Just a year ago in September, my husband and I thought we had become tomato farmers. After a long, hot spring and summer, we had, for the first time ever, RED tomatoes on the vines! Congratulating ourselves on our gardening skills, we relished their tender deliciousness and forgot the many seasons that yielded only green, semi-developed marbles. Such are the fond memories of a one-hit wonder…
But, it’s a year later and we’re back to hardball in the tomato patch. Granted, we live on the shore where temperatures dip dramatically. Plus, we had a much delayed start to our summer due to chilly weather and a deluge of both rain and visitors. Our tomato transplants never settled into garden soil until the very end of June. None the less, I am heartbroken as I pace the rows looking for the slightest signs of ripeness. Realistically, I’m probably asking a lot of a tropical plant. Fried green tomatoes, anyone?
What is it about a fresh tomato that gets our our culinary imaginations and our taste buds tingling? This shining ruby vegetable, technically classified as a fruit, is a gift to us from South America. Most likely passed via trade from the Caribbean to South Carolina, then on to Europe as a treasure from the New World, the tomato has taken on such varied uses and multi-cultural associations that we don’t know whether to credit it as South American, North American, or Mediterranean. All we know is that summer is not complete without a feast of corn on the cob with a side of tomatoes, a salad of tomatoes and basil, or hamburgers dripping with tomato slices. It’s versatility might be the answer. What other produce can you simmer for hours and come up with delectable sauce, reduce to create paste, season to transform into catsup, add to casseroles, soups, and stews, or simply chomp into… eagerly, standing in the garden… raw and running juices down your chin?
There could be, of course, a deeper resonance. Recently, I happened upon Ode to Tomatoes by Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. Written with great passion, the poem is a tribute to the South American roots and tantalizing allure of this garden temptress. While a bit too long to print in its entirety, a few lines, hopefully, will get you curious enough to Google the rest: “…unabated, the tomato invades the kitchen, it enters at lunchtime, takes its ease on countertops… It sheds its own light, benign majesty… and on the table, at the mid-point of summer, the tomato, star of the earth, recurrent and fertile… offers its gift of fiery color and cool completeness.” Wow! After that, will salad ever be the same?
Sadly, September reminds us that summer is fleeing. Harvest has begun and, if you are the canning, freezing, drying, “end of the season” type, you are a busy person. If you have ripe tomatoes, (Pardon my jealousy!), here’s a recipe I gleaned from my youngest sister who wisely thinks that less is more. At this time of year, when your to-do list is full and both your kitchen and your schedule may be overcrowded, I think you will agree. Who wouldn’t love a recipe that calls for cooking one item, a five-minute pasta? The rest is chop and drop. The heat from the pasta warms the bowl of fresh ingredients and melds their flavors… all that’s needed for a sumptuous supper that celebrates tomatoes at their peak. Enjoy it with a volume of Neruda by your side and savor the last beautiful days of the season.
“No-Cook” End of Summer Sauce
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 large, ripe tomatoes, chopped, retaining juices
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed or finely minced
- 1-2 teaspoons salt
- fresh ground pepper
- 1 cup fresh basil
- sliced olives of your choice
- handful of freshly grated parmesan or asiago cheese
- toasted pine nuts, if desired
- 1 pound linguini or other pasta
Pour oil into a large bowl and add roughly chopped tomatoes with their juices and minced garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste. Tear fresh basil into the mix… don’t even think about using the dried herb. For this dish, fragrant, fresh basil is a must! Add some olives, choosing the type you love. Black, salty Kalamata are wonderful, but green olives stuffed with pimento work well, too. Feel free to omit them if you’re not a fan.
Meanwhile, boil and salt water. Cook your favorite pasta according to package directions. Drain and toss with the tomato mixture right in the same bowl. Top with grated cheese. Done!
A scattering of toasted pine nuts brings additional Tuscan flair to your plate and a nice crunch.. but, of course, it’s another cooking step you can skip if you’re in a hurry. Honestly, it took me longer to type these directions than it will take you to make this super-easy, no-cook sauce.