This year, we didn’t plant tomatoes. Spring was far too cold and wet to even contemplate setting out seedlings and praying that I didn’t kill them. Good decision, we told ourselves. Why go through all the hard work of growing tomatoes if there’s little chance of a decent harvest?
Except that I really missed them.
We’ve almost always had at least a couple of tomato plants growing somewhere in the yard. My dad grew them each year; my mother-in-law too. Around late July/early August, I’ve always craved the taste of a red, homegrown and vine-ripened tomato which is far different than a pink, styrofoamy store-bought one.
Worrying over the plants all summer long was an annual ritual. Tilling the soil, adding in compost, the watering-weeding-watering-weeding cycle, staking up the long, weak shoots, and fighting fungus and weird bugs — I never thought I’d miss it. But I do.
Then one of my neighbors asked me if I wanted some of hers. She told me that she had gotten an “early-ripening” variety that was supposed to yield around July 4th. Because of the weird weather, they’ve finally ready now.
They taste as good as I remember. We’ve enjoyed the standard BLTs, using the good Wisconsin bacon and a homemade basil-mayo to amp up the flavor. Tonight we’re making pita pizzas topped with fresh tomato and basil. It’s the easiest recipe in the book, takes all of a few minutes to prepare with the kids, and doesn’t heat up the house (if you cook them in a toaster oven). In short, it’s the perfect answer to the never-ending question: “What’s for dinner, Mom?”
Here’s how we make them:
- Pita bread (we use both the regular size for a chewy crust and the giant, thinner version for a crispy one)
- Lovely red tomatoes
- Fresh basil
- Makings for a basic tomato sauce:
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 Tablespoons minced fresh basil (or a couple cubes of the frozen kind)
- 1 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- Kosher salt to taste
1. Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat and then toss in the garlic and onions. (If you are using frozen cubes of fresh basil, now’s a good time to add them in). Sauté for 5 minutes or until onion is soft.
2. Stir in canned tomatoes (and if you are using fresh basil, stir that in now as well). Turn heat down to low and then add sugar and salt. Allow it to cook for 5 minutes on low, stirring occasionally.
Note: this makes a versatile tomato sauce that’s excellent on everything from pasta to pizzas.
3. Then get ready to assemble the pizzas. Lay out pitas out on plate and ladle on sauce as desired. Add sliced tomato and freshly torn basil leaves and top with a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese.
4. Place directly on rack in toaster oven and toast until cheese is melted and bubbly. Or slide them onto a pizza pan and into a 400-degree oven for about 7-8 minutes.
5. Pop them onto plates, ensuring that each person gets the pizza he or she made (a critical step — ask me how I know).
We’ve used the basic pita-sauce-cheese recipe with any combination of toppings: crumbled sausage, ham, frozen pineapple chunks, sliced mushrooms, green peppers — the list goes on and on.
Personally, I like the simplicity of fresh tomatoes and basil in the summer, and this year it’s all thanks to the kindess of my neighbor.
Did you plant tomatoes this year? What’s your favorite tomato recipe?