One boon of harvest season is fast food. No drive-throughs here, but we have been known to feed ourselves by walking through the garden—plucking a tomato or two, scissoring off some tat soi leaves, and pinching a handful of raspberries for dessert. Even if we slow it down a little, passing it through the kitchen on its way to the table, preparation is swift and simple.
This year, we've had the luxury of tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes. Two of our simplest favorites are salads inspired by Indian spices. Both are so pungent and flavorful that I wonder how I will survive the winter without them.
The first—fresh tomato salad—is nothing but sliced tomatoes (mine are Persimmon heirlooms) dribbled with lemon juice and then layered with basil leaves. Then, I heat some mild-tasting oil (often canola or peanut), toss in mustard seeds and cumin seeds and a lovely, stinky pinch of asafetida, which may qualify as my favorite seasoning. I pour the hot mustard over the tomatoes (but not the basil). Then I dash on sea salt, a grind of black pepper, and a sprinkle of cayenne.
Our absolute favorite dish this summer has been a tomato-and-yogurt salad. It's another variation on the Indian-spice theme. It depends on great Greek-style yogurt, a good cup-size dollop (more or less depending on whether you want the yogurt to melt into a thinner sauce or hold its peaks). Blend sea salt to taste into the yogurt. Fold in tomatoes chunked to your liking or Sungolds cut in half. Mince up a shallot. Heat a couple tablespoons of mild-tasting oil and saute the shallot until it is browning along the edges. Toss in cumin seed, mustard seeds, and a two-finger pinch of asafetida. Pour the hot, spicy oil over the cool, yogurty tomatoes. You can add a sift of cayenne and some rings of scallion—if you can manage any extra flourishes once you catch a whiff of those ingredients melding into creamy, tangy, zesty perfection.
It's a good thing fine dining is so easy just now because the harvest is running us ragged. The countertops seem to pulse with tomatoes, and we move through supper knowing that it's not just the dirty dishes waiting in that kitchen, it's also the next batch of garden bounty waiting to be transformed into winter's comfort—fast food that tastes like summer.
We always seem to be out of jars or lids or both, out of daylight hours (and even midnight hours), out of pep, but never out of tomatoes. Far be it from me to complain, especially after last year's blight left us with a scanty pantry. This year, we've had nothing but sunshine and warmth, and all of it has gone on for longer than usual; our first frost is late this year. We are hard pressed to keep putting away winter's fast food.
We try to blend the preserving with other work we're doing in the kitchen—or outside in the pizza oven. We even used the outdoor oven to roast our tomatoes for Tall Clover Farm's homemade catsup. (Can you blame us after what happened to dear Tom last year?) Tom's catsup recipe is the best we've ever made, and it makes a lot of catsup. I can already tell it won't last the winter around here.
This is our first summer growing San Marzano tomatoes. I can assure you they are here to stay. And so is the way we've been storing them for fast meals when we're tuckered out from a cross-country ski jaunt. I've always slow-roasted our Sungolds, but I saw where Sylvie at Laughing Duck Farm adds sugar to her slow-roasted paste tomatoes. I used thyme, not rosemary. Heaven on a crusty loaf, I tell you. Pure heaven.
Don't forget to scrape the tomato caramel off the pans and into your jars—or straight into your mouth as a reward for your work.
My two girls have been at my side for all the work of the harvest. They rarely waver in their enthusiasm. But one late night, when each of us would rather have been upstairs in bed reading, Blossom sighed at the sight of more tomatoes. I did too. Thankfully, Blossom quickly rallied and revived us all with one observation: "Just think how happy we will be to see them again this winter."
How true, Blossom. How very true. It may be slow-going now. But in January, fast food will be just the twist of a lid away.
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