One of the great joys of late summer is the abundance of juicy, ripe tomatoes. From old favourites such as heirlooms and romas to specialty tomatoes like black krim and Greek zebra, tomatoes have been called liquid sunshine for good reason. Whether you’re putting them in salads, making sauces or plucking them off the vine for a midafternoon snack, a perfect tomato exists for your culinary needs. Like a bear getting ready for the winter, I go on a tomato feeding frenzy come the end of summer. Vine-ripened tomatoes are packed with flavour and sweetness. And I know it will be another six months before I get to gorge on the bounty of tomatoes from my garden. Those slightly reddish lumps of cardboard sold in the grocery stores in December will only make me weep for the plump, juicy cherry tomatoes plucked from the vine and eaten on the spot.
Another late summer tradition is a September cruise, revisiting some of our favourite anchorages in the San Juan Islands. By Labour Day, anchorages and transient docks start to empty out as families with children head home. Mooring buoys and dock space are again available; there’s room to swing at anchor without fear of going bump in the night in this gunkholing paradise. Like the marine provincial park system in B.C., Washington State has a magnificent marine state park network that includes 11 marine parks, often with multiple anchorages, in the San Juan Islands. We debated an overnight stay at Jones Island or a trip to tiny Matia Island. Blind Island State Park and Stuart Island State Park, with the equally protected and appealing Prevost or Reid harbours, were dismissed only because of recent visits. Finally we settled on Fossil Bay, the protected and shallow cove—less than two fathoms for most of its length—that is located on the south side of Sucia Island, the crown of the San Juans and the state’s marine park system.
Once that was decided, I started menu planning. First, I made a visit to our garden. The tomato plants were drooping with fruit. Red and yellow cherry tomatoes hung heavy on the vines. Large, juicy heirlooms were ripe for eating. I started filling my basket and planning different ways to serve tomatoes on our mid-week cruise to Fossil Bay. Tomatoes originated in Central and South America and were eaten by the Aztecs as early 700 A. D. The word “tomato” comes from the Aztec word “tomatl” which gave rise to the Spanish word tomate. While tomatoes are botanically berry-type fruits, they are considered culinary vegetables, either ingredients in or the base for many savoury meals.
In addition to being just plain yummy, they are also good for you. Tomatoes are widely known for their outstanding antioxidant content, including the cancer-preventative phytonutrient, lycopene. Researchers have also recently found an important connection between lycopene and bone health. And tomatoes have also long been linked to heart health, helping to lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
Parmesan crisps with cherry tomato salad, and grilled sourdough bread with heirloom tomatoes, basil and brie cheese, the two recipes included this month are not complicated dishes, but they are perfect this time of year for either breakfast or dinner. After all, what could be better than some liquid sunshine straight from the garden? Enjoy!
Grilled Sourdough Bread with Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil & Brie Cheese
Serves two for dinner or four for appetizers
8 slices sourdough bread (or 4 large slices, halved)
1 225-gram (8-ounce) brie round
3 large heirloom (or other) tomatoes, thickly sliced and covered with salt and pepper
1 cup fresh basil leaves, whole 4 tablespoons honey
Olive oil or olive oil spray Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat grill to medium high, about 220°C (425°F).
Spray or brush bread with olive oil on both sides. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Place the whole brie and bread slices on the hot grill for about two to three minutes or until bread is lightly charred. Flip the bread and the cheese and grill for another two to three minutes. Remove from the grill. Be careful when flipping the brie, you do not want to break the brie open.
Layer the grilled bread with the warm brie, basil leaves and a thick slice of heirloom tomatoes. Drizzle with honey and serve.
Parmesan Crisps & Cherry Tomatoes Salad
Serves two for dinner or four for side salads
450-500 grams or 1 pound cherry tomatoes, halved
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons capers
1 tablespoon basil leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon chives, sliced
1/2 cup green onion, sliced
1/2 small lemon, zested
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan Crisp Ingredients
2 cups grated parmesan cheese
1/2 lemon, zested
Method for Cherry Tomato Salad
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F.) In a small bowl, mix the red pepper slices and the basil, chives and Italian parsley with a tablespoon of olive oil. Spread evenly on a baking pan and bake for about eight minutes.
Toss tomatoes, roasted red bell pepper slices, green onions and capers in a large bowl with remaining olive oil, and lemon zest. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Break four parmesan crisps into chunks and stir into the salad. Serve remaining whole crisps on the side.
Serve at room temperature.
Method for Parmesan Crisps
Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F.)
Mix the parmesan cheese and the lemon zest in a small bowl.
Place parchment paper on baking sheet. Drop one rounded tablespoon of the cheese mixture on the parchment paper, tapping cheese lightly to form a circle. Place eight total circles on the baking sheet with about two inches between each row.
Bake the rounds for six to eight minutes or until lightly browned and bubbly.
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