Here’s some trivia for you: in 1893 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the tomato a vegetable. (Obviously not a lot on the docket that year.) The question became a matter for the courts because of different trade regulations governing fruits and vegetables.
Hopefully your garden is overflowing with a variety of tomatoes. Remember to store any unwashed at room temperature, stem end down, until slightly soft. Refrigerate very ripe tomatoes, unwrapped, for up to 4 days.
Ready to can? Don’t forget to check with Ohio State University’s Extension Service to get the latest (and safest) methods for canning tomatoes and other garden produce. Here are two of my favorite fresh-from-the-garden tomato recipes. Enjoy.
- 3 Tbsp. butter
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 1 large carrot, shredded
- 4 to 5 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped (about 4 cups)
- ½ cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
- ¾ tsp. sugar
- ¼ tsp. black pepper
- 2 cups chicken broth
Melt butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot; cook, stirring often, until onion is slightly soft. Stir in tomatoes, basil leaves, sugar and pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring to prevent sticking; then reduce heat, cover and simmer until onion is very soft and flavors blend (about 15 minutes). In a blender or food processor, whirl tomato mixture (a portion at a time if needed), until smooth. Return tomato mixture to pan and add chicken broth, seasoning to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat until steaming. Makes about 5 cups.
Spinach Stuff Tomatoes
- ¾ lb. spinach
- 8 medium size tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 ¼ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided use
- 2 Tbsp. dry breadcrumbs
- 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
Pick through spinach leaves, discarding stems and any yellow or wilted leaves. Plunge spinach into a large quantity of cold water to clean; lift out, drain, pat dry, and coarsely chop. Set aside. Cut off top fourth of each tomato; reserve for other uses (you could add this to the Tomato Basil Soup!). With a small spoon or melon baller, scoop out pulp to make hollow shells. Chop pulp and allow to drain in a colander. Melt butter in oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Add onion; cook, stirring, until soft. Stir in drained tomato pulp and spinach; cook, stirring, until spinach is wilted. Stir in 1 cup of the cheese, breadcrumbs and nutmeg. Heat broiler. Fill each tomato with spinach mixture and arrange in an ungreased baking pan; sprinkle evenly with remaining cheese. Broil 4” below heat until cheese is lightly browned. Makes 8 servings.
Well, okay—hate is a very strong word, so maybe love/dislike would be more appropriate. But think about it—most people either love cilantro or they don’t; there’s no grey area with this versatile herb.
My mission here is to enlighten you on this wonderful herb—cilantro is the leaf, coriander is the seed. Cilantro does well in cooler weather, and once it gets hot it—like most of us—bolts. But that doesn’t mean its mission at that point is over—seeds for cilantro can be picked and stored with your spices, and it is a very attractive plant to butterflies and other pollinators.
Before it bolts, however, let’s be creative in the kitchen with two of my favorite cilantro themed recipes, a Cilantro Lime Dressing (marinade for meats or a dressing for a festive summer salad) and a Cilantro Pesto (made with pumpkin seeds). Yum!
- 2 Tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
- zest of 1 lime
- ¼ cup fresh lime juice
- zest of 1 orange
- ¼ cup fresh orange juice
- 2 teaspoons apple cider or white wine vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon local honey
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
In a food processor combine the cilantro, zest and juice of the limes and oranges, vinegar, honey and sea salt. Pulse to combine; stop and scrape sides. With machine running, slowly drizzle in olive oil until well combined. (Dressing may separate, so feel free to whisk well to combine just before serving.) Makes about 1 cup.
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- ¾ cup finely chopped cilantro
- 2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
- ¾ cup toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- 1 ¼ teaspoons coarse sea salt
- ¾ cup avocado or extra virgin olive oil
In a food processor combine the garlic and cilantro. Pulse to mince and combine; stop and scrape sides. Add lime juice, seeds and salt; pulse until seeds are finely chopped. Slow add oil and blend until combined. Makes about 1 ¼ cups.
If you haven’t started to grow basil in your garden or on your deck, what are you waiting for? Basil is an easy plant to grow, with its only major requirements being full sun and consistent water. Its delicious flavor will make it the most useful herb in your summer kitchen.
- Plant in rich soil in full sun
- Water, fertilize and prune plants on a regular basis
- Don’t let the plant flower (for the best flavor)
- Prune every four weeks (or sooner if they show signs of getting ready to flower) just above the bottom two sets of leaves
Immediately after planting, prune your basils by cutting them back to just above the bottom two sets of leaves. What?! This early pruning may seem drastic, but it actually stimulates growth. Match the basil variety to its use. Basils come in all shapes and sizes, but which one you choose will depend on how you’ll use it in the kitchen.
Pesto basils: some types include ‘Genovese’, ‘Italian Pesto’, ‘Profuma di Genova’. The best option for making pesto, these varieties are aromatic, full of flavor, and vigorous growers. They have a lovely scent—a balance of citrus oil, licorice, cinnamon, spice and mint.
Lemon basils: some types include ‘Mrs. Burns’, ‘Sweet Dani’. Lemon basils are good in vinaigrettes, especially with vegetables and seafood, but they shine in beverages and desserts, too.
Lettuce leaf basils: some types include ‘Napoletano’, ‘Lettuce Leaf’, ‘Mammoth’. Characterized by huge leaves (5 to 6 inches long and 3 to 4 inches wide) these varieties are perfect for sandwiches and salads. Their flavor includes notes of mint, anise and citrus.
Culinary Tip: Store fresh herbs in ice cube trays. A great way to store herbs like basil, parsley, chives and cilantro is to freeze them; quick and easy to do.
- Pick fresh leaves off the stems, then wash and dry them
- Get an empty ice cube tray and place as many leaves as you can into each cube slot
- Add water, pushing the herbs down when they begin to float; place the tray in the freezer
- Take the cubes out once they are frozen, and put them in a plastic freezer bag; they’ll keep in your freezer for up to a year
- Use in soups, sauces or stews; just pop a few cubes into the pot and stir!
- 4 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
- 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
- ¼ cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley leaves
- 1 small clove garlic
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Put the basil, pine nuts, parsley, garlic, ½ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a food processor. With the machine on, slowly pour the olive oil into the feed tube and process, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed, until the mixture is very finely chopped and pasty. Season to taste with additional salt, if desired. Yields about 2/3 cup.
FRESH TOMATO and BASIL SAUCE
- 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 large cloves garlic, sliced as thinly as possible
- 2 lb. cherry tomatoes, rinsed and halved
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, very thinly sliced
In a large sauté pan, heat the oil and garlic over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is softened but not browned. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste. Toss gently to coat and then raise the heat to medium. Simmer, stirring occasional and adjusting the heat to maintain a lively but not-too-vigorous simmer, until the tomatoes have been reduced to a thick, pulpy sauce, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and sprinkle on the basil. Stir to combine thoroughly. Serves 4.
- 1 lb. cooked farfalle pasta
- Spooned atop grilled shrimp, scallops or whitefish
- Spread on thick slices of garlic bread
- Want to add cheese? 5 oz. ricotta salata, cut into ¼ inch dice
Photos courtesy of Bev Shaffer
If you know your way around the kitchen, rosemary needs no introduction. An evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean, you may already have a “love/hate” relationship with this culinary herb. In my experience, people that dislike (e.g. hate) rosemary have had it in dishes where the cook or chef had a heavy hand and perhaps didn’t chop it well—so it overpowered everything and you felt like you had fallen, mouth first, onto the floor of a pine forest. Not to worry—fragrant and earthy, let’s take it beyond the savory aspect and enjoy its flavor and aroma in one of my favorite uses, a Lemon Rosemary Cake with Fresh Lemon Glaze.
This cake has such bright flavors, and rosemary helps it cross over from a simply sweet cake to a treat that would go perfectly as a ladies’ luncheon “bread” or with barbecued ribs.
Ingredients: 2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder ¼ teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary 1/3 cup light olive oil 1 cup granulated sugar 2 large eggs ¾ cup buttermilk
Lemon Glaze: ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Heat oven to 325° F. Grease a 9-by-5 inch loaf pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, zest, and rosemary. Set aside.
In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the oil and sugar until well blended. With mixer on medium, add the eggs, one at a time, until mixture is a pale yellow. Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl.
Alternately, add the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the sugar mixture, stirring just to blend. Spread batter into prepared pan. Bake for 52 to 60 minutes or until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
For the Glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until mixture is smooth. Spread glaze atop warm cake.
Cool completely on a wire rack. When ready to serve, run a knife around the inside edge of the pan and carefully remove the cake. Serves 8 to 10. Plant some rosemary today—in patio pots or an herb garden—and enjoy this aromatic earthy culinary wonder.
Tasty Idea: Edible Landscaping
Yes, your gardens can be BOTH pretty and productive, and often times the sunniest spots in our yards are the front yards. So why not mix and mingle some plants into your landscape that are functional/edible? Here are some ideas…
Herbs plants are not only easy to grow and fragrant, but they blend beautifully into your gardens. Grow several types of BASIL, and don’t skip the purple leafed varieties that are particularly decorative. FENNEL will add a touch of whimsy, height and a wispiness that will add movement to the garden.
SAGE is so easy to grow, and its mounding shape make it the perfect front-row ornamental. Add some tricolor sage as well for the pink tinges. An assortment of THYME softens the garden, and many of the low growing varieties like a lemon thyme work well in front of taller basil plants.
LAVENDER and NASTURTIUM add sensory delight to the garden. Tuck a clump or two of LEMONGRASS into your edible landscape and grow a touch of the tropics. (Chef’s Note from Bev: Nasturtium flowers add beautiful color a peppery flavor to your greens salads.)
Pot a variety of MINT and CHIVES to intersperse throughout, keeping them from “taking over”. ARUGULA and KALE make a stunning border in mixed planters. Keep the greens evenly moist and sow seeds a week or so apart so you have a succession of fresh greens.
Train some POLE BEANS up a decorative trellis, tower or tepee-shaped structure – they make beautiful vertical accents. And don’t skip the BUSH BEANS, to add dimension and for ease of planting/picking.
Put on those boots and dig in to the hottest gardening trend. You’ll soon become a Foodscape aficionado.
(I know, I know—one or two 50°F days and you’re ready to go—but Mother Nature will surely remind us with some “you shouldn’t have planted those yet” frost before end-of-May that she is in charge!)
Add that sprig of greenery and familiar foods take on new character. Fresh herbs contribute pleasing aromas and flavors—from subtle to pungent—and using them creatively is one of the keys to good cooking. Pinch a few sprigs and rinse herbs under cold running water, then shake off excess moisture and pat lightly with a paper towel or clean dishtowel before using.
Fresh Herb Mayonnaise
To 1 cup of your favorite mayonnaise, add 2 teaspoons lemon juice and about 1/4 to 1/3 cup chopped fresh herbs. Mix well, then cover and refrigerate at least until next day or for up to 1 month. That turkey sandwich or your favorite mayo based potato salad will never be the same!
Need a dab of herbed butter for your broiled fish, baked potato or grilled steak? Easy.
Whipped Herb Butter
In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup room temperature butter, salted or unsalted, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and about 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh herbs with a hand held mixer, stopping and scraping the bowl and beaters often, until well blended. Add a twist of freshly ground pepper, too.
There now. Go back to shopping at Uncle John’s Plant Farm store and greenhouse for tools, garden gloves, potting supplies and seed packets. Plan your garden. Soon—very soon!
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