Wednesday, August 31, 2011

September: Hot Tomatoes!

Is there any better time of year in Niagara than September? Well, maybe warm days in May or a beautiful snowy day in January, or…. Well, September is pretty darn nice. Just look at the Pelham Farmer’s Market (or any of Niagara’s many fresh markets), packed with fabulous produce that simply can’t be duplicated by imported stuff at any time of year.

It’s also the time when real foodies stock up on all that fresh produce to make sure that it lasts as long into the winter as possible by preserving, pickling, canning, drying, or freezing some of it. I have already frozen bags full of strawberries from last June and raspberries from July to use in my morning smoothies right through the year, and I have learned to can peaches (more about that in another column), but now is the time to put away beans and broccoli, peppers, and tomatoes for winter stews and sauces.

I slice some tomatoes into thick slices and dry them to the consistency of leather in my smoker (an oven at 140 degrees works just fine) to use on pizzas or in sauces all winter. Some I make into sauce or paste to freeze, and the rest I just freeze whole. If I’m making something where I don’t want to use the skin, I just drop the frozen tomato in hot water for a few seconds, and the skin slides off. Frozen plum or paste tomatoes are way better than canned.
And with tomatoes at their flavour peak, this is the time of year to indulge in some of our favorite tomato dishes. Here are some of the recipes we look forward to preparing when tomatoes really taste like tomatoes.

Pâtes au Pistou
Combine the following and serve over 1 lb. of freshly cooked pasta (I like linguine for this) to serve 4 to 6 people. Let the sauce sit for an hour to meld the flavours before serving.
5 diced tomatoes
¾ Cup shredded fresh basil
6 garlic cloves, minced
¾ Cup minced fresh parsley
½ Cup olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons of Herbes de Provence (a mix of thyme and oregano will do)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Caprese Salad
This is a simple mix of thickly sliced tomatoes layered around the plate with slices of buffalo Mozzarella and drizzled with freshly chopped basil, a little good Balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and a sprinkle of sea salt. A nice variation is to use tomato chunks mixed with baby bocconcini along with the oil, basil, and Balsamic.

…and our all-time favorite, a rich and decadent recipe that has wowed whomever Valerie prepared it for from our friends in the South of France (who now serve it themselves and call it “the Canadian pasta”!) to friends in our backyard:

Tomato and Brie Pasta
4 large tomatoes cut into cubes
1 lb Brie, skin removed, torn into chunks
1 Cup fresh basil, cut into strips
3 (or more) garlic cloves, minced
1 Cup olive oil
Combine these ingredients at least two hours before serving and leave them covered at room temperature until the pasta is ready. Cook 1 to 1 ½ pounds of pasta (bowtie, fettucine, linguine, they all work) and as soon as it’s done, combine it with the sauce. Toss thoroughly and serve with freshly ground pepper.

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