To visualize a tomato in your dreams is said to symbolize domestic happiness and life harmony. If you’re so lucky to actually eat a tomato in your dreams, this bliss might be complemented with a forecast for good health and wealth! Very logical interpretations, if you ask me. On the first thought, how much happier can one get than when plucking, sniffing, eating, and even dreaming about a fragrant and juicy tomato? With respect to health, it’s all documented in the science! More about this later.
The scale of how obscenely delicious, or dreadful, a tomato can be runs from an ‘off the chart’ 10 to a quick zero. Without question, tomato nirvana is tightly framed within the short window that that they’re harvested. For very good reason, many won’t go near a raw tomato ‘off season’.
In our neck of the woods, the tomato Gods can gifts us from mid-late July to end of September. This year a very wet spring and early summer got tomatoes off to a late start, but a dizzying array of shapes, sizes, and colors still grace our gardens and farmer’s market.
Thad Simerly and Kimberly Hart are just completing their second full season owning/operating Starling Yards, a family-operated, sustainable farm at Echo Valley Farm in Red Hook, NY. They grow up to 150 varieties of 70 different crops, many of them succulent tomatoes. Kimberly tells me that last season they planted three times the amount of tomatoes and far more varieties. This year Thad and Kimberly focused on the “market darlings” plus a few others that especially spoke to them. Kim tells me that, “The Japanese Trifele Black tops my favorites. These pear shaped beauties are sweet and meaty and not too seedy.” Everyone has a preference, and there are certainly there uses for all. The big beefy style tomatoes, like Beefsteak, Brandy Wine, or Celebrity can grace a Caprese salad or be nicely slipped between two slices of fresh bread. The plum-like tomatoes, such as Roma or the celebrated San Marzano, are our best hope for enjoying tomato flavors throughout the winter. They cook down into deep sauces and ‘jams’ or can be slow roasted with herbs and then stored covered in a flavorful olive oil.
This combination of a cooked tomato and oil is at the very root of one of their immense nutritional highlights. Lycopene, the potent antioxidant that lends their vibrant red color, is best absorbed when the cell walls have been disrupted by cooking and in the presence of fat. Viva la pizza Margherita and pasta al pomodoro! Tomatoes also offer up lutein, another carotenoid (and antioxidant) shown to protect eye heart health. As for the more ’straight up’ nutrients, tomatoes are rich source of vitamins A and C, and also a good source of folic acid. One medium tomato (4 to 5 ounces) offers so much sweet goodness for only about 25 calories and 3 grams of sugar! Seems impossible!
*Starling Yards coordinates pickups to their CSA Shareholders at Rokeby (845 River Road, Barrytown, NY), from 4 to 7 pm on Tuesdays and Starling Yards (81 Echo Valley Rd, Red Hook) from 5 to 7pm on Fridays. They also sell to select restaurants and the Milan and Red Hook Village Outdoor Farmer’s Markets.
Tomato–Goat Cheese Gratin
Adapted from Hudson Valley Mediterranean: The Gigi Good Food Cookbook (HarperCollins/Pensiero 2009)
It’s that time of year that we begin to turn on the oven, yet we can still make great use of the end of summer tomatoes. This delicious dish takes less than 15 minutes of preparation time. Great for everyday or entertaining!
Makes 4 servings
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 ¼ cups coarse bread crumbs from crusty bread (substitute unseasoned breadcrumbs)
1½ pounds large tomatoes (about 3), sliced 1/- inch thick
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled Coach Farm goat cheese
3 tablespoons chopped chives
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
In a small bowl, combine the olive oil and bread crumbs. Set aside.
Arrange ⅓ of the tomato slices, slightly overlapping, in an oiled 9-inch square or oval gratin dish or casserole. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with ⅓ each of the goat cheese, bread crumb mixture, and chives. Repeat with two more layers of tomatoes, toppings, and salt and pepper seasoning. Sprinkle the gratin with the Parmesan.
Bake in the middle of the oven until bubbly and the crumbs are golden, 15 to 20 minutes.
* Add pitted olives and or good quality tuna.
* Substitute 4 ounces of your favorite shredded or crumbled cheese. Fresh mozzarella works great.