The tomato season is ending quickly. As of today, I don’t foresee many more ripe tomatoes coming off of the vine. I’ve had a good run: 110 lbs of ripe fruit in all! This was my first year weighing the harvest, so while I can’t make an accurate comparison to previous years, I think it is safe to say that it was my best year, ever.
It’s time now to focus on the unripe, green tomatoes. In an attempt to squeeze a few more ripe fruit from the harvest I’ve been nestling those that are nearly there inside paper bags. This sort of treatment isn’t exactly necessary, but with fruit flies still around, I find it easier to keep them off of the goods this way.
In my experience, not all green tomatoes will ripen by this method. The fruit that is really young and underdeveloped tends to go wrinkly and rot rather than ripening, so I reserve this process for the tomatoes that have a blush of colour and save the darker green fruit for eating fresh and preserving.
Eating & Preserving
My favourite way to eat green tomatoes straight off of the plant is batter fried. They are also delicious roasted in the oven. When it comes to preserving, my go-to is green tomato chutney. Everyone loves this condiment, and there is never a lack of friends available to take the surplus off of my hands. If you’re not interested in canning or only have a small batch to work with, you can cut the sugar (and some of the vinegar/acid) from my recipe and store it in the fridge short-term. My no-sugar added, short shelf-life, small-batch version is available in my first book, “You Grow Girl” (see page 154).
The concept is so simple I wish I had thought of it: take the throw-away tomato skins that are left-over in the preserving process and make them into something useful. Something other than compost.
With over 80 lbs of tomatoes (and counting) harvested from my garden this year, it is safe to say that I have been knee deep in canning these last weeks. While I am experienced and adept at canning tomatoes in many forms, I had never heard of drying the skins into a powder until I came upon it a few weeks back in Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry by Liana Krissoff.
Drying the skins is easy. Simply lay the wet skins out onto a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet and slow dry in the oven at the lowest temperature setting until they are crisp. I recently ran out of parchment (and my Silpat is too big for our tiny oven. Long story) and used a paper bag cut open. That works in a pinch, too. You can do this in a dehydrator as well, but I put mine away recently and have been too lazy to lug it back out to test.
Once the skins are dry, grind them into a fine powder using a coffee grinder. I have one exactly like this that is reserved for grinding herbs and spices only. A food processor will work, but it will turn out something more like tomato flakes than powder.
The result is a colourful and tangy flavouring that you can sprinkle on top of your meals. So far I’ve used it on breakfast eggs and in ricotta cheese stuffed zucchini blossoms. I’m sure I’ll discover more applications in the coming weeks as the possibilities seem nearly endless.
No doubt if you are growing even one sage plant this year, chances are great that you have enough of this strong herb to flavour a Thanksgiving stuffing so enormous that the Guinness People wouldn’t even bother showing up to authenticate its title. It would win a placement in the book and keep placing now and through eternity by default.
There are not enough people in the world to eat that side dish.
Recently I’ve been on a break of sorts. Naturally, the first thing I did to prepare for the break is stock up on books. I may have gone overboard. One of the books I purchased was “My Tuscan Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes from the Castello di Vicarello,” a collection of Italian home cooking recipes by Aurora Baccheschi Berti. This is a beautiful book, full of warm and tempting photographs of sumptuous Italian treats. The focus is on simple, seasonal foods that will inspire you to use up the gleanings from your garden. I want to cook it all (although the truth is that I never will), but so far one recipe has stood out, and it isn’t even a recipe at all. It was simply instruction to take two sage leaves, sandwich a thin layer of anchovy paste in between, batter and fry. Apparently this is called, uccellini scappati or “birds that have flown away.
Are you intrigued? I sure was. I have fried sage leaves in butter. I have battered sage leaves in oil. I have even sandwiched sage leaves around cheese and fried that, but this is something different. Sage is a strong flavour, but so are anchovies. The two didn’t seem to cancel each other out, or create something too overwhelming to enjoy. They were delicious. Strongly flavoured, but harmonious.
They flew away, alright. Right into my mouth.
They’re here! The slicing tomatoes are here!
Yeah, sure, we’ve been enjoying the bite-sized determinates since June, and they are good. I won’t deny that they have been swell. The first two Caprese salads of the season were dynamite. I will never forget them. But in all honesty, what started this weekend is The Show.
This is what I’ve been waiting for. I’ve intentionally held back on buying tomatoes these last months. Not at the supermarket and not even at the farmers’ markets. I wanted to make sure that the feeling of tomato deprivation was so great, that when the first slicers made their appearance, I would appreciate every bite. And they have. And I did.
The very first treat I made was a homemade bloody mary. That was good. So fresh and tangy. This afternoon I popped a bunch into the oven to roast. Tonight we’ll have roasted tomato soup for dinner. I’ve been dreaming about this for weeks.
And for lunch, I had my very favourite summer sandwich: Fried Egg with Basil and Tomato.
My final Globe and Mail article for the 2010 growing season was on growing and eating cardoon. Cardoon is lesser-known relative of the artichoke that is considered a delicacy in Mediterranean cuisine. Like artichokes it grows into a stately and somewhat dangerous thistle-like plant, but unlike artichokes you eat the stems, not the flower buds. It tastes a lot like artichoke, too.
Back in the spring, I started a few cardoon plants from seed, eventually growing one in my community garden plot and the other at my friend Barry’s.
His spot was ideal, whereas mine fell a bit short. My cardoon grew well enough, but stayed small. The plant at Barry’s got just want it needed and then some. It was really sunny, warm, protected, and in soil that was well watered but very free-draining. Mine was in rich soil with lots of organic matter, but watering was inconsistent (we ran out of water at the garden for a time), and the only spot I could afford was a bit cramped with a taller, more robust plant that shaded out the young cardoon a bit too much.
Last weekend we finally went to Barry’s to harvest the cardoon. It turned out to be the biggest I have ever seen. The yield from one plant was a lot more than I’ve seen in stores or purchased myself. We actually got enough out of it to make 2 batches of cardoon gratin (see recipe below), whereas a typical stalk yields only one.
Many cardoon growers say that going to the trouble of blanching the stems is unnecessary, but now that I have done it, I disagree. For such a large and fibrous plant the stalks we blanched were tender and delicious. I didn’t have to overcook them the way I’ve had to with some of the bunches I have purchased in the past.
I stick by my original assessment. Cardoon is a bit of a pain, and an absolute nightmare to prepare and cook, but it is a stunning plant and a delectable, but acquired taste. What can I say? Some of the best things in life don’t come easy.