It is the time of year when kitchen window sills across the state are filled with garden tomatoes finishing the process of the ripening.
There is nothing more tasty and satisfying than biting into that first garden tomato of the season. No need to enhance the flavor of that first one. Just one-on-one; you and your first garden tomato of the year.
But soon, as the tomatoes begin to ripen in pairs, or threesome or even more, the challenge of what to do with those beauties begins.
Many people have their own salsa, tomato sauce or juice recipes, but many of us don’t have the time to process or can the tomatoes.
One can only eat cucumber and tomato salad so many times before it is no longer a treat.
So what to do with those ripening tomatoes? The following are some tips on what to do with those garden delights and recipes in which to use the fall harvest.
First comes the great to refrigerate or not to refrigerate debate.
The scientific answer is anything other than fully ripe tomatoes should not be refrigerated. Temperatures below 55° F (like the inside of your refrigerator) halt tomatoes’ flavor-producing enzyme activity. Even fully ripe tomatoes lose flavor when placed in the refrigerator. Use them as soon as possible (no longer than a couple of days) because chilled tomatoes will start to dehydrate. Also, the flesh of the tomato will get mealy or mushy.
Letting them recover at room temperature before eating can restore that flavor.
If you have a cool spot in your home, like a wine cellar or root cellar, with temperatures in the 55° F to 70° F range, you can store fully ripe tomatoes there.
For tomatoes that are not fully ripe, don’t put those tomatoes in the refrigerator. They need to stay at room temperature, ideally in a single layer out of direct sunlight. Store them stem side down while they finish ripening. This helps prevent moisture from escaping through the stem. It also may help prevent any mold growth around the stem.
You should always eat tomatoes at room temperature for optimum flavor and texture. Just let them warm up to room temperature before slicing and putting on a salad or sandwich.
While it’s pretty to put tomatoes on a windowsill, you’re better off keeping your tomatoes in the basement or a cupboard. You want the tomatoes to continue to ripen after being picked, but you don’t want them to go so quickly that they’ll start to spoil.
Air movement is also key when it comes to freshness. A plate or wicker basket allows air to move around the tomatoes, resulting in slightly longer life.
I take the easy route. I scald and peel my ripe tomatoes and rough chop them. I add fresh garlic, fresh basil, onion, salt and pepper and put this sauce in containers to freeze. It is the start of all my spaghetti sauce or sauce for casseroles.
Other methods include freezing them whole a plastic freezer bag and storing in your freezer for use soups, stews or sauces. Peel them by holding the frozen tomatoes under warm water, and the skins slip right off.
You can also peel and chop tomatoes and freeze in freezer bags to add to those soups and sauces.
Like many others, I find dozens of green tomatoes still on the vine when the weather persons are telling us the first frost is coming. I pick the best of the green tomatoes, wrap them individually in newspaper ( I have an unlimited source), put them in cardboard flat boxes and store them in a dark place. Under the bed or in a closet is good.
Check them every couple of days to find ripe and ready to use tomatoes.
Not all green tomatoes will ripen, but the majority do.
This way we can enjoy our fresh red garden bounty into the coolest of fall days.
Fresh Tomato Recipes
Bread Salad with Garden Veggies
1/4 lb fresh green beans
2 slices crusty country Italian bread, about 1-inch thick
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 large tomatoes, peeled (if desired) and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 small cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1/2 cup roasted red sweet peppers, cut into bite-size strips
1/2 of a small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved
1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon-style mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp cracked black pepper
Sea salt and cracked black pepper (optional)
Trim stem end of beans and cut into 2-inch pieces. In a large saucepan cook beans in lightly salted boiling water for 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a bowl of ice water. When chilled, drain and set aside.
Brush bread slices with 1 tablespoon oil. Toast on a grill or under the broiler until lightly browned, turning once. Cool slightly, then tear bread into 1-inch pieces.
In a large serving bowl combine beans, bread, tomatoes, cucumber, sweet peppers, red onion, olives and basil.
For dressing: In a small screw-top jar combine the 1/4 cup olive oil, the vinegar, mustard, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Cover and shake well to combine. Pour half of the dressing over tomato mixture; toss gently. Pour remaining dressing over tomato mixture. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes.
When ready to serve, toss again. Sprinkle with additional salt and pepper, if you like.
1 tube (13.8-oz) refrigerated pizza crust
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp garlic salt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp ranch dip mix
4 cups shredded romaine
3 to 4 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 lb bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
Preheat oven to 425°. Unroll and press dough onto bottom of a greased 15x10x1-in. baking pan. Brush with oil; top with cheese and garlic salt. Bake until golden brown, about 15-18 minutes; cool slightly.
Meanwhile, combine mayonnaise and ranch mix. Spread over pizza crust; top with lettuce, tomatoes and bacon.
(Spicy tomato and poached eggs)
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 medium tomatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 tablespoons snipped fresh basil or oregano
4 wedges Italian flatbread (focaccia)
For tomato sauce, in a large skillet heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Add garlic; cook for 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, salt, crushed red pepper, and black pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Boil gently, uncovered, for 12 to 15 minutes or until tomato juices begin to thicken, stirring and crushing tomatoes occasionally with the back of a spoon.
Crack one of the eggs into a small bowl or cup. Slip the egg into the tomato mixture. Repeat with the remaining eggs, allowing each egg an equal amount of space in the tomato mixture. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, covered, about 5 minutes or until egg whites are completely set and yolks begin to thicken but are not hard.
Drizzle eggs with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil before serving. Sprinkle with fresh basil and serve with flatbread.
Baked Chicken with Tomato Bacon Relish
1 cup panko (Japanese) bread crumbs
2 Tbsp plus 1 tsp minced fresh thyme, divided
1/2 tsp salt, divided
1/2 tsp pepper, divided
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg, beaten
1 lb chicken tenderloins
4 bacon strips, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1-1/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp brown sugar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a shallow bowl, mix bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons thyme, 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Place flour and egg in separate shallow bowls. Dip chicken in flour; shake off excess. Dip in egg, then in crumb mixture, patting to help coating adhere. Place chicken on a greased rack in a 15x10x1-inch baking pan. Bake until a thermometer reads 165 degrees, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon; drain on paper towels. Discard drippings, reserving 2 tablespoons in pan.
Add tomatoes, vinegar, sugar and remaining salt and pepper to drippings; cook and stir until tomatoes are tender, 2-3 minutes. Stir in bacon and remaining thyme. Serve with chicken.
Tomato French Bread Lasagna
1 lb ground beef
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped celery
2 garlic cloves, minced
14 slices French bread (1/2 inch thick)
4 large tomatoes, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried parsley flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
1 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
In a skillet, cook beef, onion, celery and garlic over medium heat until beef is no longer pink; drain and set aside. Toast bread; line the bottom of an ungreased 13×9-in. baking dish with 10 slices. Top with half of the meat mixture and half of the tomatoes.
Combine seasonings; sprinkle half over tomatoes. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon oil. Crumble remaining bread over top. Repeat layers of meat, tomatoes, seasonings and oil.
In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter; stir in flour until smooth. Gradually stir in milk; bring to a boil. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat; stir in Parmesan. Pour over casserole. Top with mozzarella. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 40-45 minutes or until bubbly and cheese is golden brown.
Grilled Steak and Tomato Sauce
2 Tbsp butter, softened
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp snipped fresh oregano
1 Tbsp snipped fresh rosemary
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
4 1/2-inch thick slices crusty artisan bread
1 1/2 lb beef ribeye steaks, cut 1 inch thick
Ground black pepper
3 cups assorted cherry tomatoes
In a small bowl combine butter, oil, oregano, rosemary, garlic, paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt and cracked black pepper. Very lightly brush cut sides of bread with some of the butter mixture. Set remaining butter mixture aside.
Season both sides of steaks with additional salt and pepper. Grill steaks on the rack of a covered gas or charcoal grill directly over medium heat until desired doneness, turning once halfway through grilling. Allow 10 to 12 minutes for medium-rare doneness (145 degrees).
During the last 2 to 3 minutes of grilling steaks, add the bread to the grill alongside the meat. Grill the bread until toasted. Set aside. Remove steaks, tent with foil, and let stand about 6 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add remaining herb mixture. When butter begins to bubble, add tomatoes. Cook and stir about 4 to 6 minutes or until skins split.
To assemble open-face sandwiches, place one piece of bread each on four plates. Arrange thinly sliced steak over bread; top with tomatoes.