Wednesday, July 25, 2007
The Taste of Summer
I don't know what it is about summer; there is something about hot weather that makes me want to eat tomatoes and cucumbers and basil. Now that I know what basil is.
My family lived in Illinois (near Rockford) until I was ten, and I can remember many hot, humid summers spend reluctantly helping Mom weed the garden, or joyfully playing with my friends in the woods and vales and yards that surrounded us.
One summer mid-morning, we decided we were hungry, and we all seemed to agree that the best possible snack was one of the invitingly-ripe tomatoes that were maturing on vines all over the neighborhood.
So while Mom worked in other areas of the yard and garden, we asked if we could snack on the tomatoes growing on the vine. She told us we could so we carefully selected those that appeared the most lucious.
I remember being somewhat surprised by my thirst for these juicy red-orange gifts from God. I did not, as a rule, like vegetables, and cooked tomatoes made me gag. But that day, I developed a very strong taste for that which grew on the vine, and lead others to join me in this wonderful endeavor. We proceeded to pluck the ripe orbs directly from the vine, wipe them on our shirts, and bite into their juicy goodness right there as we knelt in the dirt. It is one of my favorite childhood moments, and if I could do an oil painting, the memory is so strong that I would indeed paint a child enjoying a summer tomato while surrounded by summer heat and humidity in the comforts of the home garden with freshly churned dirt and bees buzzing around contentedly.
After enjoying what Mom's garden had to offer us, we decided we were still hungry and went inside for some water and to seek other snacks. There were a few tomatoes on the counter by the sink, so we ate the rest before moving on to my friend's house and garden, where they (thankfully for their mom) had fewer ripe vegetables.
Then we were done, and when lunch rolled around, we weren't interested. I wonder why?
For some years, I'm not sure tomatoes gripped me so strongly. I remember my cousin introducing me to a "tomato sandwich" several years later; this consisted of bread, mayo, and a tomato, and on a hot day, it really hit the spot. Mom and my Godmother, my cousin's Mom, thought we were nuts, but we were completely happy with our choice.
I'm not sure when it happened, exactly, but at some point, I realized that tomatoes taste like summer. They do, they really, really do. There is something about fresh Minnesota summer tomatoes that brings childhood into the present, and the present into eternity in the enjoyment of a flavor given to us directly by God.
A couple years ago, I attended a party in which a friend brought Gazpacho, which, of course, I found to be absolutely DIVINE as it is tomato-based. I'd never had a cold soup before, but this stuff was wonderful! Last summer I found a recipe and made it maybe once, but it lasted for awhile (being that I'm single), and because of the labor, I didn't make it again. The ingredients alone were far too complicated, but the soup was great!
Recently, though I discovered a new way to make Gazpacho; while making pasta and other appetizers.
So, without further ado, I will present to you my mid-summer recipes tailor-made for tomato and basil lovers.
The other day, I saw a sale involving Classico Pesto, and decided to give it a shot. I've tried other brands (Alessi) and found it to be salty and miserable, but figured another company deserves a chance. For some reason, the idea of Basil and Tomato pasta was appealing to me.
A few years ago, when I first moved into my townhome, some friends came over to celebrate my birthday with me and we made various types of pasta. Italian appetizers were of course also involved, my favorite of which was cherry tomatoes cored and filled with home-made basil pesto.
I couldn't get ENOUGH of those little things!
So last weekend, I made this appetizer and ate a whole little carton of tomatoes filled with basil.
But then there's the question: what do do with the cores and the juice? Coring tomatoes is a messy endeavor. But, having remembered my previous gazpacho experience, I simply cut the cherry tomatoes over a small bowl and caught the juice and the cores. By the time I was done, there was a certain amount in the bowl, to which I added some of the pesto, and some cucumbers, and some spices, white wine, and some red wine vinegar...and put it away in the fridge.
Then I just cut up some larger tomatoes, tossed it with the basil pesto, and served it with angel-hair pasta.
I also plan to cut up a baguette, slather it with pesto and chopped tomatoes and melt pasta on top. Thanks to my dear neighbor Lisa for that suggestion, which can actually be done on the grill, although I've never tried it.
And of course, I just love tomatoes sliced with a little celery salt sprinkled on top. There's nothing like it in the world.
You may be wondering what I did with my mini-gazpacho? I ate it, just that little bowl, and it was wonderful. Today, I made a larger bowl, doing the same thing. I use the left-over angel-hair pasta noodles, but this time I heated some sliced and chopped red onions in a little olive oil and garlic, and when they were ready (still a little crispy), I added the pesto sauce from the fridge along with the chopped tomatoes, just to heat everything a little. It was tossed with the pasta. I also had some cherry tomatoes I had to use up or they would go bad so I made the appetizers and from the core both of the large tomatoe for the pasta and the little ones, they went into a bowl. I added some low-sodium V-8, cucumber, and a few onions. Some Cholula red sauce (it's like tobasco but more flavorful), a touch of Tiger Sauce, red wine vinegar, pepper, pesto and more basil, thyme, majoram, pepper, celery salt, and it now resides in my refrigerator to provide dinner for me tomorrow night. A light dinner, but given all this heat, a perfect dinner.
So long ago, when Mom discovered the garden bereft of tomatoes, the counter bare of her new harvest, and the neighbor's garden robbed, she was met with a dilemma. What to do with a child who didn't normally eat vegetables but who had one day gone overboard? We'd raided the gardens with permission, given by unsuspecting parents. And we were eating healthy foods as opposed to ice cream, or cookies, or the like!
In the end, we were only lightly scolded. Mom was happy we ate the tomatoes but asked, that, next time, we just not eat them ALL.
She was a very good Mom, still is. She doesn't like tomatoes as much as I do, though.