I think if one is going to discuss tomatoes, the issue of classification (fruit or vegetable) should be cleared out of the way at the outset.
Botanically, tomatoes are indeed fruit. This is a fact of common knowledge, yet although people are quick to point it out, they hardly consider treating them as such. One would no more make a sweet and cinnamon-scented crisp out of tomatoes than they would stuff an apple with crumbs and top it with cheese. (Although come to think of it, either one might be quite tasty. I have, after all, discovered this year that tomato paste makes a more than suitable addition to a spicy Jewish apple cake, and I’ve for a long time added a spoonful to carrot cakes.)
And that’s because tomatoes are – ready for this? – vegetables. The term is purely culinary, referring to any plant whose fruit, seeds, roots, tubers, bulbs, stems, leaves, or flower parts are used as food. So from a culinary standpoint, from the arena in which it matters (the kitchen), a tomato is a vegetable. But whatever you call it – I’m just happy that my plants are producing some.
(And in case you do get pulled into the fruit vs. vegetable debate, you can play the Supreme Court card: legally, tomatoes have been considered vegetables since the late 1800s when the US imposed tariff laws that included a duty on vegetables but not fruit, forcing the court to decide; furthermore, tomatoes are the state vegetable of New Jersey – 8,682,661 New Jerseyers can’t be wrong.)
So yes, it’s Tomato Week, the final installment of Summer Fest 2009, and I’m late to the party again – last week seemed to completely blow by without much more than roasted beans, let alone greens.
This week though, my tomato plants are bursting. Bursting! I no longer have tomato envy. I am the proud mama of two flourishing plants, picked up around May/June from Home Depot with high hopes and replanted (at about a foot tall) in the old double sink propped up against the fence and filled with dirt. They are now over-the-fence-high; over the summer as they grew I propped them up with bamboo sticks and chunks of hockey sticks, secured with twist ties, and maybe it’s all that Canadian karma, but it worked. One is heavy with cherry tomatoes, not all ripe at once but promising a tomato-heavy month; the other produced small “patio” tomatoes, sort of like a cross between a Roma and a regular beefsteak. They are still green, but they’re there. And there are lots of them. And I grew them. Or at least, didn’t kill them.
One of my favourite things to do to a cherry tomato is roast it; drizzle with oil, scatter with garlic and sprinkle with salt, then roast at 400F or so until they release their juices and shrivel, then start to get sticky, dark bits. There are so many things you can do with roasted tomatoes: scrape out of the pan onto hot pasta with crumbled feta or goat cheese and tear some fresh herbs over top; add chicken or veg stock and puree for roasted tomato soup (add a splash of cream at the end); scatter over pizza; or make a savoury clafoutis.
Roasted Cherry Tomato and Goat Cheese Clafoutis
A clafoutis is a baked French custard usually studded with cherries and sweetened with sugar; this one is savoury, but resembles the original with cherry tomatoes. Serve it warm or cold, in wedges. It’s probably great as a sandwich, tucked between buttered toast.
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
2-3 garlic cloves, left whole
canola or olive oil, for cooking
salt and pepper
4 oz. soft goat cheese
2 Tbsp. snipped fresh chives, parsley or basil
3 large eggs
1 cup half & half
3 Tbsp. flour
Preheat the oven to 400F. Spread the tomatoes and garlic in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet; drizzle with oil, salt and pepper, roll around to coat and roast for 20-30 minutes, or until the tomatoes start to shrivel and turn golden.
Scrape into a pie plate or other shallow baking dish that has been sprayed with nonstick spray. Turn the oven down to 350F. Crumble over the goat cheese and sprinkle with chives.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream and flour; pour over the tomatoes and cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until puffed and pale golden. Serve immediately, wait until it cools to room temperature, or chill and serve cold.
A lot of tomatoes are finding their way into kitchens this week:
Margaret of A Way to Garden made some quick tomato sauce, ever so slowly; Matt of Matt Bites shows off his Tomato Top Ten. Shauna of Gluten Free Girl slices them up and makes a smoked salsa. Marilyn of Simmer Till Done made us an upside-down tomato-basil bread. Paige of The Sister Project simmered tomato soup. Jaden of Steamy Kitchen (thankfully!) made a Caprese salad with basil vinaigrette. And Diane and Todd of White on Rice Couple simmered some tomato jam – yum.
Check them out – Summer Fest 2009 – like summer itself – is coming to an end.