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Three recipes for the late-summer tomato

Local and heirloom varieties, or better yet home-grown tomatoes, offer the best flavor and need only the simplest preparation.

By John Edward YoungCorrespondent / August 13, 2010

Joanne Ciccarello/Staff

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Plymouth, Mass.

Just look at those beautiful supermarket tomatoes. Perfectly shaped, perfectly smooth, perfectly red. Perfectly awful!

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They're just one step up from those four-in-a-row, hard, pink tomatoes packed in a plastic corral and wrapped in cellophane. Those babies were bounceable! Tennis, anyone?

If there's another vegetable that has suffered so much in the name of progress, I plead ignorant. British cooking doyenne Jane Grigson made a plea for the tomato when she wrote that this abused fruit "needs someone to save it from the dragon of commerce."

So what's happened to this beautiful, flavorful tomato so long associated with midsummer? They're picked before they're ripe, gassed with ethylene to turn them red, shipped endless miles in refrigerator trucks, and voilà! Fresh tomatoes!

It's no wonder that 85 percent of home gardeners choose tomatoes, making them the most popular backyard vegetable.

I've grown tomatoes all my life. My fondest tomato memories are of those blisteringly hot July days when I'd go barefoot down to the family plot with a salt shaker. After plucking the biggest, reddest, beefsteak tomato, I'd plop myself down on a big stone, lick the top of the tomato (so the salt would stick) and devour the still warm fruit. Heaven!

So what do you do with those supermarket imitations? Two words: Avoid them. The two passable exceptions are cherry and grape tomatoes. They have better taste than their bigger cousins and can make colorful additions to salads or between cubes of swordfish or lamb for grilled kebabs.

So now is the time to take advantage of the season and head for the farm stands or farmers' markets. One bite and you'll be growing your own next year – if you aren't already.

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES

Serves 2

To folks south of the Mason-Dixon Line this is a meal, to those north, it's a movie (and a book). Both are good.

2 large green tomatoes

1 large egg

1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup cornmeal

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Vegetable oil

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Cut tomatoes in half-inch slices.

Heat about 1/2-inch of oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat.

Whisk egg and milk in a small bowl.

Mix flour, cornmeal, salt, and pepper on a plate.

Dredge tomato slices in flour mixture, then dip into egg mixture to coat. Fry tomatoes until golden, turn and brown other side. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with cheese if desired.

PASTA WITH RAW TOMATO SAUCE Pasta con Salsa Cruda

Makes 4 to 6 portions

1 to 1-1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored; peeled and seeded if desired

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 to 4 cloves garlic, peeled and diced

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

8 fresh basil leaves, or to taste, finely sliced

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cut tomatoes into quarters. Combine all ingredients except cheese in a food processor or blender. Pulse until tomatoes are to the consistence of sauce you like. Pour sauce into a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand several hours to allow flavors to meld.

Heat sauce or serve at room temperature over hot spaghetti or linguine. Top with Parmesan, and additional basil if desired.

ROASTED CHERRY TOMATOES

Serves 2 to 4

2 pints cherry tomatoes

Extra virgin olive oil

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place tomatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with olive oil. Shake baking sheet to coat tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tomatoes are slightly soft.

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