Friday, August 26, 2011

Annual Tomato Festival (Late August Bloomday)

After a two year hiatus, the Annual Tomato Festival hosted in Papi & Mama Tomato's beautiful garden is back and better than ever! Not to steal Papi's thunder, but he has been very tardy in posting anything regarding his garden. So, for today's very late August Bloom day, I will be posting pictures of his fabulous garden and some of the delectable treats served to our guests at the Tomato Festival last weekend!

A Platter full of YUM! (Copia, Zapotec, & Azoycha)

Partial view of Papi's tomato beds facing northwest

Detail of tomato beds

Family Heirloom - Sweet Papoons (red peppers)

Oregano in bloom with lemon

Italian Ice Cherry Tomatoes

Detail of Italian Ice Cherry Tomatoes

Zapotec, the forerunner to Costoluto Genovese

The spreads: Italian salsa, pesto, and Hubby's tomato tartar (aka tomato crack, recipe forthcoming!)

Tomato beds facing south - can you see Papi hiding in the background?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Fresh Tomato Sauce from the Garden

One of my most poignant (and prolific) memories of my childhood is the smell of a delicious red sauce ragu slow roasting on the stove for hours on end. The thick tomato sauce would cook down meatballs of beef and pork, perhaps a sausage or two, and if we were really lucky, ox tails! This traditional Southern Italian meal fed us well (and cheaply too) for generations. In my  mind, home is symbolized by a large pot of ragu bubbling away, filling the house with the wonderful smell of canned tomatoes, ground meat, garlic, basil and oregano.

Fresh tomato sauce is a different kind of beast, requiring a different kind of care. After perfecting the recipe over the past two seasons, I've decided that the best way to showcase fresh tomatoes is with a vegetarian version. I use tomatoes that are "on the edge;" too smushy for eating sliced but too good to throw out. 

Here is what you will need:
2.5 - 3 lbs of "on the edge" fresh tomatoes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes or 1 teaspoon red pepper powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano

In large metal pot, heat 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil on the stove on low heat. While oil is warming, chop tomatoes into quarters, removing the stems and bottoms. Toss tomatoes in pot and turn up heat to medium and cook for approximately five minutes until tomatoes are soft. Add finely chopped garlic during this period. Stir mixture until well mixed. Add red pepper flakes, salt, sugar, dried basil, and dried oregano. Stir again. Take heat down to a simmer and cook for approximately an hour. Fresh tomatoes are full of water, and to get a fuller flavor, the water must be cooked down and out. Check on the sauce every 20 minutes and stir. After an hour on the stove, the sauce will need 30- 45 minutes to cool. Remove from heat and cover with clean dish cloth. After cooling period, puree sauce with a stick blender, food processor, or regular blender. Store in fridge for up to a week or freeze for up to 6 months.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Midsummer Trim

Late July to early August is the time when the garden begins to look a little long in the tooth. Hubby graciously helped me with the trimming, electric trimmer in hand. The main victims of the "hair cut," the perennial flowers. Down went the spent Mexican sage blooms, the lavender neatly edged from the delicate annuals, the orange kangaroo paw pulled back from the garden path, and the other lavender and lemon balm beat back to a neat hedge. I hope that the trim encourages more growth, but if not, it gets us started on our autumn clean-up. The tomatoes, as well, are looking worse for wear. We have opted to pull the Hillbilly (it never did very well - I only got 2 -3 tomatoes) and one very spent volunteer Black Pearl. This weekend, we'll pull 4 out of 6 of the Tomatomania plants. They had a good run and huge production of fruit, but they are at the end of their life cycles.

Trimmed Mexican Sage - Now I can see my succulents!

Cutting back the lavender to make room for the zinnias.

Hedge-ified lavender and lemon balm