TomAto, TomÄto

{child_byline}By Teresa Farney

teresa.farney@gazette.com

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If ever there was a year to throw a tomato party in Colorado, this is it. Gardeners are reaping the benefits of a wet summer.

“The deep, soaking rains were very helpful this year,” said Larry Stebbins, founder of Pikes Peak Urban Gardens and author of The Garden Father blog. “We are enjoying a decent harvest of tomatoes.”

Loretta Martinez, a master gardener and garden manager for AspenPointe gardens, calls it “a bumper crop of tomatoes.”

With the abundance of ruby orbs, we looked to Martinez and local chefs for ideas on how to make the best use of them.

“Because we have so many right now, we are using them for salsa, caprese salad and ratatouille,” Martinez said. “I’m using our cherry tomatoes to make sun-dried tomatoes, and we send tomatoes to AspenPointe Café.”

Once they hit AspenPointe’s kitchen, executive chef Brent Beavers swings into action.

“For me, the best use of an abundance of tomatoes is in fresh applications. Caprese salads, salsa and gazpachos are always good,” he said. “When a variety of tomatoes are available and used, these dishes become more vibrant and have a special depth of flavor. There is nothing like a fresh tomato. I am a fan of grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches. Ones made with sliced yellow pear tomatoes or black cherry tomatoes are exceptionally good and have an extra brightness to them.”

He also preserves some tomatoes for later use.

“Canning extra tomatoes is always a good idea and a simpler task than many think,” he said. “With canned tomatoes, you can have the gorgeous tomato varieties and flavors available in the fall and winter months.”

Because tomatoes are high in acid, they can be canned using the water bath method, which is easier since you don’t need a special pressure canner. An even simpler way to preserve tomatoes is freezing them.

First select tomatoes that are firm, ripe and free of major bruises. Wash and dry them, and cut away the stem. Core and cut into slices, then fill freezer bags and freeze, advises divascancook.com.

Consulting chef Amy Fairbanks, former executive chef at Garden of the Gods Market and Café, enjoys fresh tomatoes as they are with little preparation. Simply slice and devour.

“I do love heirloom tomatoes for caprese salads,” she said, echoing the other chefs. “I like to use several colors. And I grill purple grapes to add sweetness to balance the acid of the tomato. Plus, you get a little char and smoky flavor.”

She offered four tips:

• Cube tomato slices. “I find cutting thick slices of tomatoes difficult and messy,” she said. “It’s hard with cutlery knives. So I cube them into bite-size pieces.”

• Roast Roma tomatoes. “If Roma tomatoes are not at their best, slice them in half and drizzle them with olive oil and roast overnight in a 200-degree oven,” she said. “Store them in olive oil in the fridge.”

• Blister cherry tomatoes in a skillet. “It’s my cheat go-to. It’s my last-minute way to make a dish pop. Just heat them in a skillet with a little oil. They will soften, release some juice and still keep their bright color. So easy and so great tasting.”

• Use burrata cheese. “Fresh mozzarella is traditional and good, but ultra, creamy burrata is so good,” she said

What’s the worse thing you can do to a fresh tomato?

“Put it in the refrigerator,” Fairbanks said. “Just keep them on the counter. I always remember my grandmother having a couple of tomatoes on the windowsill over her sink. If you put tomatoes into the fridge, it makes the meat become mealy and flavor goes flat.”

So what are you waiting for? It’s time to party on with tomatoes while they’re ripe.

Contact the writer: 636-0271

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contact the writer: 636-0271.

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{child_related_content}{child_related_content_item}{child_related_content_style}Just The Facts{/child_related_content_style}{child_related_content_title}Caprese Salad with Balsamic Reduction{/child_related_content_title}{child_related_content_content}

Caprese Salad with Balsamic Reduction

Yield: 4 servings

1 cup balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup honey

3 large tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch slices

1 (16 ounce) package fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch slices

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Procedure:

Stir balsamic vinegar and honey together in a small saucepan and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the vinegar mixture has reduced to 1/3 cup, about 10 minutes. Set the balsamic reduction aside to cool.

Arrange alternate slices of tomato and mozzarella cheese decoratively on a serving platter. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper, spread fresh basil leaves over the salad, and drizzle with olive oil and the balsamic reduction.

Source: allrecipes.com

{/child_related_content_content}{/child_related_content_item}{child_related_content_item}{child_related_content_style}Just The Facts{/child_related_content_style}{child_related_content_title}Classic Fresh Tomato Salsa (Pico de Gallo){/child_related_content_title}{child_related_content_content}

Classic Fresh Tomato Salsa (Pico de Gallo)

Yield: 8 servings

3 tablespoons onion, finely chopped

2 small cloves garlic, minced

3 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed, and chopped

2 chile peppers, chopped

2 to 3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons lime juice

Salt and pepper, to taste

Procedure:

Put chopped onion and garlic in a strainer; pour 2 cups boiling water over them then let drain thoroughly. Discard the water. Allow the chopped onion and garlic to fully cool.

Combine onions and garlic with chopped tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, and lime juice. Add salt and pepper, to taste.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to blend the flavors.

Serve as a dip. It can be refrigerated for up to 5 to 7 days.

Source: thespruceeats.com

{/child_related_content_content}{/child_related_content_item}{child_related_content_item}{child_related_content_style}Just The Facts{/child_related_content_style}{child_related_content_title}Gazpacho{/child_related_content_title}{child_related_content_content}

Gazpacho

Yield: 4 servings

1 1/2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

Tomato juice

1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped

1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped red onion

1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced

1 medium garlic clove, minced

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 lime, juiced

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chiffonade

Procedure:

Fill a 6-quart pot halfway full of water, set over high heat and bring to a boil.

Make an X with a paring knife on the bottom of the tomatoes. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water for 15 seconds, remove and transfer to an ice bath and allow to cool until able to handle, approximately 1 minute. Remove and pat dry. Peel, core and seed the tomatoes. When seeding the tomatoes, place the seeds and pulp into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl in order to catch the juice. Press as much of the juice through as possible and then add enough bottled tomato juice to bring the total to 1 cup.

Place the tomatoes and juice into a large mixing bowl. Add the cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, jalapeno, garlic clove, olive oil, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire, cumin, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Transfer 1 1/2 cups of the mixture to a blender and puree for 15 to 20 seconds on high speed. Return the pureed mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Cover and chill for 2 hours and up to overnight. Serve with chiffonade of basil.

Source: Alton Brown, foodnetwork.com

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contact the writer: 636-0271.

Food editor

Food writer for features life section and columnist for Go! Entertainment - Table Talk column

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