There is a children’s book titled Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day in which the main character, as you can guess, is having a not so great day. Well, I feel a bit like this year was my garden’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. Blame the cool spring, the rain, the weeds that got out of control, the heat that kept me from venturing out of my air conditioning to work….
At this point, I’ve begun to refer to my little patch of community earth as a ‘survival garden,’ as in, whatever has survived my neglect, I will pick and eat! And a few things have done well (besides the weeds).
The green beans are producing, the okra is fabulous, the hot peppers have enjoyed the heat and—joy of joys—the tomatoes are glorious! My kitchen table is covered with different varieties we have grown. There are bowls of beautiful Sun Gold cherry tomatoes from a plant given to me by my friend Kathryn Guylay, founder of Nurture. The Roma plum tomatoes are going nuts and the heirloom plants my garden buddy Beth started from seed are producing delicious, funky looking fruit.
Easy to grow, tomatoes are probably the most commonly home-grown vegetable of all (I know, I know, they’re technically a fruit). High in vitamin C, A and K and the minerals magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium, tomatoes are also a great source of lycopene, which acts as an antioxidant in the body, protecting cells from damage by free radicals that may cause cancer. (Remember that ). And cooked tomatoes, such as tomato sauce or even ketchup, have up to five times the amount of lycopene as raw tomatoes. Also, olive oil boosts lycopene absorption, so if you’re making sauce, be sure to use some olive oil.
And if you’re growing them yourself or buying them from a local farmer, chances are they will be organically grown without the use of pesticides. I recently read a couple of reviews of the book Tomatoland, by Barry Estabrook. The author offers a look at the tomato industry and reveals the toxic environment in which the tomatoes are grown and harvested and its effects on Hispanic laborers that reside and work in Immokalee, Florida. Florida is the biggest supplier of winter fresh tomatoes, and the pesticides these workers are exposed to have led to birth defects and long-term medical ailments. So what does that tell us about the tomatoes?
Anyway, I’ll hop down off my soapbox now and get back to all these ripe tomatoes. Of course there are endless ways to use them—toasty bruschetta, summer gazpacho, salsa or a salad of sliced tomatoes layered with mozzarella and drizzled with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and fresh basil. Use cherry tomatoes in kabobs on the grill or try . A quick appetizer can be made by stuffing cherry tomatoes with bits of cheese, drizzling them with a drop of good Balsamic vinegar and serving them in a shot glass.
But what if you have so many you want to preserve them for later? Well, I like to make homemade tomato sauce, and pop it in freezer bags. I also love to make oven-dried tomatoes (like sun-dried, but quicker). Here’s how you do it. InJoy!
Oven Dried Tomatoes
Preheat oven to the lowest setting (200 degrees or lower. My oven’s lowest setting is 170 degrees).
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Slice large tomatoes thinly and place on the parchment paper, making sure the slices don’t touch each other. Slice cherry tomatoes in half.
Place in the oven and cook about 8 hours or until the tomatoes are dry and leathery, but still slightly flexible.
Cool the tomatoes and store in sealed plastic bags in the refrigerator (in case there is any moisture left in the tomatoes, refrigerating them will keep them from spoiling). They will keep this way a month or so, or you can freeze them for up to a year. Reconstitute them before adding to recipes in water or broth.
You can also store the dried tomatoes in olive oil. First, dip them in distilled white vinegar. This keeps any bacteria from developing. Then place them in a small jar and cover completely with olive oil. You can also add garlic and herbs to the tomatoes. Just be sure they are covered with the oil. Store them in the refrigerator for several months. Drain the tomatoes to use in recipes and reserve the infused oil for salad dressings or sautéing.