Tomatoes have been in the news lately. Florida’s dubious harvest calls for us to buy summer’s No. 1 favorite fruit closer to home. This is good news for locavores and farmers alike. And as tomato season comes into its own, the options for eating local grow, too.
Tomato sandwiches on (locally baked, real) whole wheat bread, fresh salsa, mozzarella-tomato-basil salad, linguine stirred into uncooked tomato marinade … the list goes on. As little adornment as these beauties need, sometimes a heartier offering of them is in order.
Gazpacho’s ingredients showcase farmers’ market produce in this high season. It has become so commonplace that it appears on café menus everywhere and in many cookbooks with as many variations. It’s even been deemed worthy by South Beach Diet experts, for the low glycemic index and high vitamin and fiber content. I first learned to love it as a summer school student living in the un-air-conditioned second floor apartment of an early-1900s farmhouse (heat rises) and looking for a way to use a giant basket of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers that my landlady had given me from her garden. Cookingadding to the heat in that tiny placewas not an option, but neither was not eating and still expecting to pass exams and write papers. A large batch of this cold tomato soup packed with chunks of fresh veggies was just the thing, and it keeps several days, so it can do meal duty over a work week. To round out protein content at mealtime, serve it with a side of hummus and pita, or farmstead cheese crostinis.
A hint about buying fresh tomatoes: It is easy to be seduced by uniform color and shape, but this may not always yield the highest flavor. Smell your possible purchase beforehand. Does the stem end retain the leafy, earth scent of its vine ripening? Do you detect a tomato tang? Better yet, if the vendor at the farm stand will let you, sample one. You want juice, flavor and silkynot mealytexture. Sometimes ugly ones sign-posted as “sauce tomatoes” are the tastiest, as well as the cheapest. Yes, you might have to cut a few bad spots away, and you might have to use them in sauce or juice within a day or two, but it can be worth it. Local tomatoes are one of the easiest farmers’ market harvests to stock your freezer with and a joy to defrost during a December ice storm. Their scent and color beats even best-quality store bought.
Tomato Juice from Fresh Tomatoes
Doubles easily using a very large stockpot. Takes no time at all, especially with the help of a companion in transferring the strained juice into jars or containers.
- 24 average-sized fresh ripe tomatoes (about a gallon) cleaned of bad spots and halved
- 3/4 cup water (or less, if tomatoes are ultra juicy)
- 1 large handful parsley (no need to chop)
- 2 teaspoons salt (optional)
Throw all of the ingredients except the salt into a stockpot. Simmer 35 minutes (45 if you double the recipe). You can let it cool for easier handling, but you don’t have to. Whirl in small batches in food processor (steel blade). Strain through fine colander into a large bowl or pot. Stir in salt. Transfer to pint-sized (glass or plastic) containers, leaving a half-inch of head space; label and freeze if not using right away. Yields 2 quarts.
Note: Whole, peeled tomatoes can also be frozen for use in winter soups and stews.
- 6 cups tomato juice
- 2 cups chopped plum tomatoes
- 1 10- to 12-inch-long slender, English cucumber (or 2-3 American-style cucumbers, 6 to 8 inches long), unpeeled and cut into quarter-inch dice
- 2 average-sized green bell peppers, seeded and chopped into quarter-inch dice
- 1 bunch finely chopped green onions, including the green tops (alternately, you can use 2-3 small mature onions with their green parts attached)
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 1 large handful finely chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup balsamic or other flavorful vinegar (white wine vinegar will keep the soup fire-engine red)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Salt to taste (a scant teaspoon)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Optional additions: hot pepper sauce, hot peppers, chopped avocados, cooked shrimp, snipped basil, sour cream, croutons and anything else that strikes your fancy
While you measure out the liquids and seasonings into a glass or stoneware bowl, have your housemate or teenager chop the cukes, peppers, onions and garlic. If you don’t have a helper, use a food processor to pulse each vegetable separately into coarse dice. Stir all ingredients together and marinate several hours or overnight. Yields 8 generous servings.
Note: If someone at your table doesn’t like (or digest well) raw onions and garlic, sauté them in a little olive oil just until soft. Cool and add to soup.