Jumping the Gun on Tomatoes

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I am in love with summer tomatoes — so much so that I invariably succumb to temptation too early.

And then I’m disappointed when I return home from the market with a bag of beautiful-looking early-season tomatoes only to find that they are hothouse forced fruit, not the natural, juicy, intoxicating orbs that I eat until my skin takes on a tomato-colored hue by mid- August, and then eat some more.

Not surprisingly, this fate befell me last week, when the farmers market was laden with deceptively large, round, red tomatoes. I bought a bunch, came home and was predictably bugged when they were pale and dry and even a little — yikes — mealy in texture.

But unwilling to waste them, I found a couple of ways to repurpose them into something good and tasty. No, it wasn’t the caprese salad or tomato sandwich I was hoping for, but at least they didn’t land in the garbage disposal.

If you are not inclined to cook the tomatoes and they are close to decent, you can help them along by marinating them in good-quality olive oil and a generous sprinkle of kosher salt. Just chop them into large chunks, drizzle them with oil in a shallow bowl and sprinkle them with salt. Add some balsamic and pepper if you like and let them sit for an hour or so. It won’t be mid-summer tomato heaven, but it will be worth the trouble.

If you are willing to make a small effort and cook the tomatoes, the resulting sauce becomes a kitchen workhorse that I employed in two different ways, but the possibilities are nearly endless. In addition to the suggestions below, this sauce has many other applications:

  • Add some oregano and use it as pizza topping.
  • Add some curry powder and use it as a base for chicken or vegetable curry.
  • Add some cumin, cilantro and cayenne and use it to top tacos, quesadillas or enchiladas, or dip tortilla chips in it.
  • Gussy up a grilled cheese sandwich by putting a layer of this sauce between the cheese slices.
  • Mix it with 1 part heavy cream to 2 parts sauce, and you have a beautiful blush sauce for pasta.

Premature Tomato Sauce

Makes about 2 cups

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 large tomatoes, cut in large chunks

In a medium-sized skillet, heat the oil, salt and garlic until it is fragrant and sizzling.

Add the tomatoes, lower the heat and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break apart and dissolve into a sauce.

Test for seasoning; add pepper and more salt if needed, and any other spices you may need depending on your intended use.

Hot/Cold Caprese Salad made with a tomato sauce recipe
Hot/Cold Caprese Salad (Keri White)

Hot/Cold Caprese Salad

Serves 2-4 depending on portion size and whether this is the main meal or side

This salad became a pretty solid consolation price when my planned lunch of caprese salad went bust on account of the state of the early tomatoes.

The hot/cold contrast added an interesting element to the dish and delivered a bit more heartiness; it totally worked as a yummy lunch, and you could undoubtedly make this a light dinner with a hunk of crusty bread.

  • 6 cups lettuce (arugula, baby greens, spring mix, etc.)
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut in small chunks
  • ¾ cups premature tomato sauce, warm
  • Fresh cracked pepper to taste

In a salad bowl, place the lettuce and cheese.

Drizzle the warm sauce over the salad, sprinkle with pepper, toss and serve immediately.

Mexican Scrambled Eggs

Serves 1

This preparation can be scaled up easily. The addition of the corn tortillas gives the dish a bit more texture and heft.

It is also versatile and easily adapted to various dietary preferences and restrictions: For carb cutters, skip the tortilla; for fat and/or dairy avoiders, omit the cheese; for timid palates, drop the cumin, cilantro and cayenne.

Hedonist that I am, I add them all.

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 6-inch corn tortilla, torn into pieces
  • Pinch salt
  • Sprinkle of fresh cracked pepper
  • Sprinkle of cumin
  • Sprinkle of cayenne or other hot pepper
  • A couple sprigs of fresh cilantro, chopped
  • ¼ cup premature tomato sauce

In a small bowl, beat the eggs until blended. Add the tortilla pieces to coat thoroughly. Add sauce, spices and cheese.

Heat a small skillet and spray it with oil. Add the egg mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until desired doneness. Serve immediately.

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