The Tomato Season Sprint

tomatoes

August is the cruelest month to be in the kitchen, especially if you’re trying to avoid sweating like a marathoner in the middle of your apartment. I can’t turn on the range or the oven in my apartment without undoing the good of my meager window-unit air conditioner. The only solution seems to be to avoid cooking altogether. Before you push Submit on that order for a month’s worth of pad Thai, the good news is that the produce you get during the dog days of summer is the best you’ll get all year. And this means that you don’t have to invest much effort to put something decent—nay, spectacular!—on the table.

How little effort are we talking? What follows are a few recipes built on a simple fresh tomato puree. If you need a reason to reroute your jog to include a stop at the farmers’ market, it’s summer tomatoes at the peak of ripeness.

The rest of the year we have to settle for waxy bland supermarket tomatoes, but for three glorious months, you get the good stuff. If you’ve already been enjoying BLTs and insalata caprese, here are a few new ways to enjoy the last few tomatoes of summer. A fresh tomato puree is as simple as putting a bunch of tomatoes in a blender and straining them through a sieve. The resulting nectar is ready to be enjoyed as a post-run refresher and with a little work—the bare minimum—can become even more.

Amazing All-Purpose Tomato Puree

When made with perfectly ripe tomatoes, this simple puree has an incredible flavor that makes it a base for a wide variety of dishes that require little to no work. With more time and equipment, you could make an authentic Italian passata, but with just a blender and a sieve, you can get 100% percent of the flavor in a fraction of the time. If you want to substitute a larger quantify of small tomatoes, such as Romas, the resulting puree may be too thick for the soup and beverage recipes.

4 lbs. large ripe tomatoes (3-5 large tomatoes: Beefsteaks, Brandywines, Better Boys—whatever is available and flavorful.)

Rinse the tomatoes, and cut out the cores. Cut each tomato in half, and place the halves in a blender. Depending on the size of your blender, you may have to do this in two batches. Blend the tomatoes at medium speed for 10 seconds. The tomatoes will quickly change from solid objects to a liquid slurry. Pour the slurry into a sieve set over a large bowl. Using a spatula or spoon, move around the slurry in the sieve, scraping the bottom and pressing on the solids to squeeze out all the juice. You’ll be left with a sieve full of dry seeds and skins. Scrape off any of the puree clinging to the bottom of the sieve. Discard the seeds and skins. You’ll have about 1 3/4 quarts (7 cups) of puree. Refrigerate until ready to use. If you’re using this in a beverage, use it in the next 12 hours. Otherwise, it’ll last for three days.

Post-Run Refresher

Pour 8 oz. of tomato puree over ice, and enjoy! Add a little salt and/or pepper for additional flavor. Tomato juice is full of Vitamins A and C and potassium, so it’s great for restoring electrolytes and provides a seasonal alternative to bottled juice and sports drinks.

Chilled Tomato Soup

With the additional of some minced garlic, cucumber, and olive oil, this would be gazpacho, but when you have amazingly flavorful tomatoes, why distract your taste buds from the star of the show?

6 cups tomato puree

Salt, to taste (I start with two teaspoons)

Good quality olive oil or crème fraiche to garnish

Fresh basil or chives, finely chopped

Season the puree with salt to taste. Put it in the refrigerator to chill until cold, at least three hours. To speed things up, you can also pour the puree into a metal bowl and set the bowl into an ice bath, stirring until the puree is cold. Prior to serving, chill your serving bowls. Stir the soup to redistribute any pulp that has risen to the top. Ladle out the soup, and garnish with a swirl of olive oil or a generous tablespoon of crème fraiche. Sprinkle each bowl with the basil or chives. Serves 4-6.

Simple Tomato Sauce

This recipe yields a smooth sauce that will work with most pastas. I like to keep the consistency of the sauce thin, which makes it a good pairing for thin pasta like capellini or stuffed pasta like ravioli. If you like a chunky sauce, add in another tomato that’s been peeled, seeded, and chopped when you add the puree.

¼ cup olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

6 cups tomato puree

½ cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves

Heat a wide non-reactive saucepan or sauté pan over medium heat and then add the olive oil. Once the oil is warm, add the garlic and sauté it until it just begins to brown on the edges. Pour in the tomato puree and bring the sauce to a low simmer. Let simmer on low heat, stirring frequently, for 20 minutes. The sauce will reduce by more than half. Season the sauce with salt to taste. Add the basil leaves and let simmer for 2 more minutes. At this point, the sauce can be tossed with your favorite cooked pasta and a splash of olive oil for a pre-race dinner. Freeze two batches of this, and you’ll have the taste of summer all winter long. Yields 3 cups of sauce.

Garden Cocktail

This riff on a Bloody Mary tastes especially fruity when you use fresh puree. To turn this into a mirror image of a caprese salad, garnish with a small ball of fresh mozzarella on a toothpick. This cocktail is also excellent made “dirty” by adding a tablespoon of olive juice or pickle brine.

2 oz. fresh tomato puree

2 oz. vodka

1/4 teaspon salt

3 leaves fresh basil

Garnish: Thin slice of lemon and/or a small ball of mozzarella on a toothpick

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add all the ingredients except the garnish. Vigorously shake for one minute. The ice will break up the basil, resulting in some green flecks in the finished cocktail. Use a cocktail strainer to pour into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with the lemon slice and/or the mozzarella.

 

Dan DeBonis is a Senior Acquisitions Editor for Psychology at Worth Publishers, and he will pay top dollar for amazing tomatoes.