Taming the Tomato Jungle

(Originally published in The News Review on September 2, 2014) Recipe links:  Gazpacho, Bruschetta

It's a jungle out there! In my garden, that is. The tomatoes have taken over, toppling the flimsy wire cages that were supposed to contain and support them. I got a late start getting my tomatoes planted this year, but I've got a bumper crop now. I'm drying tomatoes to use in soups and stews, roasting tomatoes and packing them in jars of olive oil (stored in the freezer) for dipping bread into or adding to winter salads. I'll soon be canning tomatoes and tomato juice and freezing purée.

We grow our own because tomatoes ripened on the vine taste the very best. You can find excellent locally grown tomatoes with exquisite flavor in all shapes, sizes and colors at markets throughout the county. There are heirloom varieties in shades of rosy pink and purple to almost black. Look for green striped tomatoes, yellow and orange tomatoes, pear-shaped tomatoes and tiny cherry and grape tomatoes. And don't overlook the Roma or Italian plum tomatoes. Bright red and oblong, they are meatier than the juicy “slicing” tomatoes. Roma types, and San Marzanos in particular, make especially good tomato sauce.

My husband eats tomatoes the way some folks eat apples; he just picks one out of the basket and bites right into it. My son loves a great bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. My favorite way to eat tomatoes? Dress them with basil, garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar and pile them high on a crusty baguette slice. Bruschetta is meant to be an appetizer, but to my mind, if it's made with good bread and tomatoes at their peak, I can make a meal of it.

How about some soup? Everything you need for gazpacho, a cold tomato and vegetable soup, is in season right now. Cucumbers, peppers, garlic, and onions blended with your perfectly ripe tomatoes become a refreshing first course for these hot summer nights.

Both of the following recipes include vinegar. Bruschetta is traditionally made with dark, slightly sweet balsamic vinegar. I like to use apple cider vinegar in gazpacho, but I've also use rice vinegar. Just the other day I was picking up a gallon of apple cider vinegar and noticed that the store brand was more expensive than the famous name brand vinegar. 

Thinking that was odd, I took a moment to compare the labels. Turns out, the name brand vinegar is “apple-flavored” vinegar distilled from grain. (I'm not sure if that would affect someone who is gluten-sensitive.) It also contains natural flavor with caramel color. The store brand's only ingredients are apple cider vinegar diluted with water to 5% acidity. 

The flavored type would be fine for filling my homemade fruit fly trap. When it comes to what I eat, I always go for the real thing.

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