food : tomatoes

A couple of things have contributed to my silence around here the past couple of weeks. One, it’s been godawful hot and sitting in front of our furnace of a computer is the last thing I want to be doing. Plus, the heat makes my brain melt so anything that requires stringing words together coherently is out. Two, we’ve been up to our eyeballs in fruits and vegetables, and it seems like I’ve been working around the clock to chop, peel, dice, slice, bake, roast, stew, and generally turn them into meals. It probably hasn’t been around the clock, it just seems that way because the kitchen gets so hot.

This year has not been great for tomatoes in our area, so we didn’t get as many early in the season as we usually do. In the past, we’ve been heartily sick of tomatoes by this point in the summer, and this year we’re just getting going. I’ve had sliced Purple Cherokee tomatoes on fried egg sandwiches and my partner’s been taking the assortment of cherry tomatoes to work with his lunch. That leaves us with several pints per week from our CSA (now quarts as the harvest picks up) of mid-sized red, orange, and yellow tomatoes to deal with, in addition to whatever odds and ends are given to us by our friends with the enormous garden. Two weeks ago the solution was deer chili. Yes, I said deer chili. I know that you couldn’t pay me to eat a venison burger during the nine years I lived in a deer-shooting-friendly state, but now that I’m a grown-up and the deer is free and leaner than beef, I’ve succumbed. It’s actually not that bad, and works really well in the recipes in which I’d previously used ground turkey. So, yeah, I’m not a vegetarian anymore, but that still doesn’t mean I’ll eat any of the meat that is reasonably easy to procure and cheap by way of coming from a CAFO. Mennonite-raised chickens and turkeys, wild salmon, and deer killed by a friend: that’s about the whole of it. I may branch out to Mennonite-raised pigs for the holidays this year; don’t hold your breath, though.

At any rate, the chili was good and used up a lot of tomatoes. We have another 2 lb. package of ground venison, but since we also have 2 containers of chili in the freezer, I probably won’t make another batch just yet. Last week I made ratatouille for the first time in order to use up some tomatoes and one of the two eggplants we had in the fridge. While I ate ratatouille growing up, I never buy eggplants of my own volition because I don’t really like them. Since subscribing to our summer CSA, I’ve had to adapt to receiving them as one of the semi-regular vegetables. The first year, I made all of the eggplant into baba ghanoush. Which worked out well, because many of our friends liked it so I could serve it to guests and didn’t have to really eat that much of the eggplant at all. Last year, the weather wasn’t great for eggplants and we didn’t get many (or, possibly, our farmer scaled back because we received so many the year before). This year has been a low-eggplant year, but in CSA terms that means I’ve only gotten a few of the Japanese eggplants and 2 decent sized standard ones. Thus, ratatouille, using the Simply In Season recipe. It was good, and my partner liked it well enough for us to allow for a repeat later this week. I did have to go out and purchase the courge, which I found kind of amusing. Our farmer is committed to not overwhelming us with the vegetable that everyone else is typically overwhelmed with in the summer, thus the summer squash shortage.

Winter squash, however, is a different story. We are already starting to see the boom of winter squash, and I had two spaghetti squashes (one enormous, one normal) to find a use for. I’ve seen those weight loss shows, I know that you can do some weird thing and the squash gets all stringy and you can eat it with sauce if you’re on the Atkins Diet. I just really didn’t know what weird thing, or if this was a food that a person not trying to lose 10 pounds per week would ever want to actually put in their mouths. Since we had the squash we gave it a try, serving the ratatouille over it, and I am pleased to report that it was good. The other half of the (enormous) squash I used to make a cold salad with chunked fresh tomatoes (also chopped onion, minced garlic, and fresh basil). The salad was surprisingly good. I am not the best at cold salads; it rarely occurs to me to make them and I am always doubtful regarding their appeal. Last summer was the first year I made a cold salad other than bean or potato (and I haven’t made potato salad in years), a shredded beet salad from a recipe foisted on me at the farmers’ market by the guy who runs the nearby community garden farm. This year I tried a couple new combinations, and they were all nice so I shouldn’t really have been that surprised that a non-green salad was good. So good that we voted to use the remaining squash for another salad rather than with the ratatouille, even.

In addition to tomatoes, which another round of salad has the benefit of making a dent in, the item I most need to find a use for is chicken stock. Our winter CSA included two stewing chickens, and due to limited time I only ever stewed one of the chickens. (Yes, I don’t have a job, but that doesn’t mean I actually have a lot of time for all-day activities like making chicken stock.) Now, limited freezer space means that I need to use the chicken stock I have before I can thaw and stew the remaining chicken. One of the only recipes that I make regularly with chicken stock—Turkey Lentil Pilaf, also from Simply In Season—also uses up fresh tomatoes, so we’ll be having that tonight and probably a couple more times over the next few weeks. In fact, the recipe doesn’t use much more than chicken stock and tomatoes: lentils, turkey, rice, and fresh mint. Probably also some onion and garlic. Now you know.

After tonight’s pilaf and tomorrow’s ratatouille, I’ll assess the remaining tomatoes and decide if some of them need to be stewed and frozen. And then we’ll pick up our CSA on Thursday and start all over again.

food : tomatoes

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