Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Tomato Dilemma

Tomatoes. When I say the word, you immediately picture a big juicy beefsteak, or possibly a humorously misshapen San Marzano, so perfect for sauce. Probably what does not spring to mind is a sweet little cherry tomato. Cherry tomatoes are often mere accessories to a salad, tossed on at the last minute, exploited for the color they add to plain greens, but without getting much in the way of respect or appreciation.

This was driven home for me this summer when I decided to grow tomatoes. We have a 40+ foot long porch on the front of our house. Because we spent most of our budget on kitchen appliances, we had nothing left over for landscaping, so our “lawn” strategy was, “Let a bunch of weeds grow and keep them cut short and guess what? They look like grass.” So this year we invested some money in raised beds and topsoil. Rather than put in a bunch of ornamental plants, I went with the more practical (and certainly more delicious) vegetables: four kinds of tomatoes, zucchini, swiss chard, carrots, lettuce and peas (and note to self, next year MORE PEAS! The kids will eat them out of the pod off the vine; we want to encourage this behavior). The front of the house is a southern exposure, so we were pretty much guaranteed success.

This has been a particularly sunny and uncharacteristically hot summer in the Pacific Northwest (in fact, so much like where I grew up has it been this year that I’ve begun referring to it as the Pacific Northeast. Ha, I’m such a card). Day after day the sun blazed down on my garden, and the carrots came up and the chard flourished. The tomatoes got enormously tall and set fruit, and then they refused to ripen. There were these huge green tomatoes all over my plants, but they simply wouldn’t turn red. I came within an ace of turning them all into one of my favorite side dishes, fried green tomatoes, and calling the tomato season a bust. I was counseled to have patience. My time would come, I was assured.

But then! One tomato ripened. One…yellow cherry tomato. A yellow cherry tomato? Well, beggars can’t be choosers, and shortly I had lots of ripe cherry tomatoes, mostly yellow, but a few red. What was I going to do with these? Oh sure, I could put them in a salad, but as I said, I think that’s so dull. It’s that whole exploitation thing I was just on about. I had to be true to myself and actually do something with them. But what?

And just as I was about to cave to the defeatist voice in my head, the one that kept saying, “You have to do something with them, you can’t just let them rot in that bowl. Go on, just make a salad and put them in there. You really have no other choice,” (this, incidentally, is the same voice that almost had me rip all the green tomatoes off the plants and fry them up—a persistent but so often wrong voice that should really just shut up, but I think I’m stuck with it), along came the August issue of Gourmet magazine, with a solution for my dilemma. Take your cherry tomatoes, blanch and peel them, then sauté them. Their suggestion was vodka, my rebuttal was white wine and anchovies.

Normally blanching anything seems too fiddly and time consuming for me, but cherry tomatoes slip from their skins so easily it’s no trouble. The little hussies seem anxious to disrobe for you. It’s almost obscene. And then you’re left with these slightly mushy little characters that (in my case) get rolled around in some olive oil over medium heat until they’re warm through, then they’re jolted with a shot of white wine and get some anchovies mashed around with them, and the whole thing cooked down to a syrupy consistency. You should taste before salting, but a grind or two of pepper is nice. I scattered these with chopped flat leaf parsley because I have so much of it in front of my house that people walking past can be heard referring to it as, “that house with the parsley shrub in front of it.” You could use chives or sage or oregano, depending on which herb is taking over your herb garden this year.

This would be a different summery side dish, something you don’t see every day, and lovely with roast chicken. A friend to whom I described this said it sounded to her like it would make an excellent topping for a bruschetta, which I think it would. You’d want to smash the tomatoes and cook off some of the juice that’s released, but then they’d be perfect on a toasted or grilled slice of Italian bread, rubbed with a clove of garlic if you’re feeling particularly devilish. If you’re serving them as a side dish, take care not to heat them until they pop. If they do, well, when life hands you overcooked cherry tomatoes, make bruschetta.

White Wine-Anchovy Glazed Cherry Tomatoes

adapted from Gourmet magazine

24-36 medium cherry tomatoes (a mix of yellow and red, or all one color; the round ones are easier to work with than the grape tomatoes)
1 tablespoon olive oil
¾ cup dry white wine
6 anchovy filets, patted dry
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt (optional)
Chopped fresh parsley (or herb of choice)

Using a sharp paring knife, cut a small X in the bottom of each tomato. Drop in a pot of boiling water for 10 – 15 seconds. Scoop out and plunge immediately into a bowl of ice water. Remove skins from tomatoes.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add cherry tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, or until tomatoes are heated, but not bursting. Add anchovies and wine to pan, and mash anchovies with a fork to encourage their disintegration. Taste for seasoning, and add pepper (you probably won’t need salt, but you can add it if you think it needs it). Reduce over medium heat, another 3 to 5 minutes, or until sauce has a syrupy consistency, but tomatoes are still whole.

Remove from heat and scatter with fresh chopped herbs. Serve immediately.

1 comment:

Lesley said...

Thanks for this! I also have lots of the little guys!Lesley