STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY ELLISE PIERCE
My childhood summers were filled with tomatoes. When I was growing up in Denton, we had thick slices of beefy tomatoes on side plates for lunch and dinners, served just as they were, with a sprinkle of salt to offset the sweetness. Mom kept the harvest on a narrow windowsill over the sink that opened up into our backyard. My dad, he could grow some tomatoes.
He especially liked the small ones, the cherry tomatoes, but I don’t remember calling them that back then. His were prolific, and he would walk with me through his small garden and we’d pluck off the plumpest ones and eat them, just like that, the two of us in the blazing afternoon sun, stealing tomatoes before they could make it to the kitchen.
“There was endless discussion about tomatoes. Unlike politics, it was neutral, safe territory.”
His weren’t perfect; rather, they were mostly these oddball-looking things that we’d observe in the windowsill each day, commenting on their funny shapes, the degree of ripeness, and whether or not they were ready, or if another day was required. There was endless discussion about tomatoes. Unlike politics, it was neutral, safe territory. Eating tomatoes back then wasn’t fussy or fancy. No one had heard of olive oil. We weren’t crushing our tomatoes to make our own pasta sauce, and there weren’t ever enough to can like Daddy did with his jalapenos in his later years, right up to when he died. The season came, and we ate tomatoes until they were all gone.
TOO MANY TOMATOES?
This is a good problem to have. Here’s what I like to do when I’ve got more tomatoes than I can make sandwiches with.
If you’ve got some tomatoes that are over-ripe, make no-cook tomato sauce. Put the tomatoes in a deep bowl, crush them with your hands, and add salt, pepper, a drizzle of olive oil and some torn basil. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter for a day or so.
Blend up some gazpacho. Score your tomatoes, blanch in boiling water for a few seconds, and remove the skins. Squeeze out the seeds. Put into a blender with bell pepper, onion, cucumber, garlic, some red wine vinegar and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Blend and chill for a few hours. Serve with chopped hardboiled egg and croutons.
Make a Greek-ish chopped salad. Halve cherry tomatoes and toss them into a bowl with chopped cucumber, torn pita bread, Kalamata olives, oregano, mint and feta crumbles. Add some salt and pepper. Splash on some red wine vinegar and olive oil. Toss.
Add cherry tomato vinaigrette to your grilled fish. Put a little bit of olive oil in a saucepan with a few basil leaves, a clove of garlic, and red pepper flakes over medium-low heat. After 5 minutes, add halved cherry tomatoes and cook until they soften. Stir in a splash of red wine vinegar, cook for a couple of minutes, then serve.
Make a tomato tarte Tatin. Halve and core 6 to 8 meaty tomatoes and arrange them insides-up in a cast-iron skillet. Drizzle with olive oil, add some salt and pepper, and put in a 400°∆F oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and add a same-size piece of pate brisee (pie dough) on top. Cook for 30 more minutes or until crust is brown. Turn out the tarte on a platter, sprinkle with Parmesan, serve.
Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef and author of COWGIRL CHEF:
Texas Cooking with a French Accent (Running Press). Read her blog
(www.cowgirlchef.com), follow her on Twitter (@cowgirlchef) and Instagram