Category Archives: tomato

Green Tomato Double-Feature: Fried Green Tomatoes and Green Tomato Mincemeat Bars

the yield from six plants: 4 lbs, 10 oz

Green Tomatoes: Get Them While They’re Cold

We’re past due for a killing frost, and it’s virtually guaranteed before Halloween. According to Climate-charts.com, there’s a 10% chance of frost by September 30 in Ann Arbor and a 90% chance by October 30. You can, obviously, tempt fate and leave your tomatoes out to see how long you can stretch the caprese salad and BLT season, but even if we end up in the long tail this year, the end is nigh. Also, the end is delicious. Here are the two best ways I’ve found use up the tomatoes that didn’t get a chance to ripen on the vine:

great on their own, or with any kind of mayonnaise-based dressing like Ranch or Thousand Island

if "green tomato mincemeat" squicks you out, just call them "spiced streusel bars"

This should conclude Tomatofest 2010 (previous entries this year: Tomato Jam, Tomato Soup, and Sweet Tomato Curd Squares). However, I also have an article about tomatoes coming out in a community recipe and resource book by Edible Avalon, and I should have more details about that soon.

I. Fried Green Tomatoes

A friend mentioned recently that knowing “fried green tomatoes” were a classic, he’d tried just slicing up some tomatoes and throwing them into a skillet with some rendered bacon fat. That actually doesn’t sound like a terrible idea, but you should be prepared to watch the tomatoes fall apart as they cook. So depending on how much bacon fat there is and what you’d planned on doing with them, it might not have the desired effect.

Raw green tomatoes are much firmer than ripe ones—coring them is almost like coring an apple. However, as they cook, the cell walls break down and the bitterness abates and whatever acids and glutamates and aromatic compounds the tomato accumulated before it got prematurely yanked from the vine will intensify. Once it’s cooked through, it will taste kind of like a ripe tomato, or at least like a roasted grocery store tomato, which is to say, not bad.

I find that medium heat is about right on my stovetop--you want them to get nice and brown in about 2-3 minutes on each sideThe classic way to prevent them from dissolving before they cook long enough to be palatable is to dredge them in egg and flour (or cornmeal or bread or cracker crumbs). Then, you fry them in about 1/4” of hot oil, melted lard or shortening (not butter, unless it’s clarified, because the milk solids will burn and the water content will make them soggy). When they’re golden brown on the outside and cooked through inside, they’re done.

Even if a few pieces of the breading fall off, they should stay together well enough to be crispy on the outside and soft and savory on the outside. However, you have to eat them immediately—fried tomatoes retain too much moisture to be kept crisp in an oven or re-crisped in a toaster, so only make as many as you want to eat right away. If you want to save some of your green tomatoes for later in the year, you can slice them, spread them out individually on a foil-lined sheet and freeze them for a few hours (just to keep them from freezing into one big hunk). Then transfer them to another container, like a gallon zip-top freezer storage bag. When you want to cook them, just pull them out of the freezer, bread them, and fry them. Don’t defrost them first, or they’ll turn to mush (that’s also why you need to slice and freeze them separately). But if you get them in the pan while they’re still frozen, the breading should keep them together once they cook through.

II. Green Tomato Mincemeat Bars

the "before" shot: all the mincemeat ingredients dumped in a pot to simmerthe "after" shot: what really stands out are the golden raisins, but basically everything else is cooked green tomato

The other recipe that pops up the most in google searches “green tomatoes” is green tomato mincemeat. Mincemeat was originally one of those Early Modern dishes that seems pretty odd to most Americans now because comes from a time and place before meat and sweets were firmly separated (with transgressors like bacon desserts merely reinforcing the binary by playing up how “wrong” it is to violate it). Mincemeat usually included less desirable cuts or leftover bits of meat and suet (raw beef or mutton fat) cooked with dried fruits, sugar, alcohol, and spices. It was a way to stretch the meat, make it palatable, and preserve it, and was most often baked in a pastry crust, either as single-serving pockets or double-crusted pie. Here’s an 18th C. recipe that calls for making a massive amount of the suet and dried fruit mixture to bake and eat over four months, with the option of adding a little boiled tongue or beef later:

To make Mince-Pies the best Way
Take three Pounds of Suet shread very fine, and chopped as small as possible, two Pounds of Raisins stoned, and chopped as fine as possible, two Pounds of Currans, nicely picked, washed, rubbed, and dried at the Fire, half a hundred of fine Pippins [apples], pared, cored, and chopped small, half a Pound of fine Sugar pounded fine, a quarter of an Ounce of Mace, a quarter of an Ounce of Cloves, a Pint of Brandy, and half a pint of Sack [sherry]; put it down close in a Stone-pot, and it will keep good four Months. When you make your Pies, take a little Dish, something bigger than a Soop-plate, lay a very thin Crust all over it, lay a thin Layer of Meat, and then a thin Layer of Cittron cut very thin, then a Layer of Mince meat, and a thin Layer of Orange-peel cut think over that a little Meat; squeeze half the Juice of a fine Sevile Orange, or Lemon, and pour in three Spoonfuls of Red Wine; lay on your Crust, and bake it nicely. These Pies eat finely cold. If you make them in little Patties, mix your Meat and Sweet-meats accordingly: if you chuse Meat in your Pies, parboil a Neat’s Tongue [ox tongue], peel it, and chop the Meat as finely as possible, and mix with the rest; or two Pounds of the Inside of a Surloin or Beef Boiled." From The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse, 1747 (Prospect Books: Devon, 1995, p. 74). From The Food Timeline

Gradually over the 18th and 19th C, meat went from central to optional to uncommon and the dried fruit & spice preparation eaten alone was still referred to as “mincemeat” or sometimes just “mince.” It became a favorite way to use green tomatoes, because their savory glutamates stood in well for the meat and because boiling them with sugar and dried fruits was a good way to flavor and preserve them, too. Just like the meaty versions, the mixture is usually baked into a pastry. Also, like most cooked tomato products, it can be preserved in canning jars processed in a boiling water bath.

I had 4 1/2 lbs of green tomatoes, which made enough mincemeat for two recipes. I froze half of it rather than canning it, and perhaps I’ll bake that into a mincemeat pie for Christmas. I decided to treat the other half like any standard fruit preserve and bake it into a simple streusel bar cookie. What’s great about this recipe is you use the same mixture for the crust and the topping, so it’s dead simple to throw together. You could also substitute any kind of pie filling or preserves for the tomato mincemeat, use any kind of nuts you want in the crust and topping, use any kind of fat, any kind of flour. It’s entirely customizable. Same goes for the mincemeat—add some crystallized ginger if you have it, add other spices like cardamom or mace if you want them or leave out the cloves or nutmeg if you’re not a fan, throw in a tart apple or two or some carrots or winter squash, use currants or cranberries in place of the golden raisins, etc. It’s a template, not a chemical formula.

The result is just a great, simple spiced bar cookie. The tomato mincemeat is salty-sweet and has a kind of savory umami funkiness, almost like a sweet tomato chutney. The spices evoke pumpkin pie and apple crisp and piles of raked leaves and itchy hay rides. The oats and nuts in the streusel give it a sort of rustic chew and crunch. If my tomato curd squares were Summer in a bar cookie, this is the same idea dressed in a sweater and scarf for Fall.

you'll get a close-up of the Jack o'Lantern when I post about roasting pumpkin seeds

Recipe: Fried Green Tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • green tomatoes (one medium tomato per person)
  • 1 egg for every 4 tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal, cracker crumbs, bread crumbs, panko, or something else with crunch
  • 2-3 t. seasoned salt, Old Bay, Bacon Salt, Jerk or Cajun seasoning blend, or whatever other herbs or spices you desire (just nothing that burns easily, like cinnamon or Chinese Five Spice)
  • 2 t. kosher salt, divided (or slightly less regular salt)
  • 1/2-1 cup oil, lard, or shortening for frying

Method:

1. Heat the oil in a wide skillet over medium heat.

2. Combine the flour, crunchy bits, seasonings, and salt in one bowl and lightly beat the egg in a second bowl.

3. Core the tomatoes and slice them into 1/4-1/2” rounds.

three tomatoes was too many for two of us to eat. really, one tomato per person is plenty breading and frying set-up; Bacon Salt!

4. Test the oil for heat by flinging a few water droplets at it (mind the splatter). If it sizzles, it’s ready. Dip each slice of tomato in the egg and then then the flour mixture, turning to coat, and place them gently in the hot oil.

5. Fry for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and cooked through. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle the hot tomatoes with a little more salt. Eat immediately. 

best to salt them when they're just out of the oil so it adheres served along side tilapia with lemon and shallots

Recipe: Spiced Green Tomato Streusel Bars (adapted from CDKitchen and GardenTenders)

Ingredients:

For the filling:

  • 4 cups finely chopped green tomatoes (~2 lbs)
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar (or 1 cup white sugar with a glug of molasses)
  • a hearty glug of rum or brandy (optional)
  • 2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. ground cloves
  • 1/2 t. ground nutmeg
  • juice from one medium lemon (3-4 T.)
  • zest from one medium lemon (2-3 t.)

For the crust and topping:

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar (or 1 cup white sugar with a glug of molasses)
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 2 c. rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews, or macadamia nuts

Method:

1. Core and chop the tomatoes. I usually cut them in half first and then cut a wedge-shaped piece around the stem and the toughest white part in the center. I let the food processor do the chopping part.

minced green tomatoes minceMEATed green tomatoes

2. Combine the tomatoes, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and spices in a large pot and simmer until thickened, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. (I cooked it for almost an hour because I doubled the recipe. Some recipes call for cooking it for up to 3 hrs. Just keep an eye on it as it thickens to keep it from burning to the bottom of the pot).

3. Meanwhile, whisk together the dry ingredients for the crust and topping and then mix in the softened butter until the mixture is crumbly and all of the flour is moistened.

green tomato bars and pumpkins 045 pressed into the bottom of the pan for the crust

4. Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a 9×13 pan, and press 2 1/2 cups of the crumbs into the bottom. Spread the cooked tomato mixture over the crust, and sprinkle with the remaining crumbs.

5. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing—or, for the cleanest cuts, chill. For the best flavor, let it come back to room temperature before serving.

sprinkling the reserved streusel on top

Fresh Tomato Soup Two Ways: Clean and spicy or Creamy and comforting

no grilled cheese required 

Not Your Famous Pop Arist’s Tomato Soup

I love Campbell’s classic condensed tomato soup. I know, me and half the rest of the Western world, right? There’s a reason it’s an icon. I’m not saying it makes me special or anything. But I really, really love it. My freshman year of high school, I made a Campbell’s Tomato Soup can costume for Halloween out of two giant macramé rings and some red, white, and mustard-yellow felt. That was before everyone had cell phones and all cell phones were cameras, so you’ll just have to believe me when I say it was a decent facsimile. I wore it again on Halloween my sophomore year of college, and my roommate went as Andy Warhol. No one got it. We didn’t care.

I’ve mostly abandoned the other processed foods I loved as a kid, like Kraft Mac & Cheese, Nissin Cup O’Noodles, and the generic versions of Lucky Charms and Apple Jacks. But I always have tomato soup in my cupboard. I had never even thought about making fresh tomato soup before, because why bother? Campbell’s is so good.

And then, this summer, I just kept finding myself stuck with mountains of too-ripe tomatoes (and a lot of rotting ones that ended up in the trash bin). I did the fresh tomato pasta sauce thing. I did the fresh salsa thing. But eventually, all I could think about when I looked at the endlessly-refilling pile was the tomato juice I made a couple weeks ago for the tomato bars. There were a few ounces left over, and as I drank them, I regretted the fact that I didn’t have gallons of it. It reminded me of a velvety, chilled version of Campbell’s soup.

You Can Never Go Home Again

Looking back, I feel like that juice was my first tentative bite of a forbidden apple. Now that I’ve fallen to temptation and made fresh tomato soup not once, but twice, I’m a little afraid that I won’t be able to go back my old canned stand-by. What if I don’t like it as much anymore? What if I’ve spoiled myself?

this version is rich enough to be a satisfying dinner with a salad and some breadIt would be one thing if it was entirely different—the way baked macaroni and cheese is so unlike Kraft, the two don’t even really compete. Apples and oranges. But it turns out that if you cut up some really ripe tomatoes and then simmer them for 15-20 minutes, maybe with some sautéed onion and a dash of sugar and salt, maybe with some jalapeno and/or ginger, and then you strain out all the solids…it’s almost exactly like Campbell’s, except better. Transcendent. It’s the purest, richest tomato flavor I’ve ever tasted, permeated by sweet onion and spice. It feels like a warm hug in a bowl, like a last gift from Summer delivering you gently into the Fall.

I didn’t even want to put crackers in it because they just would have diluted it. I might eat it alongside a grilled cheese sandwich someday, perhaps something snooty like port salut with mango chutney, or raclette with ham and pickle slices…but there will be no dipping. This soup is the platonic ideal of cooked tomato all by itself. 

However, I guess since I figured I’d already ruined myself for Campbell’s, I decided: why not make a creamy version? Same process, but I cooked the tomato down a little more before straining it and then made a quick roux to thicken the milk before whisking the tomato back in. This time, I garnished it with a few parmesan curls and some chopped fresh parsley. As I was eating it, I got to thinking that what would really put it over the top is some grilled cheese croutons: sharp cheddar or gruyere melted between two thin slices of bread and then cut into bite-sized pieces, tossed in a little oil or melted butter and sprinkled with dried parsley, garlic powder, and maybe some grated parmesan and then toasted for 10-15 minutes in a hot oven until golden brown and crisp all over. Of course, that’s really just gilding the lily

Both ways, it’s fantastic and deceptively comforting, given that it may be robbing you of one of your most enduring childhood pleasures. I just hope I don’t find myself tomato soup-less when the first cold front hits and I’m out of fresh tomatoes. When I have to go running sheepishly back to Campbell’s, which I inevitably will, I hope its familiarity will overwhelm the inevitable disappointment. And maybe that will be the time to break out the grilled cheese croutons.

just over 2 lbsRecipe: Fresh Tomato Soup
makes approximately 16 oz, or 2 bowls and 4 small cups

  • 4-5 large tomatoes (~3”+ diameter) or 6-10 medium ones (~2”); 2 to 2 1/2 lbs total 
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 2 shallots or 1 small onion
  • 1 small jalapeno, including seeds (optional)
  • 1” piece of fresh ginger (optional)
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. kosher salt (or 1 t. regular)

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan while you dice the shallot or onion. Slice the jalapeno (seeds and all if you like) and the ginger, and add them, too. Sweat them until the onion is cooked through and golden.

I didn't have any fresh ginger, and can't even imagine how awesome it would have been with it will look nothing like soup to start off

2. Meanwhile, core and roughly chop the tomatoes. Add them to the pan with all their juice.

3. Add the sugar and salt and cook over medium to medium high heat for 15-20 minutes, or until the tomatoes are entirely broken down.

a little hard to tell because of all the steam, but it looks kind of like a very soupy pasta sauceI ended up with about 1/2 cup solids to discard

4. Press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve. Don’t forget to scrape the solids off the bottom of the sieve. Stir well, taste and adjust seasoning.

about 2 1/2 lbs--it looks like a lot more, but these were much smallerRecipe: Cream of Fresh Tomato Soup (adapted from Allrecipes)
makes approximately 30 oz—2-3 big servings or 5-6 small ones

  • 4-5 large tomatoes (~3”+ diameter) or 6-10 medium ones (~2”); 2 to 2 1/2 lbs total
  • 1 T. cooking oil (olive, peanut, canola, etc.)
  • 1 small onion, or half of a large one
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 3 T. sugar
  • 1 t. salt
  • 2-3 T. fresh or 2-3 t. dried herbs like parsley, oregano, basil, sage, tarragon, and/or rosemary
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • more salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan while you dice the shallot or onion and crush the garlic. Sweat them in the hot oil until the onion is cooked through and golden.

2. Meanwhile, core and roughly chop the tomatoes. Add them to the pan with all their juice.

3. Add the sugar, salt, and herbs and cook over medium to medium high heat for 30-40 minutes, or until the tomatoes are entirely broken down and beginning to get thick and saucy.

everything in the pot after 30 minutes of simmering

4. Press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a separate bowl.

5. Melt the butter in an empty saucepan. Whisk in the flour until no lumps remain and then gradually add the milk, whisking after each addition until smooth—add just a few tablespoons at a time for about the first cup, and then add the rest in a steady stream. Heat until steaming, and beginning to bubble gently at the edges but not yet boiling, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat.

flour whisked into the butter a few additions of milk, roux will be very thick

6. Whisk the strained tomato into the milk, taste and adjust seasoning.

still swirling together

The Case for Tomatoes as Dessert and Four Recipes: Fresh Tomato Juice, Tomato Curd, Shortbread Squares, and Candied Basil

not quite enough basil to go around, but that way the squares were basil-optional

The Legal Exception: Green Tomato Pie

When the Supreme Court decided in Nix v. Hedden that tomatoes couldn’t be legally considered a fruit because  they weren’t customarily eaten for dessert, there was only one real exception: green tomato pie.Paula Deen's green tomato pie, which includes raisins; click for the recipe The green tomatoes left on the vine at the end of the growing season aren’t especially palatable, at least when they’re raw. They’re hard, and contain substantially less of the sugar, acids, and aromatic compounds that give ripe tomatoes their distinctive flavor. Thanks in part to the 1991 Academy Award-nominated film based on Fannie Flagg’s novel Fried Green Tomatoes and the Whistle Stop Cafe, many people are familiar with the idea that green tomatoes can be eaten breaded and fried. Fewer people know that green tomatoes are such a blank slate that they can just as easily be used in sweet preparations. Sliced or minced and cooked in a pastry crust with lots sugar and some cinnamon or other spices, tomatoes make a sweet-tart fruit filling reminiscent of apples. The dessert was common in the American South by the mid-19th C.

However, it specifically relies on tomatoes that don’t taste like tomatoes. While it might seem like ripe tomatoes would be the more obvious choice for desserts because they’re so much sweeter, the savory meatiness imparted by the high glutamate content makes the flavor seem inappropriate for sweet applications.

At Least It’s Not Raw Trout

Still, if there’s anything the age of salted caramel and bacon chocolate should have taught us, it’s the fact that sugar plays well with salty, meaty flavors traditionally confined primarily to savory appetizers and main dishes. Indeed, dessert ice cream made with traditionally-savory flavors has become one of the hallmarks of avant-garde cuisine. Smoked bacon and egg ice cream is one of Heston Blumenthal’s most celebrated creations—and, notably, served with a sweet tomato jam as part of the breakfast-themed dessert that’s a fixture on the menu of his three-Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck. A San Francisco ice creamery named Humphry Slocombe recently profiled in The New York Times offers many savory-sweet flavors including foie gras, “government cheese,” and salted licorice. And the competitors on Iron Chef America have presented the judges with ice cream desserts using secret ingredients ranging from abalone to the infamous raw trout.

a tomato ice cream written about a couple of years ago in the NYTimes, click for the recipe Tomato ice cream may sound like just another novelty or oddball flavor, but in fact, it may have preceded all this recent nouveau frippery, possibly even dating back to the very origins of ice cream in America. In the 18th C., when ice cream was still a relatively new invention and hadn’t yet become common in England or America, Benjamin Franklin got his first taste of the churned, frozen custard while visiting Paris. He liked it so much that he wrote in a letter home: “I am making an effort to acquire the formula so we may sample this lovely fare upon my return to Philadelphia.” French and American cookbooks from the era suggest that the most popular flavors back then were apricot, raspberry, rose, chocolate, and cinnamon, but it has been rumored that the flavor Ben Franklin liked best was tomato.

Given the lack of documentary evidence for the existence of tomato ice cream in the 18th C. and in light of the Nix v. Hedden decision, the Franklin rumor is improbable. However, after making something very akin to tomato ice cream last year for Battle Tomato, I feel like it’s not entirely impossible. Prepared with enough sugar, tomato is a perfectly plausible dessert flavor—like strawberry’s slightly funky cousin or a less-tart gooseberry. It’s a tiny bit peculiar, perhaps, but also really alluring, a savory-sweet combination reminiscent of salt-water taffy or yogurt-covered pretzels or anything else that simultaneously hits sour, salty, and sweet tastes. It can be really delicious.

Tomato Squares

When I was trying to figure out what kind of dessert to make for the housewarming party—something I hadn’t made in a while, something I’d only make for company—Brian suggested lemon squares. I’d just been thinking that basically any dessert you can make with lemons should also work with tomato, so I decided to put that to the test. Tomato juice may not be quite as acidic as lemon juice, but I thought it would be tart enough to set off the buttery richness of a shortbread crust and eggy curd filling, but I also hoped the bars might get a little extra something from the savory-ness of the tomato.

I started by making some fresh tomato juice using heirlooms from the garden, which turned out insanely good—perhaps the purest, richest tomato flavor I’ve ever tasted. I used about a cup of that in place of most of the lemon juice in my standard lemon curd recipe, which uses a basic cake-mixing technique to obviate the need for straining by coating the egg proteins in fat before adding the acid. That also turned out totally delicious—the first time I tasted it to see if I needed to adjust the level of sugar or acidity, I just kept going back for more. Just as I had hoped, the tomato added a totally new dimension to the curd, giving it a little oomph and intrigue. I put most of it in the refrigerator and then licked the pan clean. I used the curd to top the shortbread crust that Rose Levy Beranbaum recommends for lemon bars, which I like because it stays crisp even after being topped with a wet filling, cooked it until the curd was just barely set. The curd was more of a golden color, but as it cooked, the red pigments started to come through more. And voila: tomato squares!

although I hadn't thought of it before, you could probably make bar cookies like this with any fruit or vegetable flavor...guava squares, mango squares, ginger-lime squares, cranberry squares, etc.

Candied Basil Leaves

Thinking they looked a little plain on their own, I decided to garnish them with some candied basil leaves—like a sweet take on caprese salad. First, I tried the method suggested by a cookbook called Wine Mondays, which involved poaching the leaves in a sugar syrup with a high ratio of sugar : water and then baking them at a low temperature until they crystallize. Unfortunately, they discolored, probably because there was a hot baking stone still in the oven and I’m an idiot.

So I improvised a second batch by simply poaching the leaves in a 1:1 simple syrup, dredging them in some extra sugar to crystallize them, and drying them at room temperature on wax paper. That worked pretty well, although once I put them on the bars, they absorbed a little moisture from them and ended up soggier than I would have liked. If I ever decide to candy leaves again, I’ll probably use another method I’ve read about that involves brushing the leaves with raw egg white, dredging them in sugar, and then baking them at a very low temp (~150F) until they’re hard and dry.

Very similar to candied mint leaves—intensely sweet and herbal.

first, unsuccessful attempt--not only did they discolor, they didn't get anything approximating crisp. maybe another 15-20 min. would have crystalized them?

second, better attempt; still not as crisp as I'd like

Please, Try This At Home

I’ve included all the recipes I used below, separated in case all you’re looking for is a good recipe for fresh tomato juice. If you want to try making tomato bars but this seems intimidating or tedious, there are lots of ways to simplify the process. You could use store-bought tomato juice instead of making your own, and probably should if you can’t get vine-ripened tomatoes from a garden or farmer’s market because at least canned and bottled tomato products are made with vine-ripened tomatoes at their peak, unlike the tomatoes you get at most supermarkets. If you don’t want to bother with a cooked tomato curd, I’ve included a recipe for an uncooked bar cookie filling below which you could use fresh or store-bought tomato juice in. Obviously, the candied basil leaves are optional. This doesn’t have to be a major undertaking.

You could also use tomato juice in place of citrus juice or fresh, ripe tomatoes in place of fresh fruit in any other dessert recipe. If using fresh tomatoes, you probably want to peel and seed them first to prevent them from watering down the recipe too much. I can imagine fresh tomatoes in place of peaches or cherries in a pie, or sweet cherry tomatoes caramelized on top of a tarte tatin. You could whisk tomato sauce or tomato paste into a standard cake, custard, or icing recipe or use slightly cooked-down tomato puree in place of applesauce or pumpkin puree in a muffin or spice cake. If you think the people you’re serving might be wary of tomatoes for dessert, you can always use the strategy Campbell’s used to sell its Tomato Soup Cake recipe to thousands of housewives during the Great Depression: call it “Mystery Cake” (or pie, or ice cream or whatever) and make people guess at the key ingredient. They’ll come to the realization that it’s delicious before they ever figure out that it’s tomato. 

it separates a little after sitting, but stir or shake before serving and just see if it doesn't beat out every tomato juice you've ever triedRecipe: Fresh Tomato Juice (from Simply Recipes)
(makes about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of juice)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs tomatoes
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 2 T. lemon juice

Method:

1. Core and chop the tomatoes roughly.

2. Place in a medium saucepan with as much of juice as you can get off the cutting board, and the rest of the ingredients.

3. Simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until the flesh is mostly broken down and very liquid.

4. Force through a fine mesh sieve or several layers of cheesecloth and discard the solids.

Recipe: Tomato Curd (adapted from Fine Cooking
(makes about 4 cups, more than enough to fill a 6-layer cake, two 9” pies, or a 9×13 pan of bar cookies; halve to thickened just enough to coat a spoon so that your finger leaves a trailfill a two-layer cake, one 9” pie, or an 8×8 pan of bar cookies)

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz. (12 Tbs.) butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice

Method

1. Using a stand or hand mixer or food processor, cream together the butter and sugar for at least 1 min or until the mixture is smooth and begins to lighten in color.

butter and sugar creamed together eggs beaten in well

2. Add the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition and for 2 minutes after all the eggs have been added.

3. Add the tomato juice and lemon juice and beat until smooth. Mixture will likely look curdled or uneven.

4. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and place over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to look smooth.

5. Raise the heat to medium and cook, still stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens just enough to coat a spoon or spatula thickly enough that you can run your finger through it and see a trail. 170F on a candy thermometer—the mixture should not boil, but may begin to bubble gently at the edges and steam a little bit.

6. Chill until ready to use.

Recipe: Shortbread Squares (adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum)
(fills a 9×13 pan; halve for 8×8)

butter cut, wrapped, and ready to chillIngredients:

For the crust:

  • 20 T. (12 oz) butter
  • 4 T. powdered sugar
  • 4 T. granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or 3 cups cake/pastry flour
  • 1/2 t. salt

For the filling:

  • approximately 4 cups of fruit curd, pastry cream, or cheesecake batter

OR

  • 8 large eggs
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 2/3 c. fresh lemon juice (or substitute 1/3 cup of any other juice, like guava or cranberry)
  • 2 t. lemon zest
  • 2 cups fresh or thawed frozen fruit (optional; omit for lemon bars; however, blueberries and lemon make a great combination)
  • powdered sugar for dusting

Method:

For the crust:

1. Preheat the oven to 325 F.

2. Cut butter into 1-inch cubes and chill.

3. In a food processor, process the granulated sugar for 1 minute or until very fine—sugar dust will probably rise from the food processor like smoke, that’s normal. Add the flour, powdered sugar, and salt and pulse to combine. If you don’t have a food processor, just whisk the dry ingredients together.

sugar "smoke" You should be able to press the crumbs against the side of the bowl and have them stay.

4. Add the chilled pieces of butter and pulse until it’s just a lot of moist, crumbly pieces and no dry flour particles remain.

If you don’t have a food processor, cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or two crisscrossing knives.

5. Dump the crumbs directly into an ungreased 9×13 pan and gently press all over to make it a solid layer of shortbread dough.

Beranbaum suggests kneading it together before pressing into a pan; I think pressing it against the bottom works just as well gently pricked with a fork, it's fine if that pulls a few crumbs up--they'll melt back in as it bakes

6. Prick the dough all over with a fork—the dough may want to come away with the tines, I just use two fingers to hold the dough down on either side of the fork tines as I quickly pierce the crust.

7. Bake 30-40 min or just until barely browning at the edges.

flaky and delicate, melt-in-your-mouth buttery shortbread

For the filling:

If using a prepared filling, simply spread it over the top of the crust and then return to the oven for 25-35 minutes or until the filling just barely jiggles in the center when the pan is shaken.

If using the filling recipe above:

1. Whisk together the sugar and baking powder and then combine with the eggs and whisk until they are beaten well and the mixture is smooth.

2. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest.

3. Stir in the fruit, if using and pour the egg mixture over the shortbread crust.

4. Return to the oven and bake until the filling is just firm and does not move when the pan is gently nudged, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and dust with powdered sugar.

fresh basil leaves, just picked from the garden, washed and dried wellRecipe: Candied Basil

  • whole basil leaves (about 20 large or 40 small)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided

1. Combine 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan over low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved.

2. Remove the syrup from the heat and let cool to lukewarm (the bottom of the pan should be cool enough to touch).

3. Place clean, dry basil leaves in the syrup and let sit for 5-10 minutes.

poached in simple syrup tossed in sugar

4. Spread the remaining 1/4 cup sugar on a baking sheet. Toss the leaves in the sugar.

5. Place the leaves on wax paper and let them dry overnight or for at least 4 hrs.

the finished product, at a slightly different, but no less wonky angle. whee.

Spiced Tomato Jam: Celebrating the sweetness of the tomato

these three largish tomatoes produced about a cup and a half of jam

The Official Verdict in the Fruit v. Vegetable Debate

In 1883, the U.S. Congress passed a Tariff Act imposing a 10% tax on imported vegetables to protect American farmers from foreign competition. Although that may sound like a fairly straightforward piece of legislation, one New York family took issue with a single word in the law: “vegetable.” The Nixes—John, John, George and Frank—imported a shipment of tomatoes from the West Indies in 1886, and were outraged to have to pay a “vegetable” tax on what scientists had for years agreed was technically a fruit. They forked over the 10%, but then they turned around and sued Edward Hedden, the Collector of the Port of New York, to recover the duties they thought they had been made to pay unfairly.

Somehow, none of the lower courts managed to satisfactorily sort out this semantic debate, so by 1893, the case had made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The lawyer for the plaintiff read definitions from Webster’s and Worcester’s for potato, turnip, parsnip, cauliflower, cabbage, and carrot to prove that the tomato was of an entirely different ilk than those edible roots, leaves, and flowers. The defendant parried back with Webster’s definition of “vegetable”: “cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, potatoes, peas, beans, and the like,” and called in multiple witnesses to testify that tomatoes were commonly understood to be covered by those crucial last three words.

The court sided unanimously with the defendant. As Justice Horace Gray wrote in the decision:

The passages cited from the dictionaries define the word “fruit” as the seed of plants, or that part of plants which contains the seed, and especially the juicy, pulpy products of certain plants, covering and containing the seed. These definitions have no tendency to show that tomatoes are “fruit,” as distinguished from “vegetables,” in common speech, or within the meaning of the tariff act.

Gray went on to explain that regardless of the scientific definition, in “common parlance” tomatoes were considered a vegetable and most commonly eaten as part of the main course, as opposed to fruits, which the court agreed were more commonly eaten for dessert. And so, to this day, the tomato is legally considered a vegetable even though, as even the court acknowledged, it is botanically classified as a fruit.

the tomato's no more alone in there than pears and apricots are the only fruits; image from the Wikipedia article on "Fruit" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fruit

More Than a Technicality

I suspect that the reason the debate about whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable lives on while other culinary “vegetables” that contain the seeds of flowering plants (like cucumbers, peppers, squash, peas, and beans) remain relatively uncontroversial is because tomatoes walk the line between savory and sweet. As the Supreme Court noted, they’re too savory—and in particular, contain too much glutamate, which makes them rich or even “meaty”—to be routinely eaten for dessert, but at the peak of their season, they can be almost as sweet as strawberries and far sweeter than other berries that do regularly appear in desserts, like cranberries or currants.

paired with aged gouda on whole wheat baguetteWhile I’m a big fan of tomato-flavored desserts, too—more on that later this week when I post about my tomato curd shortbread squares—what’s great about the tomato jam that Mark Bittman wrote about two years ago is that it reflects the tomato’s ambivalent nature. A cup of sugar enhances the natural sweetness of late summer tomatoes and gives it the thick, gooey consistency of any other fruit jam, but an hour or more of simmering also intensifies the savory umami flavor imparted by tomatoes’ high glutamate content. It also gets a spicy kick from the jalapeno and tartness from both the natural acidity of the tomatoes and the addition of some lime juice. Cloves and cinnamon give it just a hint of bitterness, so it actually hits basically all the major taste categories. Pair it with something fatty like cheese or softly-scrambled eggs, and you activate all the taste sensations typically associated with food (missing only metallic and alkaline, which are generally far less appetizing).  

Bittman says it’s great on tuna, meat, or white fish. Given its similarity to ketchup or tomato chutney, I can also imagine it being served with any form of fried potato—from French fries to samosas. It would also make sense as a burger topping or sandwich spread with any number of fillings—grilled eggplant, ham, or a thick slice of cheddar or a smear of goat cheese. Or, if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you could exploit and enhance its sweetness by using it the way you might use strawberry or raspberry preserves—as a filling for a cookie or cake, a topping for cheesecake or ice cream, or a mix-in for cake batter, icing, or a custard base. With this jam, you could make anything from tomato rugelach to tomato cupcakes with tomato cream cheese frosting or tomato ice cream.

The possibilities are basically endless, but the window of opportunity is probably limited—I can’t imagine getting satisfactory results with the kind of supermarket tomatoes that are picked and shipped when they’re green and stay hard and relatively flavorless even after ripened with ethylene gas. I suppose it’s possible that canned tomatoes could work, since they’re generally preserved at their peak ripeness, but no guarantees. If I get a hankering for it in February, maybe I’ll try it and let you know.

Recipe: Tomato Jam (from Mark Bittman)

housewarming 148Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs very ripe tomatoes  
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 T. lime juice (from about 1/2 a large lime)
  • 1 T. minced or grated fresh ginger
  • 1 jalapeno (or other hot pepper) or a pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 1/4 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • a pinch of ground cloves

1. Core and dice the tomatoes. If you don’t want the skins in the final product, blanche them before chopping in boiling water for 60 seconds and then dunk them in an ice bath or run them under cool water—the skins will slip right off.

2. Stem the jalapeno, and remove the seeds if you’re wary of the heat—you can always add the seeds back in later if you want more of a bite.

3. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.

housewarming 149 housewarming 164

4. Turn the heat down until the mixture is just simmering gently, and cook for at least an hour until the texture is thick and jammy, stirring occasionally (it took me about an hour and a half). You’ll have to stir it more frequently towards the end of the cooking time to prevent it from burning to the bottom of the pan. It will thicken more after it cools, but it should be thicker than a sauce before you take it off the heat.

5. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired. Then, cool completely and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Summer Squash Fritters and Chili-yogurt Sauce

you know it's August when your dinner consists substantially of zucchini and tomato

I meant to make this recipe and post it on Monday in honor of Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day, but we were in the process of moving to a new apartment. So a bit belatedly, here’s my take on the classic zucchini fritter, which is a great way to make any kind of summer squash into something entree-worthy. As a seasonal bonus, it pairs beautifully with the tomatoes that are just nowa tiny bit green, because it got knocked off the plant in the move well before I would have picked it, but after a couple of days in a brown paper bag it was just about perfect, if not quite tomato sandwich material getting ripe enough to harvest in Michigan. The one I sliced up for last night’s dinner was our first German Queen, which is some kind of “heirloom” variety, whatever heirloom means when you’re buying it at a big box store.

There are dozens of ways to fritter your squash. I tend to prefer a high ratio of vegetable matter : batter, so I use just enough egg and whole wheat flour to bind the shredded squash. To keep them light despite the whole wheat flour, I separate the eggs and beat the whites to stiff peaks before folding them in (hat tip: Mark Bittman). For flavor, I add a minced onion, some garlic, a handful of sharp cheese and a generous sprinkling of Old Bay, the latter inspired by a mock “crab” cake recipe. For the sake of convenience, I prefer pan-frying to deep-frying, although if you have a deep fryer, I’m sure they’re crisper and more delicious that way.

I don’t think they taste a thing like crab cakes, but they can certainly serve the same role—they work as an appetizer or small plate on their own, as a sandwich on a bun with some coleslaw, or as the centerpiece of a more substantial meal accompanied by a salad or cup of soup or some other side dish. 

if I'd been thinking, I'd have put a cup of the chili-yogurt sauce in the middle. alas.

Although they’re tasty plain, they really want to be served with something creamy and tangy, possibly with a little (or a lot) of heat. If you plan ahead at least 24 hrs, Alton Brown’s chipotle crema would be perfect. On shorter notice, some canned or re-hydrated dried peppers blended with some Greek yogurt and a little mayonnaise does the trick. Other options: some avocado slices and black bean salsa, ranch dressing (especially combined 1:1 with a good salsa), crème fraiche or sour cream, or just plain mayonnaise perked up a bit with some fresh lemon or lime juice and minced or powdered garlic.

I’ll be back to fretting about calorie counts on menus and Food, Inc. and things that won’t kill you soon. But first, I have a lot of books to unpack.

Recipe: Summer squash fritters

  • 3-4 medium-sized zucchini, yellow squash, pattypan, or crookneck (between 1 1/2 and 2 lbs)the zucchini I used are the ones cut up in the back, but any of the ones in the foreground would have worked just as well
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup shredded or crumbled sharp cheese (cheddar, feta, gouda, etc., about 2 oz )
  • a small onion, or half of a larger one
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. Old Bay seasoning 
  • 2-3 T. canola or peanut oil

1. Shred the squash—this would be extremely tedious without a food processor or a sous chef, although you might be able to get away with a fine dice. Place the grated or diced squash in a colander, sprinkle the salt all over and toss to distribute the salt evenly throughout. Let it sit in the sink for at least 10 minutes.

 salted, before draining after as much moisture as possible is squeezed out, about 1/2 the previous volume

2. Meanwhile, dice the onion, mince the garlic, and combine with the cheese in a large bowl.

3. Separate the eggs—you can throw the yolks directly in with the onion, garlic, and cheese. Beat the whites until stiff peaks form.

 stiff peaks. again, a pain in the ass without electric tools or a very energetic sous chefbefore combining, vegetable matter and egg yolks in the big bowl, egg whites in the medium bowl, dry ingredients in the small bowl

4. Whisk together the whole wheat flour, baking powder, and Old Bay.

5. Press the squash against the sides of the colander to wring out as much moisture as you can. Add the well-drained squash to the onion and egg yolks. Mix to coat everything lightly in egg.

6. Preheat a large skillet on medium-high.

7. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the zucchini-egg-onion mixture and stir until just combined. Don’t overwork it—you don’t want much gluten to form or the pancakes will get tough, although the bran in the whole wheat will actually help prevent that too.

8. Add the beaten egg whites to the zucchini mixture and fold in gently until just combined. You want to preserve as much of the air suspended in the egg whites as possible.

resorting to flash. new kitchen doesn't have a lot of natural light. it does, however, have a dishwasher and a garbage disposal, so it's hard to be too displeased no pictures of the shaping process, because it's messy

10. Test the pan for heat by flicking a few droplets of water at it. They should jump and sizzle. If they don’t, turn the heat up. Add 1-2 t. oil to the pan and tilt to coat the surface evenly.

11. Form the mixture into patties with your hands and drop into the pan. My fritters usually end up about the size of my palms, so I imagine bigger hands = bigger patties. You don’t want them to be too thick or they won’t cook through—about 1/2” at the most. Smaller is always an option.

12. Cook until the underside is very brown—about 4-5 minutes—and then flip very gently. Cook for another 4-5 minutes and then remove from the heat. Continue until all of the mixture has been cooked. If they seem to be getting very dark in less than 4-5 minutes, turn the heat down.

Recipe: Chili-yogurt sauce

  • 2-3 dried chilis (I used one small habanero, one small cascabel, and one small red chile) or 1 canned  chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (or more)
  • 2 T. mayonnaise (optional)
  • salt to taste

1. If using dried chilis, immerse them in boiling water and soak them for at least an hour or up to 24 hours.dried chiles, just after I added the water after soaking about 8 hours

2. Drain and remove the stems and seeds (you can add the seeds later if you want more heat, but it doesn’t really work the other way around). Alternately, remove the chipotle from the can.

3. Blend the chilis with the yogurt and mayonnaise, if using, in a food processor or blender. Add enough reserved seeds to make it as hot as you want it and salt to taste.

in the blender I accidentally bought fat-free Greek yogurt (curses to the people who create a demand for that nonsense) so the mayonnaise was my way of coping

Battle Tomato Course 2/5: Crab salad napoleons and a green salad with roasted tomato vinaigrette and fried tomato skins

and because we are nothing if not classy in kitchen stadium canada, it's paired with labatt blue light. in a can.

Finally getting back around to the epic battle of tomato before tomato season is over for another year. After I scrapped the idea of doing BLT sliders for my lunch plate because I didn’t want to over-use bacon, I decided to try something that would use the slices of tomato as a structuring agent rather than bread.

Although "napoleon" used to refer exclusively to a dessert composed of layers of puff pastry and pastry cream (or whipped cream), it’s being used now to refer to anything with repetitive layers of differing textures—i.e. more layers than a "sandwich" and more differentiated than layers of gelatin or lasagna. From what I can tell from watching competitive cooking on television (and not as a substitute for cooking either—I so wish the Balzer data Pollan was ranting about in the NYT a few weeks ago had accounted for traditional indicators of social class and suspect that many people watching food television are actually cooking but that’s a topic for another post), napoleons usually have at least three layers of whatever’s playing the roll of the puff pastry and at least two layers of semi-solid filling.

The layers were already a given. For the filling, I decided on a mayonnaise-based crab salad because I knew I had seen crab-stuffed tomatoes on menus and tomatoes love mayonnaise almost as much as they love salt. And indeed, I thought the combination worked really well. I’ll definitely make the salad again, perhaps to use as a sandwich or wrap filling when tomatoes are out of season. Recipes and instructions for making fried tomato skins after the jump, now that jumps are working. Yay for jumps.

Recipe: Crab salad napoleons, adapted from allrecipes.com

(for 6 servings, but easily scaled)

  • 6 medium-to-large tomatoes
  • 1 lb crab—lump or canned, or a surimi product (like imitation krab)
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 shallots diced
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 2 T. sour cream
  • 2-3 T. chopped fresh dill
  • 1 t. Old Bay seasoning
  • 2-3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Core the tomatoes and cut each one into four slices horizontally.

Drain crab and check for cartilage and shell fragments. Combine with remaining ingredients.

Spread a few tablespoons of salad between the layers of tomato and garnish with a sprig of dill.

I served the napoleons with a side salad of fresh greens tossed with a roasted tomato vinaigrette that I can eat by the spoonful I love it so much, goat cheese, diced kalmata olives, and fried tomato skins.

The fried tomato skins were a sort of experiment. I knew I was going to blanch and skin the tomatoes for my soup course and decided that rather than throw them out, I should try to do something with them. Points for creative use of ingredient and all that. So I tossed them in some flour seasoned with salt and pepper and then fried them until golden brown in some hot olive oil, and gave them another sprinkle of salt just after frying. Tomato skins don’t have a ton of flavor, but it’s hard to go wrong with fried flour and salt—they were a hit. I would do it again if I ever, ever bothered to blanche and peel tomatoes when I cook at home. 

The easiest way to get nice big pieces of tomato skins is to cut an "x" on the bottom of your tomatoes before blanching them in boiling water for about 1 min. Transfer them to a bowl of ice water, and then you should be able to remove each tomato skin in four big pieces.

Recipe: Roasted tomato vinaigrette, from Erik Markoff

  • 8 roma tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup + 1 T. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 F. Halve the tomatoes and place them on a foil-lined baking sheet. Pour about 1 T. olive oil over them and toss gently to coat, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for 40 minutes.

Puree roasted tomatoes with remaining ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Battle Tomato Course 1/5: Tomato Toad in the Hole, Sundried Tomato and Asiago rolls, Fresh Ruddy Mary

you can see the hole where the toothpick held the prosciutto in place

My friend Raffi’s family has a summer house on Lake Erie in Ontario, and a group of us who meet there every year stage an Iron Chef-style battle. The battles actually  started in college when Kit’s dad gave him a 7-lb can of refried beans for Christmas, which doesn’t make any more sense if you know Kit, except that he’s the kind of person who appreciates that kind of absurdity.

Obviously, unlike on the show, the ingredient for Battle Refried Beans wasn’t a secret, and we’ve continued to choose the primary ingredient in advance because 1) none of us is Morimoto (who I’m shocked to discover has the lowest winning percentage on Iron Chef America, which apparently includes his record in Battle of the Masters, but still, lower than Cat Cora!?) and 2) although Kitchen Stadium Canada is pretty well-stocked, especially given that it’s not a primary residence, we still have to bring some tools and spices. And by "some," I mean basically half the contents of our kitchen, including the stand mixer and rice cooker and food processor and three chef’s knives and a third of the spice rack and more than eight pounds of tomatoes from our garden and farmer’s market, and I’m sure we would have had a great time trying convince the border patrol we were only in Canada for the weekend if they’d opened our trunk.

In our battles, chefs get two hours to cook instead of one, and they can plate their dishes and even do last-minute cooking right before serving so nothing suffers from having to sit for hours while other dishes are judged. Judges can award up to 10 points for taste, 5 points for presentation, and 5 points for creativity, and they also double as sous chefs. Especially talented cooks get traded off between the competitors to try to keep things even. Beyond that, it’s all delicious chaos.

The main ingredient this year paid homage late summer’s bounty and Leamington, Ontario’s reputation for being "The Tomato Capital of Canada." I knew as soon as the ingredient was chosen that I wanted to make ice cream, but the rest of the dishes were up in the air until I stumbled across an old post on Smitten Kitchen with a recipe for eggs in tomato sauce. The runny yolk in the last photo sold me on the idea of a brunch plate, but I decided I needed to do something with a slightly more sophisticated presentation. About the same time, my friend Laurel posted about making oeufs en cocotte to sate an appetite awakened by Julie and Julia, which made me think perhaps instead of poaching the eggs in a tomato sauce, I could bake them in hollowed out tomato cups.

Naturally, I’m not the first person to think of this. So from the mash-up of those recipes and their reviews, I ended up with this:

Recipe: Tomato Toad in the Hole*

For each serving:

  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 t. prepared pesto
  • 2 t. finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 medium egg at room temperature
  • 1 slice prosciutto (optional but highly recommended)
  • a dab of butter or bit of heavy cream
  • salt and black pepper
  • oil or cooking spray
  • fresh basil to garnish

First, take the eggs out of the refrigerator if you haven’t already. If you attempt this with cold eggs, the yolks will harden before the whites are even close to done.

Slice off the tops off the tomatoes and then scoop out the insides (which you can either discard or reserve and strain for juice or cook down into a sauce or paste). Salt the insides lightly and invert them on paper towels to drain for at least 30 minutes. (People seem to have had more issues with the whites setting with recipes that didn’t include this step)

Preheat the oven to 425F, and coat a baking dish large enough to accommodate all your tomatoes with oil or cooking spray

For the assembly, smear the inside of each tomato with some pesto—I used a traditional basil pesto out of a jar because of the whole frantic two hours business, but the romaine pesto here sounds intriguing and I bet a sharp arugula pesto would be excellent. Sprinkle the insides with parmesan cheese. Then, wrap a slice of prosciutto around each tomato and secure the ends with a wooden toothpick and set in the baking dish. The prosciutto should help the tomatoes stand up straight, but you could probably cut a thin slice off the bottom to create a flat surface as long as the cup remained intact. Break the eggs into a small dish, and gently tip one into each cavity (if using "large" eggs instead of medium, you may wish to reserve some of the whites. Top with salt and pepper, a dot of butter or a tiny bit of cream, and another teaspoon or so of parmesan cheese.

Bake for 20 min, or until the eggs are softly set.

Garnish with torn basil leaves, or basil chiffonade, which is super easy: just stack the leaves flat on top of each other, roll them up, and then cut the roll into thin slices, as seen here.

Mine clearly weren’t done at 20 min, and I got a little paranoid about the possibility of serving undercooked whites, so I left them in the oven for another 4 minutes and that turned out to be about 1 min too long. If the yolks had been just a bit softer, they would have been sublime. Even so, with the prosciutto crisped from the oven and the tomato soft and warm and all the savory herbs and parmesan, they were pretty wonderful.

I served them with a freshly-baked roll studded with chopped sundried tomatoes and asiago cheese based on the Kitchen Aid 60-Min Dinner Roll recipe That Winsome Girl made BLT sliders out of, which was part of my original plan for a lunch plate until I decided that BLTs would be too repetitive given the prosciutto in this dish. I made the rolls anyway, thinking there’d be slightly more runny egg yolk to mop up. The rolls turned out to be as fast to throw together as promised (largely because there’s so much yeast in them):

Recipe: Quick Sundried Tomato and Asiago Rolls

Yield: 12 rolls

  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1 t. salt
  • 3 T. melted butter, divided
  • 3.5 t. instant yeast (a little less than 2 pkgs)
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes (drained if oil-packed, soaked in hot water and then drained if dried)
  • 3/4 cup grated asiago cheese
  • vegetable oil or cooking spray

Melt 2 T. butter and set aside to cool for a few minutes. Meanwhile, heat the water to 105-115F combine it with the yeast and a pinch of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the milk, butter, sugar, salt, and 2 cups of flour and mix on low for 1-2 min. Add remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time, mixing 1-2 min after each addition. Dough should begin to form a ball and clean the sides of the bowl. Mix on low for another 2 min.

Knead by hand briefly, either in the bowl or on a lightly floured surface, if necessary to bring it together, and then wipe the mixer bowl clean (it needn’t be perfect) and coat with vegetable oil. Return dough to bowl and turn to coat, cover with a towel and let rise 15 min.

Grease a 9"x13" pan and preheat the oven to 425F.

Once the first rise is done, knead in the sundried tomatoes and 1/2 cup of the asiago (or whatever else you want, or nothing at all for plain rolls) and then it divide into 12 balls. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 cup of asiago. Cover and let rise another 15 min.

Bake for 12 min, or until golden brown. Melt the remaining 1 T. butter, and brush the tops of the rolls (or just rub with a stick of butter if you’re running around and can’t be bothered). Return to the oven for 1 min. Cool on a rack—or don’t, if you forget, like I did. The bottoms might get a little moist but it’s not mean to be a crusty bread anyway

To complete the brunch course, I served a fresh tomato Ruddy Mary, which is differentiated from its better-known Bloody cousin by the use of gin instead of vodka. goodbye, garnishes

Recipe: Fresh Tomato Ruddy Mary (adapted from Martha Stewart’s recipe)

Yield: 4 servings, about 3 cups

  • 1 lb fresh tomatoes (about 4)
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 t. Worcestershire (could use diluted vegetable bouillon for a vegetarian version)
  • 20 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 1 1/2 t. freshly grated horseradish
  • 1 t. celery salt
  • 1/2 t. pepper
  • 6 oz. gin
  • more celery salt and paprika for rims
  • celery stalks ( hearts would have been prettier) and cherry tomatoes to garnish

Core the tomatoes and pulverize them in a blender or food processor. Force the mush through a medium wire sieve about a cup at a time (you can use a fine one if that’s all you’ve got but it’ll take longer) and discard the solids. Combine the strained tomato juice with everything but the garnishes in a pitcher, taste and adjust seasoning as desired, and chill until read to serve. You can leave out the gin if you want to serve virgin versions or give people the option of having a traditional Bloody Mary, just top each glass off with 1.5 oz of liquor.

To rim the glasses, combine enough celery salt and paprika (about equal parts) in a thin layer on a small plate, moisten the rim of each glass with a wedge of lime, and invert the glass onto the plate and give it a little twist. Then, fill each glass with ice, add a celery heart, top with the cocktail mixture, and garnish with a cherry tomato.

I’m not usually a big fan of bloody marys, but I enjoyed this recipe a lot. The fresh horseradish is a lot milder than prepared horseradish and obviously fresh tomato tastes entirely different than canned tomato juice. I wouldn’t bother with a high-quality gin in a traditional recipe, because the other flavors will overwhelm any subtleties, but Boodles or something would probably be great in this.

Four more courses to go: To Be Continued…

*Re: the name, my personal memory of this is fuzzy, but I have the vaguest idea that either my mother or grandmother, or maybe both, once upon a time cut a circle out of a piece of toast, cracked an egg into the hole, and either baked or griddled it, and called this a "toad in the hole." I may have imagined this entirely. But according to wikipedia, that is one of the names for that basic egg preparation, along with "eggs in the basket," "frog in a log," "hen in a nest," "Rocky Mountain toast," "Soldier in a Boat," "moon egg," "cowboy egg," "one-eyed monster breakfast" (!!!), "One-eyed Jack," and "Guy Kibbee eggs." Apparently in England, "toad in the hole" usually refers to sausages baked in a yorkshire pudding. So you have your choice of names, or, if you want to go upscale, call it Oeufs en Tomates.