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Dive into fresh, ripe tomatoes with these recipes
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Dive into fresh, ripe tomatoes with these recipes

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Summer's here, and the tomatoes are ripe. If I could, I'd fill a swimming pool with tomatoes and dive in.

Admit it: The more you think about it, the more that sounds like a good idea.

Because tomatoes are approaching the peak of their tomato-ness right now, I decided to celebrate everyone's favorite fruit-that-masquerades-as-a-vegetable by trying out a variety of ways to use them when they are fresh and at their peak.

No canned tomatoes here. I made recipes that are straight-from-the-vine good.

For only the second time in my life, I made a tomato pie. And I instantly wondered why it wasn't something I make every week throughout the summer.

If the thought of a savory tomato pie gives you pause, perhaps it is best to think of it as a quiche without all the eggs. And if you wonder how you can bake tomatoes in a pie crust without getting the crust soggy, don't worry. These tomatoes are sliced and somewhat dried out in the oven before they are placed in the pie.

Because it is a pie, you obviously have a crust (I made my favorite recipe, which is both flaky and flavorful), and clearly tomatoes are involved. A lot of tomatoes. Three pounds of tomatoes.

Dan Neman whips up a pie crust that has both flavor and flakes. the secret, use both butter and shortening. Video by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com

But what makes this particular recipe so spectacular is the rest of the filling. It's got bacon. It's got sharp cheddar cheese. It's got mayonnaise and Dijon mustard and one egg, to bind everything together. It's got garlic and shallots and basil and chives, and after you've baked it it's got even more basil and chives.

And all of that goodness is served in a pie crust with ripe tomatoes. Just thinking about it makes me sigh contentedly.

To further my enjoyment of ripe tomatoes, I next made spaghetti with a fresh tomato sauce. It is a wonderful dish that you can only make at this time of the year.

The sauce is uncooked, so you get the pure flavor of the freshest, ripest tomatoes. It is simple to make, just chop a tomato and mix it with olive oil, just a bit of finely minced garlic (the garlic is raw, so you definitely do not want big chunks), red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar and a good sprinkling of chopped basil.

The trick is to stir this mixture into just-cooked spaghetti while the pasta is still hot. The heat warms up the sauce just enough to release its fullest flavor. All you need then is a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and you have a light, fresh dish that is superb for the summer.

And because I was using deliciously ripe tomatoes, I naturally had to make that all-time Southern favorite, a tomato sandwich.

Why tomato sandwiches are relatively unknown north of the Mason-Dixon line, I will never know. If you are familiar with them and eat them, my even mentioning them is like suggesting that peanut butter might go well with jelly.

But if you don't know them, now is the time to try one.

They are the simplest things in the world to make. You slather two pieces of Wonder bread — it almost has to be Wonder bread — with plenty of mayonnaise. In the South, they almost always use Duke's mayonnaise, but any kind you like will be fine.

Season a couple of thick slices of tomato with salt and pepper, and place them between the slices of bread. Eat immediately. Then make another, because you're going to like the first one so much you won't want to stop eating them.

Also delicious was the next dish I made, the somewhat misnamed Sizzling Broiled Tomatoes With Herbs.

They are misnamed, because they are not actually made with herbs, other than maybe some basil in the vinaigrette. But they are awfully good, a better version of stuffed tomatoes, which my mother used to make when I was young.

The dish is just tomato halves topped with bread crumbs and then broiled, but two steps make it so much better than ordinary versions.

One is that the cut tomatoes are first spread with a vinaigrette. You can use any kind you like, but I made the basil vinaigrette recommended by cookbook author Shirley Corriher, and it was excellent. Its bright, fresh, slightly acidic taste is just what a tomato needs, and forms an inviting bed for the bread crumbs.

The other step involves these same bread crumbs. Instead of merely being sprinkled on top of the tomato (or in this case, tomato and vinaigrette), they are first sautéed in butter and then sprinkled on top. As it always does, a little butter makes all the difference in the world.

And finally, when life hands me tomatoes, I make salsa. In particular, I made salsa roja, which is just Spanish for "red sauce."

You can use salsa roja for any number of dishes, but mine rarely goes beyond being served with tortilla chips. 

It includes all the usual salsa suspects: tomatoes, onions, cilantro and peppers. I like to use three different types of peppers for a rounded, layered taste, but I also create considerable depth by first roasting the vegetables in a hot pan before blending.

How does it taste? I'd tell you, but my mouth is too full of chips and salsa.

Even more tomato recipes: 

 

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