leave your inhibitions at the door
I was having lunch with Max last week and we briefly talked about the merits of tomatoes. I know, captivating discussions.
When I think about vine-ripened tomatoes, I picture something like this –
Deep-red colored fruit, succulent, bursting with juices and flavor, and often still connected at the stems. But the reality is that they’re rarely like that. I recently bought these at the local supermarket.
While they look red in this picture, the term that best describe them is “red adjacent.” What you can’t see is that they were bland and hard as a rock. But it’s not just regular tomatoes that aren’t up to par at the supermarket. They often sell heirloom varieties that aren’t much better. Tomatoes at the Farmers Market are better, but I’ve also been often underwhelmed by the quality there.
The problem is that, even with the Farmers Market, it takes time to get them to you. They need to be picked, processed, shipped, and sold. So they are often harvested a little earlier than they should be. Contrast that to these canned tomatoes that I recently bought at Costco.
Not only are they considerably cheaper than fresh ones, they taste better. The label proudly says that they were cooked and canned in less than eight hours. Because of that the producers have the ability to pick them at their peak. Granted this is “industrialized farming” and, unless you live in the Sacramento Valley, they aren’t local. But as this terrific Mark Bittman column suggests – Not All Industrial Food Is Evil.
But if you’re really opposed to canned tomatoes, there’s another alternative. In last week’s episode of Top Chef New Orleans, one of the contestants made a dish that included olive-oil poached tomatoes. This is a terrific technique if you’re anywhere north of Florida where peak tomato season is only a 30 day window.
Olive Oil-Poached Tomatoes
I’ve made these several times before and I love how the olive oil adds some much-needed richness to the crappy tomatoes. On the flip side, the oil itself becomes beautifully tomato-scented and is reusable. The tomatoes then can be used in a number of different ways after that. I like to use them as a topping for meat and fish, mixed with some pasta, or as a simple topping on baguette slices.
I made this batch as part of a recipe from Charlie Trotter, the great American chef who unexpectedly passed away last week. It’s from his Kitchen Sessions cookbook, a companion to his former PBS show of the same name. Stay tuned for my tribute to him later.
- 6 plum tomatoes
- 2 cups olive oil
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 – Preheat oven to 275 degrees
2 – Remove the core from the tomatoes, but keep them whole.
3 – Stand them upright in an ovenproof pan just large enough to hold them.
4 – Add the olive oil and rosemary, and cover with aluminum foil.
5 – Bake for 3-4 hours or until the skin easily comes off the tomato.
6 – Let cool, remove form oil, then remove the skins and seeds from the tomatoes.
7 – Strain the oil and refrigerate the tomatoes until needed.
This recipe makes about 2 cups of tomatoes, which can be stored in the fridge for at least a week.
Have you ever made tomatoes like this? Do you like canned tomatoes?