I have over the years met a few people who claim they don’t eat tomatoes. Incredulously my immediate reply has been, are you allergic? I could not imagine any other reason not to be completely in love with these summertime seductresses. I have waited ten months for an acceptable tomato to cross my path and when those sun-sweetened gems arrive I want them clinging from every fork-full. There is no doubt that in my world the tomato is an enthusiastically welcomed kitchen guest.
Like most of us, except those few, I am putting tomatoes into every dish everyday while the season lasts. Currently, they are potentially found tossed in a corn salad; mingling with charred eggplant with chilies, or simply sliced then dusted with sea salt and a lacing of olive oil there exists no greater pleasure. My yearning for that sweet-tartness out lives its season, and no grocery can fool me with their “vine ripened” display. There is a tremendous need to supply myself with a wintery fix of these love apples.
Now, that we are a few weeks into the season here in the northeast I have started prepping for a February dinner. Already, in the refrigerator sits a jar filled with oven-dried cherry tomatoes. It is easy to pull off. I line a baking tray with random herbs stems, and covered with a thick layer of kosher salt. Then lay the cherry tomatoes on the bed of salt, and into a 175-degree oven for 10 to 12 hours. The shriveled tomatoes are transferred to a sterilized jar, and fully submerged in olive oil. Covered tightly and stored away in the refrigerator until – usually some rice biriyani calls them into action.
I grew up on garlicky pickled green tomatoes that I love and have been known to put up. Last year, I decided to pickle not the super, hard green ones but ones that were verging on ripe. These not-quite-ripen pickled tomatoes don’t give the mouth crunch one has come expect. Though their sweet-salty-sour complexity layer beautifully on a Thanksgiving weekend turkey sandwich as well as add a bit of zing to a slow roasted pork shoulder.
Of course, in my freezer will reside, by the end of summer, a minimum of five one-gallon freezer bags filled (color coordinated) with tomatoes. Whole with nothing done to them except allowed to ripen to their peak of fabulousness waiting…. these suspended glories will only be good for soups, sauces and stews but who cares they beat any canned variety I could find. Keep your San Marzano and give me a peaking, local tomato that never saw a chill before meeting my freezer, and I will give you August in January.
I think if we got those no-thank-you, I’ll pass tomato haters, and let them experience the tomato’s seasonally truest nature we might be able to convert them. I have never found a mealy, flavorless tomato pleasurable either.
Pickled Green Tomatoes
1/2 cup kosher salt
2 cups water
3 cups distilled vinegar
3-1/2 pounds green tomatoes - washed
2 heads garlic – cut in quarters
1/4 cup dill
1 whole nutmeg
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorn
1/2 teaspoon whole caraway seed
In a 1 quart pan bring the salt and water to the boil to dissolve the salt. Pour in the vinegar and remove from the heat. In a clean gallon jar snuggly place the tomato, garlic and dill. Sprinkle the spices into the jar and pour over the vinegar solution. Make sure the tomatoes are completely covered by the vinegar solution. If not add a additional vinegar to cover. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar and screw on the lid. Place in the refrigerator for 8 weeks.