You’ve been anticipating this moment for months, hovering over your precious tomato plants with tender loving care since they began to sprout. Now your hard work is paying off. You have a bountiful crop of fresher-than-fresh, juicy, homegrown tomatoes. In fact, you have more tomatoes than you know what to do with. You’ve eaten them plain and in salads and sandwiches, given them to neighbors … but still there are more. What’s a home gardener to do with too many tomatoes?
The Versatile Vegetable
Technically tomatoes are fruit, but when it comes to cooking they’re typically served in savory dishes like a vegetable. Cooked or raw, tomatoes shine in pasta toppings, salsas, and chutneys, especially combined with other produce at its peak right now. Think tomatoes paired with peppers, eggplant, zucchini.
Try making your favorite canned tomato-based dish … but this time substitute fresh for a delicious difference. You’ll be surprised at the familiar-made-new flavor of tomato cream soup, chili, chicken cacciatore, or Swiss steak when fresh, ripe tomatoes add their signature savor.
Too hot to cook indoors? Grill tomatoes as part of a kebab supper. Or prepare vegetarian pizza, topped with plenty of paper thin tomato slices and perhaps some feta cheese; bake on your barbecue with the aid of a special pizza stone.
Don’t forget the green tomatoes you’ll rescue just before the first frost. Besides the iconic fried version, green tomatoes make amazing pickles.
Save Some for Later
Tomatoes also lend themselves to a wide range of preserving methods. The simplest is freezing whole, skinned or not. Freezing just-squeezed tomato juice is also easy. Alternatively, cook up a big batch of marinara sauce, tomato butter, or homemade ketchup; can the tasty results and put away for the winter. When you can your own tomatoes in glass jars, you avoid BPAs and additives. Be sure to use non-reactive cookware (ceramic or stainless) for preparation, due to the tomatoes’ high acid content.
Drying via a dehydrator, oven, or the Texas sunshine atop your Houston roof produces tangy slices with some of the most concentrated tomato flavor ever. Stored in an airtight container, these will stay at their peak in the refrigerator for 6 to 9 months. Use any of the above methods to dry until crisp, add salt, and you’ll have low-fat, high-flavor tomato chips to snack on.
Although the list of tomato recipes is virtually inexhaustible, you may eventually wish to experiment with non-food uses. Tomatoes are popular as a skin treatment in India. Claims for their curative powers include brightening the complexion, tightening pores, exfoliation, acne remedy, dark under-eye circle remover, wrinkle reliever, and a pick-me-up for both oily and dry skin. Tomatoes may also be applied to the hair to restore pH balance.
Yummy Tomato Herb Bread
Here’s an interesting fresh tomato recipe that both kids and grownups enjoy. Spread with cream cheese, toast for a deliciously chewy crunch, or just slice and eat as is!
2½ cups unpeeled fresh tomatoes (about 5 large), coarsely chopped
1 small onion, minced
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
5½ - 6 cups whole grain flour
1 teaspoon sugar
2 envelopes active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tsp crumbled dried or 1-2 TBSP chopped fresh herbs of your choice (oregano, basil, rosemary, dill are good)
¼ cup olive oil
Warm the vegetables and sugar in a large sauce pan till the mixture is warm to the touch, approx. 110 F. Sprinkle with the yeast and let proof 5 minutes. Then mix in the remaining ingredients, adding enough flour to make a soft (not sticky!) dough. Knead until smooth and elastic. Drizzle olive oil on top of the dough and turn to coat thoroughly. Cover with a damp cloth. Let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
Punch down. Shape dough into 2 loaves and place on a greased cookie sheet or into 2 greased loaf pans. Cover and let rise ½ hour.
Bake 35-40 minutes at 375 degrees F. Loaves should be lightly browned. Let cool before slicing. Freezes well.
Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.