Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Tomatoes. Ah, tomatoes
Tomatoes make summer a bit more bearable for me. There is something magical about that moment when the first slice of a still warm from the sun tomato touches the tongue. Before the flavour takes over, there's the physical awareness of the tomato. The brain notices the decided lack of chill in the fruit (yes, it is technically a fruit), the soft, yielding texture that isn't remotely mealy, and the juiciness. Oh yes, the rush of juice over the tongue from a slice of freshly picked tomato is a sensation to savour.
Then comes the taste. The delightful acidity tickles the taste buds first with a wonderful tingle that wakes up the tongue and sparks the yum receptors in the brain. Depending on the variety it can be subtle or sharp. But either way it's just the prelude for what's to come. For all of their savoury applications, tomatoes can be amazingly sweet. A great tomato has a lovely balance of sweet and sour, with intense umami. The succulent meatiness against the almost sugary, tart intensity creates a depth of flavour that one does not find in a store bought winter tomato (or those imports cramming the shelves in the summer).
And there is seemingly no end to what you can do with tomatoes. I stumbled upon a page yesterday that boasted 100 ways to use a tomato. Growing up I remember coming home from school in late summer and being greeted (knocked over) at the door by the smell of tomatoes stewing. My great-grandfather was Italian and my mother always stewed down vast quantities to freeze for the winter. I never cared for the smell back then, but now it is inextricably tied with the coming Autumn (though with the relatively early harvest this year there is a stark contrast between my memories and the reality of the summer heat that still abounds).
I like to roast my tomatoes. I've done them both at high heat and low, and like the results of both. Roasting them really emphasizes the sweetness and concentrates the flavour. On the weekend I bought, halved and high heat roasted some Roma tomatoes. And last night my husband and I picked several (huge) heirloom tomatoes which had split on the vine. I cut into slices the still usable parts and roasted them overnight in a low oven. I pureed both batches together and they, along with a generous amount of garlic, are the basis of a lovely tomato sauce that we will enjoy for dinner tonight with some basil from the back step. The essence of summer in a nourishing plate.