Remember winter? When everything came in shades of grey? When the world felt silent, waiting, dormant beneath the earth? When nothing had a smell and we longed for something, anything to release its scent?
Here is the color we longed for then. A rioutous shout of reds and yellows and greens. The slightly acidic tinge in the nose, a rich deep smell of sun and wind and life itself?
I wait all year for tomatoes.
I could talk about mealy canteloupe in January versus the glorious juices of local orange flesh right now. Or how different grapes taste in mid-December than the round-mouthed ohhhhhh of a grape grown in summer. But when I think of the flavor for which I wait until August, it’s always tomatoes.
The weekend before our wedding, Danny and I ate a lot of great food. But the meal I will always remember best is one I didn’t even eat.
Danny’s father, wonderful man, grew up in Iowa. He lives his life in simple pleasures now: a game of golf early in the morning, a newspaper at the breakfast table, being with his wife, having conversations with his best friend (whom he has known since he was five, who lives down the street from him now in Arizona), talking with his adult children on the phone, a glass of bourbon in the evening.
But I have never seen him so happy as when he ate slices of tomato over our kitchen sink.
He cut into the heirlooms we bought at the farmers’ market, mostly for him. He sliced each one slowly, with a small knife, on a white cutting board. He sprinkled sea salt over the tomatoes swimming in their juices. And then he raised one to his mouth and took a bite.
I will never forget the look of pleasure on his face.
We love coming up with new flavor combinations in this house, braising meats and combining flours to make new favorite foods. However, in the summer, these long days of August — the light already leaning toward fall— I don’t need much more than tomatoes.
Smoked Tomato Salsa
Once we have eaten a case of tomatoes with sea salt over the sink, we do start thinking of other ways to eat them, in combination with other summer foods. We’ve been eating lots of salsa around here, and we thought you might want to eat this too.
5 large tomatoes, at the height of ripeness
1 medium Anaheim chile
1 medium red onion, peeled and fine-diced
1 tablespoon fine-chopped garlic
1/4 cup fine-chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fine-chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 lime, juiced
1 lemon, juiced
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
Smoking the tomatoes. Get your smoker ready, with a good amount of smoke going. Cut 4 tomatoes in half, and leave 1 of the halves on the kitchen counter. Put the tomatoes, skin side down, onto the smoker’s rack. Cover. Let the tomatoes smoke for 30 minutes. Remove them from the smoker and let them cool. Remove the skins from the tomatoes. Chop them up. Save as much of the juice as possible. It’s an important ingredient.
And if you don’t have a smoker… You will need to add smoked paprika (about 2 tablespoons) or a dried chipotle pepper that has been hydrated and de-seeded. This will give you a smoky taste, different than the smoked tomatoes, but equally delicious.
Roasting the pepper. Rub a little oil on the Anaheim pepper. (This is a mild pepper. If you want more heat in the salsa, use a different chile. But be careful.) Throw it in a 425° oven and roast it until the skin begins to blister. Put the pepper in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let it sit until is cool to the touch. Peel the skin and de-seed. Chop it up with some care.
Blanching the other tomatoes. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to boil, using enough salt to make the water taste like the ocean. Mark a small x on the bottom of the tomato with a paring knife. Add the tomatoes into the salted water and cook until the skin starts to slip off, about 5 to 10 seconds. (Don’t let the tomatoes stay in the water for much longer, or you will start to cook them.) Transferthe tomatoes in a bowl of ice water to cool quickly. Remove the skins from the tomatoes, which should slip off fairly easily. Cut the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Chop the tomatoes.
Making the salsa. Combine the tomatoes, the roasted pepper, the onion, garlic, cilantro, parsley, and sherry vinegar. Stir.
Scoop up 1/4 of the salsa and put it in the food processor. Pulse the processor until the chunky salsa is pureed. Add this back into the salsa.
Squeeze in the lemon and lime juice. Taste. Add more if you wish. Season with salt and pepper.
Let the salsa sit in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before eating it. (I know. It’s hard.) It will be even better the next day.
Today’s post is part of the continuing celebration called Summer Fest 2009. Danny and I are honored to be part of this four-week cross-blog event, co-created last year by Margaret Roach of A Way to Garden, Matt Armendariz of Mattbites, Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen, and Todd and Diane of White on Rice Couple. This year, they’ve asked a couple of new folks to join in, including Simmer Till Done’s Marilyn Pollack Naron and Paige Smith Orloff of The Sister Project. Oh, and Danny and me.
THE 2009 SCHEDULE (you can go back to look at the past weeks, if you want)
* Tuesday, July 28: HERBS. Any and all.
* Tuesday, August 4: FRUITS FROM TREES
* Tuesday, August 11: BEANS-AND-GREENS WEEK
* Tuesday, August 18: TOMATO WEEK.
HOW YOU CAN JOIN IN:
Leave a comment here, sharing your tips with tomatoes. We’d love to learn what you do.
And then go visit the other blogs, to read their ideas and leave comments with them. Soon, this will feel like a huge party, focused on tomatoes in this time of glorious ripeness.