Who doesn’t leap for joy at the sight of the first local tomatoes at a farm stand? For six to eight precious weeks we have at our command Beefsteaks, Romas, Early Girls, Big Boys, cherry, grape and Camparis, and the odd basket of green, yellow, pink and striped heirlooms. So many tomatoes, so little time.
At the weekly market in La Flèche at the end of August table after table was piled high with little red orbs that practically screamed “get us while you can!” Back at our cottage the tomatoes headed to their destiny, a trio of dishes perfect for summer and to extend summer beyond the autumnal equinox.
Ratatouille. The dish that inspired this blog.
I have been making a delicious ratatouille for years using a recipe from “’Round the World Cooking Library: French Cooking” , which has been in my library since my first apartment in Pittsburgh. It is an easy recipe to prepare and results in a big steaming pot of Provence on your stove. Which is why I was confounded when I read Julia Child’s recipe. “A really good ratatouille is not one of the quicker dishes to make,” she writes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, “as each element is cooked separately before it is arranged in a casserole to partake of a brief communal simmer.” The goal of this method is to produce a dish in which each of the vegetables” retains its own shape and character.”
Really? Who has the time to do that??? But she had a point – how do you prevent the vegetables from turning into mush? Fortunately, as I was preparing to write this post, I met Mary Pochez of Chateau La Barbee, who shared her Uncle Charlie’s recipe, which I have copied in this post.
Tomato Tart. A thing of beauty, easy to prepare and certain to wow your guests, your family, yourself. Dijon mustard is the surprise ingredient. In my book a tomato tart is a nice change from pizza. My recipe can be prepared with puff pastry or pizza dough.
Stuffed Tomatoes. Roasted with a savory pork-and-herb filling, stuffed tomatoes can be a first course, a side dish, or a lunch entrée. And they are soooooo good. Check out my recipe for Tomates Farcis Façon “Marie Tèrèse”.
Some other ideas from the French larder for using tomatoes:
Green Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad. In France this would be made with haricots verts but slender green beans are a suitable stand in. Cook the beans until crisp-tender, cool, then toss with halved cherry tomatoes and an herb & shallot vinaigrette, like this recipe from Food & Wine.
Tomato/Avocado/Shrimp Salad. There once was a tiny restaurant on the Rue de la Sourdiére (was it called La Sourdiére?), off the Rue Saint Honoré in the 1st arrondissement of Paris. Despite its location in the heart of the tony 1st arr., it was a homey, family-run affair and became my home away from home when in Paris. That is where I saw “Tomates Avocats Crevettes” on the blackboard menu. It arrived looking very much like our more familiar Caprese salad. But instead of cheese, slices of rich, green avocado shared the pinwheel display with ripe seasonal tomatoes. A few grilled shrimp were mounded in the middle. It was featured as a first course but would make a perfect lunch or light dinner, with a baguette on the side.
Tomato Crumble. Think of a summer fruit crumble, but savory and with tomatoes instead of peaches or apples. Slice plum/Roma tomatoes, layer in a casserole, sprinkle with a little sugar, salt, pepper, and olive oil and roast uncovered in a 325°F. oven for about an hour, or until they have wilted. Remove from the oven and spread a thin layer of pesto on top. Mix together fresh bread crumbs with butter and grated Parmesan—enough to cover the tomatoes by a half inch—spread over the pesto, then return the casserole to the oven and bake for another 30 minutes or until crumble is golden. (Pesto? Parmesan? This is French, you say? I found the recipe in a French cooking magazine so, yeah, I guess it is.)