Bless Your Spoon: The last of the tomatoes

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 25, 2022

By Stephanie Williams Dean

Summertime means red, ripe tomatoes, and today’s fresh tomato recipes are the perfect way to take advantage of the bountiful crop.

To my dismay, however, tomato season is approaching the end. While the season usually runs through mid-September, it will be shorter this year. My summer crop hasn’t done well — too much rain — and my plants aren’t producing as expected.

If you ask me, tomato season is way too short. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who gets misty-eyed when the fruit’s on its way out. The thought of fewer summer tomatoes throws me into a crave mode. I begin to feel some self-imposed quota that prompts me to jump into gear, preparing as many tomato dishes as possible.

There’s no better way to celebrate summer than by incorporating a few vine-ripened fruits into our everyday meals. Today’s recipes are an ode to summer — the tomato being our most basic seasonal pleasure. From the simplest recipes to complex, fresh garden fruits and vegetables are the best culinary gift of an entire year.

I don’t look forward to when I can no longer pluck fresh tomatoes directly from the vine. But soon, I’ll have no choice but to accept the end of summer and the last of the tomatoes.

Isn’t that just the way life is?

We all have trouble dealing with endings — the things we enjoy, the end of a relationship, or the loss of a friend. And yes, as silly as it sounds, even facing the end of tomato season.

Endings represent loss, a letting go of something. Throughout life, we’ll meet people if just for a season of our lives. We’ll experience loss — endings, goodbyes and finalities. People will leave us and we will have to part with people and things we don’t want to let go of. Life can be tough.

But you know what? God will never leave you. When sadness fills your heart and tears flow from your eyes, remember God will always be with you. In Colossians 2:1-23, Paul makes clear the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases and His mercies never come to an end.

Solomon observes in Ecclesiastes 3:6 that there’s a time to give up, a time to keep, and a time to throw away. God is with us in our hardest battles, and He will guide our steps through the seasons of our lives. He knows what’s ahead for each of us and will provide what we need to get through. God is always present and we must trust God’s sovereignty.

Last night at Billy Graham’s The Cove in Asheville, contemporary Christian artist Rhett Walker sang these lyrics: “All my life, You have been faithful, You have been so good. With every breath I’m able, I will sing the goodness of God. Ain’t nobody gonna love you like your Father does — and He always will.”

God is lasting — His love shall never end.

Garden Gratin

• 1¼-inch sliced eggplant

• 3¼-inch sliced ripe tomatoes

• 3¼-inch sliced yellow squash

• 5¼-inch sliced zucchini

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus

• 2 chopped yellow onions

• 4 minced cloves garlic

• 1½ cup artisan bread crumbs

• 1 chopped bunch of fresh parsley

• 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

• 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In one bowl, combine eggplant and tomatoes. In another bowl, combine squashes. Sprinkle with salt and toss. Allow to stand for an hour and then drain and dry both. In a skillet, heat oil. Add onions and garlic, and sauté 15 minutes or until translucent. Stir in bread crumbs. Mix well. Salt and pepper mixture to taste. In bottom of a greased gratin dish, evenly sprinkle half the bread crumb mixture. Place a layer of tomatoes and eggplant. Salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Add a layer of squashes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with oil. Top with remaining bread crumb mixture. Bake while tightly covered with foil in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. In a bowl, combine chopped parsley, lemon juice and Parmesan cheese. Remove foil and sprinkle evenly over top. Bake uncovered for 25 additional minutes or until top is browned. Allow to stand 10 minutes before serving.

Fresh Tomato Gazpacho

• 7 peeled, chopped fresh tomatoes

• 1 chopped green pepper

• 1 chopped onion

• 1 peeled, chopped cucumber

• 1 can beef broth

• 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

• 3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

• 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley

• 3 chopped cloves garlic

• 1/8 tsp. Cayenne

• ½ tsp. chili powder

If you don’t have fresh tomatoes, you can use 28 oz. canned tomatoes. Using a blender or food processor, blend the tomatoes and green pepper until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and blend again until smooth. Do not over-process. Chill. When serving, I sprinkle a few coarsely chopped veggies on top.

The Ripest Relish

• ¼ cup fresh lemon juice

• 1 pint white distilled vinegar

• 10 lbs. cored, chopped red tomatoes

• 2 lbs. sugar

• 12 oz. liquid pectin

• 2 cinnamon sticks

• ½ cup bourbon

In a stock pot, combine lemon juice, vinegar and chunked tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat. Drain liquid using a colander. Return tomatoes to the pot. Stir in sugar, pectin and cinnamon. Bring to a simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in bourbon and simmer 10 additional minutes. Allow to set and completely cool for several hours. Remove cinnamon sticks. Fill sterilized jars with relish. Makes 6 pints.

Hot Tomato and Corn Salad

• 2 cups cooked kernels fresh corn

• ½ cup finely chopped red onion

• ½ finely chopped green bell pepper

• ½ seeded, finely chopped jalapeño

• 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

• 3 Tbsp. red wine or cider vinegar

• Salt and pepper to taste

• 2 cups halved cherry tomatoes

In a large bowl, shave kernels off 2 ears, or use 2 cups frozen, cooked corn. Add onion, bell pepper, jalapeño, oil and vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate. One hour before serving, toss tomatoes into salad. Add additional salt and pepper if needed.

Tomatoes on Toast

• 4 peeled, seeded, diced ripe tomatoes

• 6 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil

• 2 tbsp. minced cloves garlic

• 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 6 slices toasted Italian bread

In a bowl, combine diced tomatoes, basil, garlic and oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Allow to stand and marinate for 45 minutes at room temperature. Toast bread slices. Spoon mixture over toasted bread. Serve as a pick-up food or with utensils if needed.

Favorite Tomato Pie

• 9-inch prepared deep dish pie crust

• 4 sliced tomatoes

• Salt

• 10 chopped basil leaves

• 1/3 cup chopped green onion

• Salt and pepper to taste

• 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

• 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

• ¾-1 cup premium mayonnaise

• ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Prepare pie crust by baking in a 350-degree oven for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, slice tomatoes and place on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. Layer tomatoes, basil and onion in bottom of pie shell. Season with salt and pepper to taste. In a bowl, combine mozzarella and cheddar cheeses with just enough mayonnaise to make it easily spreadable. Spread on top of tomato and onion layers. Evenly spread grated Parmesan over the top. Sometimes I layer my tomatoes, basil, and onion with the mayo mixture. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or until golden.

Tomatoes with Mushroom Cream

• 6 halved tomatoes

• Salt, freshly ground black pepper, garlic salt

• ½ cup artisan bread crumbs

• ¼ cup melted, salted butter

• ¼ lb. chopped fresh mushrooms

• 2 Tbsp. salted butter

• 1 can cream of chicken soup

• 1/3 cup chicken broth

• 2 Tbsp. minced onion

• ¼ tsp. garlic powder

• Salt and pepper to taste

Cut tomatoes into halves and sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder. In a bowl, combine bread crumbs with melted butter. Spread over the tops of each tomato half. Broil in oven 8-inches from burner for 6 minutes or until browned. In a saucepan, melt butter and sauté fresh mushrooms until tender. Stir in soup, broth, onion and garlic powder. Salt and pepper to taste. When serving, top tomatoes with the mushroom sauce. You can also make your own cream sauce from scratch instead of using soup.

Favorite Tomato Salad

• 1-pint cherry tomatoes

• 5 diced scallions

• 4 oz. crumbled blue cheese

• 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

• 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

• Freshly ground black pepper

Cut tomatoes in half. In a large bowl, toss tomatoes with scallions and cheese. Combine lemon juice and oil. Pour over tomato mixture. Toss to blend well. Pepper to taste. When I make this recipe, I use the smallest tomatoes and don’t half them. A favorite summer recipe.

Spinach and Tomato Pie

• 1 9-inch prepared deep dish pie crust

• 10 oz. frozen chopped spinach

• 3 cups diced fresh tomatoes

• 1 tsp. chopped fresh garlic

• 1 tsp. sugar

• 1 tsp. garlic salt

• 1 tsp. chopped basil

• 1 tsp. oregano

• 1 tsp. sugar

• Salt and pepper to taste

• 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

• 1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese

• 1 diced medium onion

• ¾-1 cup premium mayonnaise

Prepare pie crust by baking in a 350-degree oven for 5-10 minutes. In a bowl, combine thawed and squeezed dry chopped spinach, diced tomatoes, fresh garlic, sugar, salt, basil, oregano and sugar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Pour into the prebaked pie shell. In another bowl, combine cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, onion, and mayonnaise until spreadable consistency. Spread over tomato mixture. Sometimes I layer my tomato mixture with mayo mixture.

Tomato Salad Dressing

• 1 can tomato soup

• 1 cup extra virgin olive oil

• 1 cup sugar

• ¾ cup vinegar

• 1 Tbsp. salt

• 1 tsp. pepper

• 3 chopped cloves garlic

• 1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes

In a jar, combine soup, olive oil, sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper and garlic. Shake well and refrigerate overnight. Shake before using. Before serving, add chopped garden tomatoes. Pour over salad greens.

Spicy Tomato Con Queso

• 2 Tbsp. melted salted butter

• 2 chopped onions

• 3 minced cloves garlic

• 1 can cream of mushroom soup

• 2 lbs. grated sharp cheddar cheese

• 2 chopped fresh tomatoes

• 3-4 small cans chopped green chilies

• Whole milk

• Taco sauce, if desired

In a skillet, melt butter. Cook onions and garlic until transparent. Stir in ½ can of soup and cheese and cook until melted. Add chopped tomatoes and chilies. Add milk to reach desired consistency if needed. You can add a little taco sauce if needed for taste or color. Keep warm while serving in a chafing dish or crock pot. Serve with nachos or chips. Best consumed the day it’s made.

Garden Coleslaw

• 1 shredded small green cabbage

• 1 shredded small red cabbage

• 2 grated carrots

• 1 peeled, chopped cucumber

• ½ chopped red bell pepper

• ½ chopped yellow bell pepper

• ½ cup plain yogurt

• ½ cup premium mayonnaise

• 3 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice

• 3 Tbsp. honey

• 2 Tbsp. tarragon vinegar

• 1½ tsp. celery seed

• Salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine and toss all vegetables together. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, mayonnaise, lemon juice, honey, vinegar and celery seed. Toss well. Season to taste.

Grilled Vegetable Sandwiches

• Olive oil

• Sliced loaf French bread

• 1 diagonally sliced zucchini or sliced tomato

• Sage leaves

• ½ lb. med. Sliced Gruyere cheese

• ½ thinly sliced red bell pepper

In a skillet, thinly coat bottom with olive oil. Sauté zucchini slices and drain on paper towels. Top each bread slice with two slices of zucchini, sliced tomato and several sage leaves. Top with a cheese slice and sliver of red pepper. Place directly under oven broiler until cheese melts. Tomato slices or eggplant and basil or thyme make suitable substitutes. You can substitute using good melting cheese such as white cheddar, Chevre, Swiss, and Muenster. You can also make a sandwich using apple slices and raisins topped with sliced milk cheese.

Out of This Garden Paella

• 7 cups vegetable broth

• 1½ Tbsp. Hungarian paprika

• 1 bay leaf

• 1 chopped tomato

• 3 Tbsp. minced onion

• 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

• 3 cups Arborio rice

• ½ cup fresh peas

• 1/3 cup diced roasted red bell pepper

• ½ cup of raw mixed vegetables

Combine vegetable broth, paprika, bay leaf and tomato-onion mixture to make stock. Bring to a boil over medium to high heat. Reduce to a simmer. Heat a paella pan until hot. Add olive oil, and when hot, stir in the rice. Cook 3 minutes while constantly stirring or until golden brown. Add 6 cups of the hot stock and reduce heat to a simmer. Place the peas, peppers and other vegetables over the rice as it cooks. You can use ½ cup of blanched string beans, sugar snap peas, corn kernels, sliced broccoli, cauliflower florets, blanched sliced carrots, and asparagus, artichoke hearts or celery. Use your favorites. Cook without stirring for 30 minutes. Add more broth if needed. When rice is done, turn off heat and allow to stand 10 minutes. Sprinkle rice with herbs and spray olive oil over the entire top. Serve immediately.

Fresh Tomato and Cheese Quiche

• 1 9-inch prepared deep dish pie shell

• 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

• 2 peeled, sliced fresh tomatoes

• Salt and pepper

• all-purpose flour

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 1 cup chopped onions

• 3 slices, cut 1-inch, provolone cheese

• 2 beaten eggs

• ¾ cup heavy cream

• 1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

Prepare pie shell by baking in a 350-degree oven for 5-10 minutes. In a skillet, heat olive oil. In a bowl, salt and pepper sliced tomatoes and dredge in flour. In a skillet, sauté tomatoes in hot oil. Remove and drain. Layer tomatoes and onions in bottom of pie shell. Top with provolone cheese. In a bowl, combine beaten eggs with cream. Pour over cheese. Sprinkle freshly grated Swiss cheese over top. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 35-40 minutes or until it sets up.

Marinated Cherry Tomatoes

• 2 pints cherry tomatoes

• 2 cloves of garlic

• 2 cups fresh basil leaves

• 1 large egg

• 1 tsp. green peppercorn Dijon mustard

• 4 tsp. fresh lemon juice

• ¾ canola or vegetable oil

• ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

• Chopped fresh parsley

In a saucepan, bring water to a boil. Drop tomatoes in only for a few seconds. Remove with slotted spoon and place in strainer. Run cold water over the tomatoes to cool. Peel off skins if desired. Place tomatoes in a large bowl. For the dressing, in a food processor, mince garlic. Add basil leaves, egg, mustard, lemon juice and puree. While processor is running, slowly add canola oil and olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Continue to process until mixture is creamy and thick. Pour dressing over tomatoes and marinate in refrigerator for 4 hours. When serving, sprinkle with chopped parsley. You can use small cherry or larger sliced tomatoes.

Greek Tomato Salad

• 1 wedge cut, large ripe tomato

• ½ wedge cut, red onion

• ½ peeled, sliced cucumber

• 4 oz. chunked feta cheese

• ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

• 2½ Tbsp. red wine vinegar

• ½ tsp. dried oregano

• Salt and pepper to taste

In a bowl, cut tomato and half of a red onion into thin wedges. Add sliced cucumbers and gently toss to combine. In a bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar and oregano. Drizzle over top of vegetables. Top with chunks of feta cheese. Sprinkle with extra oregano and serve.

Mediterranean Tomato Bread

• Loaf of 1 ½-inch sliced French/Italian bread

• 3 halved ripe med. Tomatoes

• ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

• Anchovy fillets

Slice your favorite country-style bread into 1½-inch slices.

Toast bread on both sides under the broiler. Gently squeeze tomatoes over both sides of each slice of toast, leaving juice and seeds on surfaces. Then evenly drizzle olive oil over both sides of toast pieces. Sprinkle both sides with salt. Arrange several anchovy fillets on top of each toast and serve. Be sure to use round, dense, country-style bread so that tomato juices and oil are absorbed the way they’re supposed to.

Stir Fry Tomato and Squash

• 2 chopped medium yellow squash

• 2 chopped medium zucchini squash

• 3 medium chopped onions

• 2 chopped fresh tomatoes

• Bottle Italian salad dressing

In a bowl, coarsely chop yellow squash, zucchini, onions and tomatoes. In a skillet or wok, heat the Italian dressing. Stir fry vegetables until slightly tender.