As the joke goes, there are only two seasons in Ottawa: Winter and construction season. It’s kind of like that for me – Tomato season and “not tomato season”. During tomato season, I have them for breakfast, sliced on toasted bread, sometimes with cucumber and a little salt and pepper. For lunch and dinner in salads, and quite frankly any other way I can get them. Heirlooms, big ol’ beefsteak tomatoes and regular vine-ripened red tomatoes all float my boat in a big way.
Sure, your local supermarket sells something they call tomatoes all year ’round. Raised in hothouses, bred for uniformity, heartiness for shipping, and colour, and cross-bred in labs with chunks of styrofoam and flavour inhibitors, these are tomatoes like the cheese sauce on Seven-Eleven Nachos is cheese.
With local tomatoes at their peak flavour, we thought we’d do a sampling of recipes this week that highlight them in various forms.
The first was a Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup from Gourmet Magazine. It was full of bright, fresh tomato flavour and went very well with good bread from Art-is-in Bakery.
The second was a delicious appetizer of Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes with Fontina and Thyme from Closet Cooking, out of which we made a dinner. Fresh cherry tomatoes, mixed with herbs, garlic and oil, then roasted in the oven. When they were done, they were covered with a layer of shredded fontina cheese and put under the broiler until bubbly. Again this was served with a nice baguette. The richness of the fontina was a great backdrop for the sweet, sweet roasted cherry tomatoes.
Lastly, it wouldn’t seem right to finish off a week of tomatoes without making a pasta sauce. This dish was inspired by Scott Conant’s Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce – A “too simple to be THAT good” dish, served at his Scarpetta restaurants.
It involves blanching and peeling ripe tomatoes, crushing them into a pot, with an onion sliced in half, some minced basil and oregano as well as a large pinch of chili flakes, and simmering them down for a couple hours. In a separate pot I poached some local vegetables in olive oil — mushrooms, red pepper and garlic, slowly for 2 hours. When the oil was deeply flavoured with the vegetables, I added a 1/3 cup of the oil to the tomato sauce.
I also made an executive decision to dump the strained, poached vegetables into the sauce. The peppers added sweetness, the mushrooms added an earthy meatiness and the garlic dissolved and blended into the mixture.
I brushed the flavoured oil on thin slices of Art-is-in baguette with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and a light dusting of freshly grated Parmesan cheese to crisp in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes. The rest of the oil has been set aside for salad dressings and cooking over the next couple days.
There’s no recipe here. I winged it and so should you. I used enough tomatoes for pasta for 4 – I figured 2-3 medium tomatoes per person. We served this pasta with a Caprese salad, made with Bufala mozarella, fresh basil and heirloom tomatoes with salt, pepper and a drizzle each of olive oil and basalmic vinegar.
It’s important to note, when we substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth in the soup recipe, all three meals are entirely vegetarian. All three also have rich, meaty flavours due to the prime ripe tomatoes and the way they’re cooked. There’s leftover pasta sauce in the freezer, to be brought out mid-winter when I need a taste of Summer-becoming Fall.