In my last “Talking Tomatoes” post, I extolled the virtues of tomato season, which began in earnest here in about late July. We are nearing the end of the season, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still loads of lovely red, yellow, green, striped, and purple fruit to be had, probably into November. Tomatoes come in a wide color range, especially since the rebirth of farming heirloom varieties. Now is the time to can them, and continue eating them fresh.
Somewhere along the culinary line, we as shoppers and eaters lost our way in our relationship with tomatoes. Early European settlers thought the tomato was poisonous and grew it for decoration only, until Thomas Jefferson proved otherwise in his amazing vegetable garden at Monticello (South American native peoples always knew tomatoes were delicious and healthy). For decades, most Americans only ate tomatoes in the form of ketchup and pizza sauce.
The higher demand for tomatoes led to commercial farming of the slow-to-ripen, tasteless, uniformly “pretty” red orbs found in all grocery stores year-round. Thankfully, Eastern Long Island has always been on the forefront of what I call “real” tomato growing and eating. East End farms helped paved the way to “artisanal” tomato eating by continuing and resurrecting heirlooms and hybrid varieties that grow as well as they taste. This movement has helped shape the average eater’s view of what a good tomato looks like (hint: it’s not pretty, but it sure is beautiful).
Tomatoes are one of the healthiest foods one can eat. They contain a great deal of lycopene—good for the skin and a cancer-fighter, too—and this antioxidant becomes more concentrated when the tomato is cooked. Tomatoes also are high in vitamins K, A, C, B, and potassium.
As I mentioned in my last post, there are so many things one can do with tomatoes. One of my favorites is one of the easiest. It’s a simple fresh, in-season tomato sauce that can also be made from preserved tomatoes in winter. My friend Elaine Mir, of Stone Creek Inn, gave me a great recipe for a dip that doubles as a sauce, and I used this for the inspiration. The key to this recipe is to keep it simple, very fresh, and pair it with homemade or artisanal dried pasta.
Pappardelle Pasta with Simple Tomato Sauce (Inspired by Stone Creek Inn Tomato Dip)
About 2 cups of mixed local red and yellow tomatoes
4 tablespoons fine, extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little extra for drizzling
1 large clove or 2 small cloves of fresh garlic, roughly chopped
sea salt and black pepper to taste
About 16 oz. of artisanal Pappardelle pasta such as Sogno Toscano’s (found at Red Horse Market, East Hampton)
Hand-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Fresh basil leaves, ribboned
Blend room-temperature tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper until mixed and smooth (but not juiced). Cook pasta according to instructions. While pasta is cooking, cut the basil into thin ribbons. As soon as pasta is done, place into individual bowls, and spoon tomato sauce onto middle of hot pasta. Drizzle olive oil over the whole, top with basil and cheese. Serve with arugula salad.