Monday, August 10, 2009

Tomato bliss

Oven baked tomatoes: a dash of olive oil and 5-6 hrs at 200 degrees make sweet, crispy tomato chips out of juicy tomato slices, lovely in pasta and as a snack. Halve the tomatoes and cook at 150 for 12 hours for a sweet, chewier version yummy in salads, or in your panzanella.

Once upon a time, I was a kid who hated tomatoes. Tomato sauce was okay, ketchup was great. I even slowly came around to salsa, though for years I survived on dry chips (guac didn't interest me till well into college). But that wet, slimy slice -- that interloper between my hamburger and lettuce and bun, seemed tasteless, useless and generally insulting.

I don't know when I came around, or the exact details of the conversion, but I'm quite I was spurred by my mother's coaxing and a few superb Caprese salads.

If you're lucky, you know the joy of a fresh, vine-ripened tomato. In case you don't, it looks like this:

and tastes like this:

(actually that was remnants of powdered sugar and french toast, but you get the idea)

It's become the poster-child of gardening advocates and "eat local" fanatics -- it's one of those things that really does taste better (taste at all? most tomatoes in the supermarket still seem mostly like soggy pink water) when you pick a ripe one direct from the garden.

We sold our first tomatoes back in July -- the weekend a gaggle of friends came up to visit from San Francisco, and we took a bunch of the first Stupices for a picnic on the beach with a loaf of bread, some cheese, the last of the garlic scape pesto, leftover spicy scones from breakfast, and a bag of luscious cherries.

The tomatoes were exclaimed over, praised, and gobbled down; we expressed our regret at not bringing more. Then we went about our business hunting cockles in the low tide and headed home to use the rest of our tomato stash in a 4-pan paella masterpiece (only two of four shown below :) )

Since then, I've been continuing to enjoy the tomato harvest: on the grill, in salads, in pasta, and yes, though I never would have believed it had you told me as a child, sometimes bitten whole, like an apple, as a snack before dinner.

But one of my favorite dinners has been a simple panzanella, or simply said: hastily concocted bread and tomato salad.

Panzanella from forgotten ingredients, inspired by tomatoes
  • One stale crusty loaf of rosemary hearth bread from the local bakery -- at least 10 days old, abandoned on a lower shelf.
  • Two beautiful red tomatoes with bright yellow crowns
  • A forlorn chunk of sharp cheddar (or some very thin slices of Parmesan or hunks of fresh mozzarella would do)
  • some browning sprigs of basil, rescued from the farmer's market leftovers
  • olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  • a dash of salt
Careful of my fingers, I hacked the piece of bread apart, doused it in oil and threw it on a baking sheet in the oven which I set to heat to 400. In the meantime, I chopped up the tomatoes and cheese, tore up the basil and sprinkled them all with balsamic and salt. By the time the oven reached 375, the bread was browned and sizzling and crispy. I threw everything together and a delicious meal was born.

The next night, I repeated the dish with the remaining bread and added in some sweet dried tomatoes straight from the oven.

There's something so happy and so sensual about tomatoes in late summer. Thank you Pablo Neruda for putting the words in my mouth.


  1. oh my gosh, that panzanella sounds freaking delicious, i must make some soon! (you have inspired me actually *cook* something -- no small feat!)

    i love love love tomatoes (esp. in caprese salads/sandwiches) and am glad you have finally come around to seeing their goodness...and yes, that day on the beach, devouring them with the bread and goat cheese, was absolutely fantastic! also the third picture: too cute.

  2. What a compliment. I know how much it means from you that you're going to open the oven and make something. Just make sure your bread is stale -- it really does make it awesome.

    Tomatoes are delish. I'm going to try to make a tomato tart sometime in the near future. mmmm.

  3. Tomatoes are probably one of nature's best gifts I'd say! Colour-wise, taste-wise, I get that "Mother Earth" connection whenever I see tomatoes sold right on the vine! Nothing better than baked tomatoes, beautiful- yes! tomato tart-heavenly with cream!!!! did that last year, your post so makes me want to bake a savoury tart this instant!

  4. @ soulchocolate: Yes! I've totally been aching to make a tart too. You should send me a link to a recipe and pic if you end up making one!

  5. "Once upon a time, I was a kid who hated tomatoes. Tomato sauce was okay, ketchup was great. I even slowly came around to salsa, though for years I survived on dry chips (guac didn't interest me till well into college)."

    Always weird to see a history of picky eating from someone who I always think of as so the opposite!

  6. @ Derek: Yeah... it seems weird to me now too, but there are still things I'm working on liking like certain shellfish and animal stomachs :P

  7. I have to admit tripe seems a bit icky to me, but I'll seriously try anything once. What's the shellfish? Is it oysters?

  8. Isn't Neruda's ode amazing?! Such a great poem. Check out
    about a documentary on Neruda and the bestselling edition of translations, "The Essential Neruda"

    "The call for a more accessible collection of Neruda's important poems is answered with City Lights' The Essential Neruda, a 200-page edition that offers 50 of Neruda's key poems. The editors and translators know how to extract gold from a lifetime of prolific writing. If you want a handy Neruda companion and don't know where to begin, this is it."
    – The Bloomsbury Review

    "What better way to celebrate the hundred years of Neruda's glorious residence on our earth than this selection of crucial works - in both languages! - by one of the greatest poets of all time. A splendid way to begin a love affair with our Pablo or, having already succumbed to his infinite charms, revisit him passionately again and again and yet again."
    – Ariel Dorfman, Pulitzer-prize winner author of "Death and the Maiden"

    " ...The Essential Neruda will prove to be, for most readers, the best introduction to Neruda available in English. In fact, I can think of few other books that have given me so much delight so easily. At only 234 pages (bilingual), it somehow manages to convey the fullness of Neruda's poetic arc: Reading it is like reading the autobiography of a poetic sensibility (granted, the abridged version)."
    – The Austin Chronicle


  9. I love home grown tomatoes, we just picked like 10lbs of them and I am still trying to figure out what they will be next. All I know is, my sandwiches have never tasted better this summer.

  10. @ Chris: What a boon! With 10lbs you can probably eat them all fresh :) or maybe cook up a tomato tart. Yum.