly dying off. It is easy to conclude what factors had an impact this summer but I am bemoaning the fact that I will have to purchase the fruit from the farmer’s markets! C’est la vie…
Tomatoes are native to Central and South America and were likely introduced to North America by the British via the Caribbean. My favorite historical figure, Thomas Jefferson reportedly sent seeds from Paris to Monticello. After centuries of breeding the fruit, there are thousands of varieties in many shapes, sizes, colors and flavors. My personal favorite breed happens to be the beefsteak, sometimes oddly shaped, dark red, all ‘meat’ and very few seeds.
If you take the time to think about it, a tomato offers a complete sensory experience (this is not an indication that I have too much time on my hands). It tastes of the sun, smells like the earth, feels like butter and looks beautiful in any color. You can’t hear the plant grow but sure can listen to it sizzle as it cooks!
When tomatoes are in season, I want to eat them morning, noon and night. Some days I do. I am not a fan of breakfast but a sliced tomato on a toasted bagel with cream cheese and red onion ~ to die for. Lunch ~ BLT with avocado or pesto mayonnaise dressing. Dinner ~ tomato stacks. My day is complete!
The recipe for my tomato stacks is in Cooks to the Rescue for my local followers to refer to but I want to share the recipe with the world. Some cooks may refer to this recipe as a vegetable Napoleon. Call it what you like ~ it makes a beautiful presentation as a first course, main vegetarian course or a vegetable side to a grilled piece of meat or fish. One of the things I like most about this recipe is that many garden vegetables and herbs can be utilized in one dish.
Ali’s Tomato, Zucchini and Eggplant Stacks
- 2 cup plus 2 T. olive oil
- 2 large onions, diced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 10 large basil leaves, cut into thin strips
- 1 T. fresh oregano, chopped
- ¼ cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 large eggplant, sliced 1/8 inch thick
- 2 large tomatoes, sliced ¼ inch thick
- 1 large zucchini, sliced ¼ inch thick
- Parmesan cheese, grated
- In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm 6 T. olive oil. Add onion, salt and pepper, cook until soft.
- Add garlic, basil, oregano and parsley (do not skimp on the herbs), cook 2 minutes.
- Rub bottom and sides of 12 inch baking pan with oil. Place eggplants slices in a single layer in pan, season with salt.
- Top each with 1 tsp. onion mixture then one tomato slice, season with salt.
- Top again with onion mixture then zucchini.
- Repeat layers ending with zucchini.
- Drizzle each stack with 1 tsp. oil.
- Bake at 425 degrees for 40 minutes.
- Sprinkle each stack with 1 T. cheese, bake 10 minutes longer.
- Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes.
If you didn’t have a BLT for lunch, or even if you did, and friends are dropping by for a cocktail, quickly put together Ali’s BLT dip. Chop one large fresh tomato, a few lettuce leaves (I use a stiffer lettuce like Romaine as I never have Iceberg lettuce in my refrigerator), fry up a few pieces of bacon (the more the merrier), mix with a mayonnaise/sour cream mixture to your liking and serve with tortilla chips. You could even add a chopped jalapeño or red pepper flakes to jazz it up. There will not be leftovers. Serve it with a sliced baguette and be tempted to skip dinner. Mmm… mmm…good!
There are literally thousands of ways to prepare this fruit with every food group but I must add this little diddily in closing before sharing my last recipe. Technically, a tomato is botanically classified as a fruit because it is seed bearing and grows from the flowering part of a plant. Not so said the U.S. Supreme Court! In 1893, the tomato was declared a vegetable because at the time, there was an import tax on vegetables but not fruits. Forget science, the almighty dollar won out. Sad but true…
Every summer I try to prepare a new dish with tomatoes. I love the heirlooms for their color but they can be quite finicky to grow. Soooo, at summer’s end use up your green tomatoes after you fry a few (you know you will) in this final recipe.
Ali’s Green Tomato Gazpacho
- 1 green poblano pepper
- 2 T. butter
- 2 T. olive oil
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 4 celery ribs, chopped
- 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
- 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2-1/2 lb. green tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
- 6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt/pepper to taste
- 12 fresh basil leaves
- 2 T. fresh lemon juice
- Hot sauce, if desired
- Over direct flame on a gas grill, cook pepper on all sides until charred.
- Place cooked pepper in a brown bag and let stand 10 minutes.
- Once cooled, peel pepper, remove seeds and chop.
- Melt butter and oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions, reduce heat and cook 15 minutes until softened.
- Add celery, jalapeño and poblano ; cook 5 minutes.
- Add garlic, stirring constantly until soft.
- Add tomatoes, stock and bay leaf.
- Season with salt/pepper, increase heat and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat, simmer, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes until tomatoes are tender.
- Remove from heat and discard bay leaf. Stir in basil. Let cool for 30 minutes.
- Process soup in batches until smooth.*
- Stir in lemon juice and hot sauce if desired. Season to taste.
- Cover and chill at least 8 hours.
- Ladle soup in to bowls ; top each with more sliced jalapeño, basil leaves or as is often preferred by locals, fresh crab meat.
*You can leave this soup chunky but chop up the basil before you add it to the base.
The color of this soup is a brilliant, vibrant green. Be sure to serve it in a white bowl. Add hot sauce only if you wish to add more heat.