Summer – or tomato season as we like to call it – is in full bloom. One of our favorite rites of summer is picking fist-sized heirloom and grapelike clusters of cherry tomatoes in our garden. Growing our own tomatoes has been one of the most rewarding achievements since we started to garden in our small 4-by-8-foot raised garden bed.
Typically we plant about five varieties of heirloom tomato seedlings each year, which yields more than enough for our family and friends. If you have the space, we highly recommend growing your own tomato garden. While we’re certainly no experts, here are some of the tips we found helpful for growing tomatoes:
- Starting with seedlings, plant them deep into the ground, about 2/3 of the plant, and remove the lower leaves. This will help create a deep and strong root system. Leave plenty of room between seedlings. We have five plants in our 4-by-8-foot bed and even that is a little crowded.
- Place layer of mulch around each plant and as it grows, prune the lower leaves so they don’t touch the soil.
- Cage early. We love the square cages that are stackable.
- Do not use a sprayer hose to water. Set up a drip system for each tomato, either connected to your irrigation system or via a hose and faucet. This keeps the leaves dry, a key step in preventing pests and mold.
- Prune it, especially for indeterminate plants. We like the plant to concentrate on making good tomatoes, not a lot of branches. Pinch off the suckers that shoot up in between the branches.
- Feed occasionally with tomato toner or organic fertilizer of choice.
We’ve found that by just doing the above, our tomatoes are healthy and pest-free. We do inspect for green worms occasionally and just pluck them off and feed them to the birds. Otherwise, we haven’t had the need to use any thing else for pests other than to cover the ripening tomato to prevent the birds from pecking at them.
So what’s one of our favorite dishes to make with all these tomatoes? Aside from eating them in fresh tomato salads we love how a bit of heat can transform them into a simple tomato galette. Galette is a term used in French cuisine to describe a type of flat, round, or freeform crusty pastry. Barely roasted slices of heirloom tomatoes in a savory, rustic galette crust along with some smooth melted cheese, a sprinkle of fresh herbs, and a drizzle of olive oil is one of our favorite ways to enjoy our favorite fruits of the summer.
Heirloom Tomato Galette
Galette dough recipe adapted from David Lebovitz via FineCooking.com
1-1/4 ounces (2-1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
5 ounces (about 2/3 cup) ice water
For the topping:
3 heirloom tomatoes, sliced about 1/4 inch rounds
Mozzarella (or your favorite cheese)
Salt and pepper
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 bunch sweet Italian basil
1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in the chilled butter using a stand mixer, a food processor, or a pastry blender until the butter is evenly distributed but still in large, visible pieces. Add the ice water all at once to the flour and butter. Mix the dough just until it begins to come together (if using a stand mixer or a food processor, be especially careful not to overmix the dough). Gather the dough with your hands – don't worry if you see streaks of butter – and shape it into two disks. Wrap the disks in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
2. Preheat oven 400 degrees F.
3. Season the tomatoes with olive oil and salt and pepper. Press a disk of dough on a oiled cookie sheet into a round disk about 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick and add layered slices of tomato to filling out the center, folding over about 1 inch of dough over the edge. Add chunks of mozzarella and bake until crust is golden brown.
4. Remove from oven, drizzle with olive oil and top with fresh basil and if desired, grate additional cheese and serve.