s end-of-summer days come to my garden in southern France, it looks to me as if spring had just sprung. Clusters of Roma tomatoes hang like bunches of Italia grapes on my 20-odd plants, each one propped up with bamboo tee-pees that threaten to collapse under the weight of a year’s supply of pasta sauce. I roam the Internet and call friends for new tomato recipes but find few.
The tomato, like an egg, is among the world’s most perfect foods. A ripe Roma tomato just off the vine, with a dusting of sea salt, can elicit all the sweet (and bittersweet) memories attributed to Proust’s Madeleine — just “more better,” as they still say in the American South.
On sunlit mornings, I heat a kettle with olive oil and a few slices of sweet onion and collect the ingredients for winter’s pasta sauces. Or, I just stuff half-a-dozen whole tomatoes into a sturdy freezing container to be brought back to life later for stews, soups, ratatouille, and “escalivada,” Catalan grilled vegetable (in truth, omelets are my favorite tomatoes targets).
Here’s an idea: In an omelet pan, start by heating a splash of olive oil. After that, toss in four or five ripe tomatoes (cut into chunks) and a clove of garlic. Cook it all to a paste, adding a leaf of basil at the end. Then put the tomato mix on a plate, add a little butter to the pan, and begin your omelet.
When it’s half-done, scrape the purée back onto the center of the omelet and flip one end over the purée. Slide the spatula under the fold and flip it again. Serve with a nice wine and salad, both crisp.
To me, this is manna from the garden.
But even with the omelet, I’m left with hundreds of tomatoes. I dream of tomatoes threatening to disrupt my Zen stepping stone path or attacking my grandkids, who frolic among the plants as they’d struck Easter eggs.
Next idea: I lop the tops off my beefsteak tomatoes about a centimeter down (leaving a nice stem on each one). I then scoop out the centers, chop the pulp, and mix each one with fresh basil and a big spoonful of risotto rice and olive oil. I salt the mixture well, put it back in the scooped tomatoes, and crown each with its little hat. I bake them at 220C for an hour, basting once with the juice, until the tomatoes are, as my husband calls them, “cremated.” What he means is “caramelized.”
You can add cubed potatoes to help support the fragile tomatoes as they cook. At the end, I sometimes push a cube of mozzarella into each cooked tomato before serving.
And yet the army of tomatoes continues its march toward the kitchen.
Time for the tomato tart.
If you don’t mind buying ready-made puff pastry, this is an easy tomato solution (but you’ll enjoy the result more if you make the pastry yourself). Heat the oven to 225C. In a non-stick pan, warm some good olive oil and add a little chopped onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, and sauté the mix for a few minutes.
Add eight-to-10 Roma tomatoes (or four large beefsteaks), each one chopped coarse. Let the tomatoes cook until cremated, er, caramelized, to a thick paste, and then toss in four or five anchovy filets and some fresh parsley, also chopped.
Put the tomato mixture evenly into a non-stick pie pan that is brushed well with olive oil. Roll out the puff pastry to about half-an-inch, cut it to size for the pan and lay it on the tomato mixture, tucking in the edges. Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastry is nicely browned and crisp.
Let the tart sit for a few minutes before inverting it onto a plate: place the plate over the tart and quickly turn it upside down, being careful not to burn yourself. You may add fresh thyme to the tomato mixture and any fresh herbs you prefer, but I like to keep it simple.
Now then, if I only knew what to do with a 15-pound zucchini.