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Posts Tagged ‘Jersey’

Growing up, I’d only eat tomatoes in ketchup or in sauce—never fresh. I don’t know if it’s because in the 1980s heirloom tomatoes weren’t as prevalent as they are now or because my family pretty much stuck to Foodtown’s beefsteak variety, but I found any fresh tomato on our summer table to taste, well, boring. Even the celebrated Jersey tomato didn’t do it for me; it tasted like a wet gym sock.

Now I wait through bleak Novembers, raw Januaries and rainy Aprils for heirlooms, and I get them organically grown from Silverton Farms in Toms River.

Heirloom tomatoes are old varieties that didn’t make the homogenous cut for supermarket stocks. The ones you see there were bred to withstand the rigors of shipping and sitting on a shelf for days or even weeks. “Ripened” not by way of sun and time but by way of ethylene gas (yum, right?), let’s just say they weren’t bred for flavor.

The tomatoes on this page, on the other hand, are grown the way they always have been. No messing around with the natural order of things means their natural flavors and characters remain intact.

Silverton’s first batch is ready in July and the season continues through September. Variety and abundance are at their peak around now. They come in shades ranging from crimson and canary yellow to pink, dusky purple and even brown. They’re fragile, allowed to sun-ripen. And they taste the way they always have…for centuries. Pretty comforting, and pretty incredible.

These red ones below, ‘Juliet’, are shaped like plum tomatoes but are smaller and have an acidic, bright flavor that works well with almost any recipe you’ve got, from cooked down into sauces to cut up onto a pizza to chopped up into salads. Use these when you make panzanella, that glory of mid- to late summer.

Get out a big bowl, cut up day-old Italian semolina bread into 1-2″ pieces, sprinkle with cold water until somewhat tender, and put the pieces into the bowl. Add cucumbers, cut to about the same size (I cut out the seedy centers first), and white onion. Mix in salt and pepper, and add olive oil and red wine vinegar until it’s fairly well coated, even a bit saturated. Taste and see what it’s lacking. Fix. Last, rip up a handful of fresh basil leaves and throw that in. Toss and serve. It tastes even better the next day if you are lucky enough to have any left over.

The yellow guys below, ‘Sungold’, are cherry tomato-sized, candy-sweet like the berries they are, and are my favorites to use in a spicy pasta dish. I love a good paradox.

Heat up some water for your fettuccine in a stockpot, and while that’s coming to a boil, cut a quart or more of the Sungolds in half. Put them in a big, wide saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil (extra credit if you can get a hold of some oil that’s had chilies steeped in it for awhile), salt, pepper, minced fresh garlic, and red pepper flakes, all to taste. In a little saucepan, heat some more olive oil until it’s crackling but not smoking. Then add a couple of handfuls of fresh bread crumbs, left over from any old bread. Stir it now and again until it’s golden and a bit crispy. Take it off the heat. Cook the pasta, drain it, and plunk it into the wide saucepan with all of the other goodies. Toss it together, then add a few torn fresh basil leaves. Load up a bowl for yourself with the pasta, then sprinkle some of the bread crumbs on top. Killer.

I admit with some shame that I don’t know the names of the varieties below. But I can tell you the best way to enjoy them.

Take two slices of white bread (even the lame squishy kind will do, although a denser white bread is best). Slather mayo on both slices, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Cut one of these voluptuous mamas into quarter-inch slices. Use a serrated knife to make it easier. Hold a slice up to the light. This is an essential step; you need to see exactly what a marvel of nature this is.

Layer one or two tomato slices onto the bread slices. Salt it, close it up, slice your sandwich in half, find yourself a soft chair in a very quiet part of the house, and chew slowly.

I promise you—it doesn’t get any better than that.

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