Friday, October 16, 2009

Farewell Ugly Tomatoes

The photo of tomatoes at the top of the page includes “ugly” tomatoes, a type that produces fruit that is deeply pleated and at first looks misshapen. If you found these at your farmer’s market this summer, you know these are dinner show-stoppers. Simply sliced and anointed with a light sprinkling of sea salt they are the essence of the joys of eating pure foods. Every time I served them, someone at the table halted the conversation to expound on their flavor. They are sweet and taste like what tomatoes are supposed to taste like. One friend said, “I am eating the tomatoes of my childhood.”

We sustained our first snow in Pennsylvania yesterday, a nor’easter with another expected tomorrow. With that, I have accepted that the summer tomatoes and corn that stretched out summer’s harvest for me will be no more at the farmer’s market. Farewell ugly tomatoes, hello winter squash.

While the beautiful ugly tomatoes are in season, it’s hard to do more than serve them as is. I like them in tabouleh too where I normally add low-sodium canned tomatoes when the fresh ones are out of season. Tabouleh is a cracked wheat salad that is easy to prepare and goes anywhere rice, potatoes or a side salad fits. Cracked wheat takes a bath in liquid to plump up and then gets the addition of olive oil, herbs and vegetables. I learned to make tabouleh while part of a Community Supported Agriculture project in Vermont during the 1990’s. All summer the weekly bag of fresh produce included a new recipe using one of the abundant ingredients of the harvest. Most tablouleh recipes, including that one, use water for the plumping stage. I’ve adapted the recipe to use low-sodium tomato juice to inject the grain with even more flavor.

Yield: 3 cups (6 side servings)

1 cup cracked wheat (OK to substitute bulgur wheat)
4 oz low-sodium tomato juice
4 oz cold water
3 diced tomatoes or one can low sodium peeled tomatoes (drained and diced)
3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
1/4 cup fresh chopped mint
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper to taste

Place cracked wheat in a wide bowl or casserole dish. Pour juice and water over wheat and cover dish. Place in refrigerator to soak 3 hours or overnight, until wheat grains are soft and chewy. Drain and add remaining ingredients using a fork to fluff up the grains and combine flavors.
Optional: for a quick and complete office or school lunch, toss in some sliced chicken breast and take it along. Cucumbers, grated carrots or sliced celery also taste great in this side dish.