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A tomato love affair continues

My true love affair with the magic of a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich began after a 12-hour, nonstop drive from Oregon to California with my two young nephews.

Their grandmother welcomed us with open arms and freshly made BLTs. Lee had toasted the whole-grained bread to perfection, slathered on a silky layer of mayonnaise and added thin, tender sheets of lettuce, crisp ribbons of smoky bacon and thick slices of juicy tomato still warm from the sun.

At the moment she thrust this miracle into my hands, a BLT was the farthest thing from my mind. And yet, with the first bite, it turned out to be exactly the right tonic to revive a very weary road warrior. I relish the pleasure of devouring it to this very day.

This year, we’ve been blessed with an unusually long tomato season. And so the creative side of my brain (“What other fabulous ways can I build upon the tomato sandwich concept ... and just how many times can I serve tomato bruschetta to my dinner guests?”) is struggling to keep up with the practical side (“So many tomatoes! So little time! Where are my canning jars? Let’s make sauce!”).

Always one to compromise, I think this is the year I’ll be able to satisfy both sides. No problem. Thanks to a string of glorious summer days (OK, a little too hot and smoky, but still, consider the alternatives), we’ll be heading into autumn with smiles on our faces and tomato juice on our chins.

I hope this list, as well as the recipes that follow, incite your own imagination into over-drive.

The Sliced Tomatoes on a Platter Approach

  • Crumble soft blue cheese over the slices, then drizzle on some balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and a bit of a good-quality extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Sprinkle on some grated Asiago cheese, scatter with fresh, torn basil, and a tablespoon of pine nuts that you’ve toasted in a pan with a drizzling of olive oil and one minced clove of garlic.
  • Arrange a platter of tomato slices and fresh mozzarella slices, then drizzle on a bit of pesto that you’ve thinned with some additional extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Over a platter of tomato slices, spread on a bit of tapenade or chopped olives, then sprinkle with a bit of balsamic vinegar, chopped green onion and a drizzling of extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Combine equal portions of whipped cream and mayonnaise, add some finely chopped red onion and drop little dollops onto the tomato slices.
  • Arrange a platter of tomatoes alternately with avocado slices, then drizzle on a simple vinaigrette, or simply lime juice, salt, green onions and extra-virgin olive oil.
  • For an extra oomph, create the previous platter, adding a bit of fried and crumbled bacon. Heavenly!
  • Take the previous platter up a notch by crumbling on some blue cheese.
  • Alternate slices of tomatoes and hard-cooked eggs, then sprinkle with chopped sweet onion, cloves of roasted garlic, a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper, and a sprinkling of freshly shredded Parmesan cheese. Add a drizzling of olive oil if you want.
  • Thin several spoonsful of feta or goat cheese with some olive oil, then add a drizzling of rice vinegar and a small bit of grated Parmesan and drizzle the mixture over your sliced tomatoes.
  • Alternate sliced tomatoes and thinly sliced sweet onion rings and top with chopped fresh basil, salt, pepper and extra-virgin olive oil (or a simply vinaigrette).
  • Make tea sandwiches: Slice tomatoes paper-thin and place on thinly sliced crustless bread buttered with softened butter (unsalted if you’ve got it) and mayonnaise; add watercress, top with another slice of bread and cut into dainty shapes.
  • For a heartier tomato sandwich concept: Slice tomatoes very thick and place on slices of toasted whole-grain bread that you’ve slathered with mayonnaise. Add some thin slices of sweet onion and top with another slice of toasted bread that you’ve coated with more mayonnaise. Cut into quarters on the diagonal.

Stuffed Tomatoes

To prepare the tomatoes for filling, cut a slice off the top of the tomato and remove some of the pulpy seeds. Lightly salt the tomatoes inside, then invert on a rack or paper towel to let them drain. The pulp can be reserved for the filling.

Alternately, very ripe, fresh, garden tomatoes are perfectly wonderful when simply washed, cored and then sliced down from the top into wedges without cutting all the way through the bottom. The tomato will fall open into a circle shape and make a wonderful base for any meat or vegetable salad mixture of choice, such as a curried chicken salad, chickpea salad, homemade potato salad, cucumber salad, egg salad, or a three-bean and cucumber salad.

Chicken Salad with Fresh Dill

This is a very elegant and subtle offering. Consider adding a few slices of garden-ripened tomatoes alongside the salad.

1 whole poached chicken

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

About 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped green onion

About 1 teaspoon fresh snipped dillweed

Equal amounts of sour cream and mayonnaise

Fresh salad greens tossed with vinaigrette

To poach the chicken, add one whole, uncooked chicken to a pot, filled halfway with water. Throw in some salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the chicken is done. This may be done 1 to 2 days ahead.

Around dinnertime, and long after the poached chicken has cooled its heels in the fridge, pull enough white and dark meat from the bird to feed two to four people, and cut it into bite-sized chunks. Season the chicken lightly with a little salt and pepper, added some finely minced green onion, and snipped fresh dill into it, along with enough sour cream and mayonnaise to barely hold the mixture together. You don’t want to drown out the pure flavor of the chicken or dill. In another bowl, toss together some baby lettuce with a simple vinaigrette. Divide the salad between plates, then cozy a serving of the chicken salad up against the greens.

Walla Walla Salsa Salsa

I created this recipe one summer when our famous Walla Walla sweet onion was in season. But any sweet will work. Every few years I share it with readers because it’s one of my favorites.

4 large or 7 medium Anaheim chiles, roasted and peeled (see note on roasting below)

1 large Walla Walla sweet onion (or any sweet onion), diced

2 (2.5 ounce) cans sliced olives, drained

5 large tomatoes (or 7 Roma-style)

1 to 2 cups peeled and diced cucumber

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup toasted pine nuts

Remove stems, seeds and inner membrane from the roasted chiles, then chop. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the chopped chiles with the sweet onion, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix well, then adjust seasonings, adding additional salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, but may be prepared up to 6 hours ahead. When ready to serve, stir in the pine nuts. Serve with tortilla chips. Yields about 7 cups of salsa.

TO ROAST ANAHEIM CHILES: Poke each chile once with a sharp knife to avoid explosions. Roast the chiles over coals or on a gas grill or under a broiler, turning as the skin blisters and blackens. Remove and let cool and scrape away the charred skin.

Pesto Green Beans with Three Types of Tomatoes

This summer salad is great for buffets, picnics, potlucks and tailgates. It’s easy too.

2 roma-style tomatoes, cored and quartered (or your favorite locally grown heritage tomato)

1 cup halved yellow pear tomatoes

1/2 cup red cherry tomatoes

1/4 cup olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1-1/2 pounds green beans, stem ends removed

1 cup pesto

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

1/2 cup additional grated Parmesan cheese to garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the three different varieties of tomatoes with the olive oil and garlic in a roasting pan. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tomatoes start to release their juices and begin to shrivel (NOTE: a delicious alternative is to roast the tomatoes over indirect heat on your grill with the cover on). Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of water to a boil, add the beans, and cook about 2 minutes, or until the beans are just crisp-tender and still a bright green.

Drain the beans and immediately plunge them into a large bowl of water filled with ice cubes to stop the cooking process and set the color. When chilled, remove the beans from the water and set aside to drain thoroughly.

Toss the beans with the pesto, Parmesan, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. When ready to serve, place the beans on a large platter, top with the roasted tomatoes, and garnish with the toasted pine nuts and additional Parmesan, and serve immediately. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Variations: Any types of tomato can be used. Or if tomatoes are not in season, eliminate them entirely and substitute roasted or sauteed red or yellow sweet bell peppers. This is great with the addition of grilled chicken.

— Recipe from “The Foster’s Market Cookbook,” by Sara Foster

Roasted Summer Tomatoes

Makes about 2-1/2 cups smooth sauce, 4 cups chunky sauce.

Roasting fresh tomatoes until they're soft on the inside and beautifully browned on the outside concentrates their flavor. They come out of the oven gloriously golden and wrinkled and are wonderful gems to have on hand in the refrigerator and freezer for simple sauces and stocks over the days and months to come. Over the course of tomato season, I bank many batches of these in my freezer. Some of the batches I freeze in their chunky state so I can decide what to do with them later in the year. Others I place in my food processor and create a coarse puree right after roasting.

About 2 pounds tomatoes, peeled if desired (see note), cored and halved, quartered, or cut into 1-inch cubes (to measure 4 cups)

1 large Walla Walla sweet onion, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

1/2 cup coarsely chopped basil

8 or 10 cloves of garlic, peeled

About 1/4 cup olive oil

About 1/2 teaspoon salt

About 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the tomatoes as desired. If using cherry tomatoes, simply remove the stems and halve each one. Place the tomatoes in a large roasting pan, jelly-roll pan, or any baking sheet with sides. Add the onion, basil and garlic. You can crowd the vegetables together, but don't go beyond a single layer. Drizzle on a bit of olive oil, and then sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Roast in a preheated 375- to 450-degree oven (the hotter the oven, the shorter the roasting time) until the tomatoes are turning a deep golden brown on their skins. Depending on your oven temperature, this will take anywhere from 20 to about 90 minutes. When done, they will have collapsed and look quite wrinkled. Alternatively, consider roasting the vegetables over indirect heat on your grill, with the lid on. I have a wood pellet-fed grill (it’s called a Traeger and is built in Mount Angel, Oregon), which provides a wonderful smoke flavor to the vegetables.

Remove the roasting pan from the oven or grill and let the vegetables cool. With a metal spatula or wide, flat-sided wooden spatula, stir and scrape the cooled tomatoes to dissolve all of the cooked-on bits of food.

At this point, consider your options for freezing:

My friend Chris Peterson’s skinned variation (which is my favorite approach now): After roasting, pluck all of the skin off the tomato flesh (it comes off easily). Place it in a blender or food processor along with a healthy glug of the liquid from the roasting pan. Blend on high until the skin is a puree. Stir this mixture back into the vegetables before refrigerating or freezing.

Note on peeling tomatoes: If you want to remove the tomato skins before roasting, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cut a shallow “X” in the bottom of each tomato. Blanch them in the boiling water for about 30 seconds (just until the skin begins to peel away), them remove with a slotted spoon and run under cold water to cool. Peel the skins off the tomatoes, then core and cut into halves, quarters, or 1-inch chunks and proceed with recipe.

TO FREEZE: ladle the sauce into freezer containers or resealable plastic freezer bags, leaving about 1-inch head space. Let cool completely, then close and freeze.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

A tomato love affair continues