I love tomatoes – specifically Hudson Valley tomatoes. But the general quality of tomatoes available locally nine months a year is just awful. Mealy, tasteless, sour, hard, having the character of Wonder Bread are some of the ways I could describe the tomatoes that come to us from locales afar during those dark months. However, this slight to us from our beloved Valley is easily forgiven when we are blessed with the lushest, sweetest, tastiest, tomato-y-est tomatoes on the planet from mid-July into October. Compare the smell of a ripe Hudson Valley tomato to a supermarket imitator, from Florida or the like (which are remarkably available all summer long…who buys those things?!); only one smells like a tomato. There are newer hothouse tomatoes that are available all year long that have some flavor, but still, nothing compares to a ripe tomato picked fresh from your garden or purchased from a farmer’s market. We wait and wait and then the season finally arrives…
When it rains it pours or, put differently, what to do with all those goddamn tomatoes?!
I have been growing tomatoes for almost 20 years now. I actually love to garden and have many different vegetable that I grow every year, but tomatoes are clearly my favorite child. I take my cup of coffee outside every morning to look and see how my babies are doing. Are the green tomatoes forming? Are there any tuning red? Are there any signs of the dreaded early blight? (I really hate early blight!) And finally, are there any ripe tomatoes ready to eat? At first there are usually a few cherry tomatoes that I’ll just pick off the vine and shoot straight into my mouth. Then, a few bigger tomatoes so I can make the much awaited first BLT of the year. But inevitably, my 8 – 10 tomato plants start making tomatoes so fast it’s impossible to keep up. This brings us into the world of tomato management. Really there is no easy answer. That is because the answer involves work, but don’t be deterred; it is a labor of love. That answer is canning and freezing. Though you will never be able to save the delicate texture of a fresh tomato for uses like sandwiches, salads and salsas, it’s great to be able to go into your pantry or freezer in the middle of winter for a taste of summer.
I’m not going to go into the finer points of canning here. The internet, books or a helpful friend will be able to guide you through that process. What I will say is that canning is an excellent way to preserve tomatoes for use in cooked soups, stews and sauces. Similar to the myriad of canned tomatoes you might see at the grocery store, yet different. Which would you prefer: blah-blah-blah brand tomatoes from California or Brandywine tomatoes harvested from (insert your name here)’s garden. I hope you see my point.
Freezing is another option. This is good for fresh or uncooked tomato recipes such as gazpacho. Gazpacho is a soup with a Spanish origin that is traditionally made with fresh tomatoes and served chilled. I’m going to include here a recipe I have that forgoes the traditional thickener of bread for an emulsification of olive oil into the soup. In addition to thickening the gazpacho, the olive oil will make the soup richer and more flavorful. The soup is delicious fresh, but it’s also great out of the freezer on a dreary winter day to remind you of summertime in the Hudson Valley.
Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho
5 pounds Heirloom Tomatoes, cored, seeded & chopped
½ cup Red Bell Pepper, chopped
½ cup Poblano Chile, chopped
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon Raw Garlic, chopped
¼ cup Roasted Garlic
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
½ cup Extra virgin olive oil
To Taste Salt, pepper, honey
Diced, peeled tomatoes
Diced yellow peppers
In a blender combine all ingredients except oil, salt, pepper and honey. You will need to do this in batches, depending on the size of your blender. Fill the blender no more than 2/3 full. Add the oil to the blender while it is running to create an emulsification. Combine batches in a large pot or plastic container. In the container, season the soup to taste. Depending on the sweetness of the tomatoes and your personal taste, you may choose to add a little honey or leave it out completely.
For the garnish, you are looking to add a little texture to the dish. Add one or two tablespoons of chopped vegetables to each bowl and a dollop of crème fraîche. Serve with a piece of crusty French bread.