2011-08-18 / Family

It Is Home- Grown Tomato Season!

Don’t miss out on the taste of home-grown, fieldripened Pennsylvania tomatoes this summer. There is nothing better than a thick slice of a juicy dark-red tomato on your home-grilled burger or a BLT sandwich. Ripe, local tomatoes also add the finishing touch to a summertime tossed salad.

Pennsylvania tomatoes are not only “Simply Delicious” but they are also “Simply Nutritious”. One medium tomato supplies over 40 percent of the daily allowance of vitamin C and 20 percent of vitamin A plus potassium – all with only 35 calories. Tomatoes are also contain generous amounts of lycopene, an antioxidant that helps protect the body from cancer.

August is the peak season for “Simply Delicious, Simply Nutritious” Pennsylvania tomatoes and many other locally grown vegetables. That’s why the governor has proclaimed August as Pennsylvania Produce Month. Tomatoes and an abundance of other Pennsylvania produce are available at roadside farm markets, community farmers’ markets and supermarkets across the state.

Consumers concerned with rising food prices might want to consider buying a bushel or two of Pennsylvania tomatoes from a local farmer and canning a couple batches of homemade tomato sauce with grandma’s secret family recipe. Tomatoes are one of the simpler vegetables to can at home. Home canning Pennsylvania tomatoes will save gallons of fossil fuels used to truck canned product across the country. Penn State University offers detailed instructions and recipes on how to safely can tomatoes (and other vegetables) at home. This information is available on the Web at http://foodsafety.psu.edu/lets _ preserve.html, by contacting any Penn State Cooperative Extension office, or by contacting the Pennsylvania Vegetable Marketing and Research Program at 717-694-3596.

Of course another alternative to reduce your carbon footprint is to purchase commercially canned tomato products produced by Pennsylvania food processors from Pennsylvania tomatoes.

Pennsylvania's fresh market tomato crop is grown on about 2,000 acres. Another 1,500 acres are used to grow tomatoes for food processors for use in several brands of tomato products. In addition, about 15 acres of Pennsylvania greenhouses produce tomatoes during the spring and fall months when they cannot be grown in the field. In number of acres, tomatoes trail sweet corn, potatoes, snap beans, and pumpkins as a leading Pennsylvania vegetable crop. However, tomatoes typically are second or third in value.

Many local growers are growing heirloom varieties that are noted for their distinctive flavors. But local growers can offer superior quality tomatoes of ordinary varieties as well for one simple reason. They can allow them to ripen in the field. A fully ripened tomato cannot be shipped any distance. Any grower who has to ship his product is forced to harvest tomatoes before they are ripe so they will not bruise. In truth, the blame for poor tasting tomatoes lies not so much with the grower but with subsequent handlers and even the consumer.

Tomatoes picked before they are fully ripe can develop an appetizing flavor and texture if two basic conditions are met. First, the tomatoes must not be refrigerated. They should be stored at room temperature or at least above 55ºF. Unripe tomatoes that have been subjected to temperatures below this level will never ripen satisfactorily.

The second condition is patience. Tomatoes that are on the pink side need several days at room temperature to develop a deep red color and the desired tomato flavor. They should also soften slightly. Only when they have fully ripened like this should they be refrigerated and then only if necessary. Refrigerated tomatoes will have a better eating flavor if they are allowed to warm to room temperature before serving.

Pennsylvania tomatoes come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. The most common is the larger round, red tomato that can be sliced for sandwiches or burgers, cut in wedges for eating directly, diced for salads or tacos, or cooked into numerous kinds of sauces. Small round tomatoes, also called cherry or grape tomatoes depending on their size, are perfect for salads or as a garnish. Plum tomatoes (sometimes called Italian or Roma tomatoes) are the choice for preparing secret familyrecipe sauces as they cook down to a rich, thick sauce.

Health authorities recommend most Americans eat at least 2 to 2 1/2 cups of vegetables each day. Following are some tasty tomato recipes from the 2010 Pennsylvania Vegetable Recipe Contest. Additional tomato recipes are at www.paveggies.org.

Ciotola di Panzanella (Panzanella Bowls) Serves 4

4 tomatoes - large, of different colors if available, about 3 lbs

3 T. + red wine vinegar

Kosher salt

Black pepper – freshly cracked

1/2 red onion – very thinly sliced

1/4+ c. garlic-flavored olive oil (If you don't have garlic oil, you can infuse oil by adding garlic to heated oil and then cooling. If you need to save time and a trip to the store, use olive oil and add garlic powder carefully to taste.)

4 oz. grissini ( bread sticks) – thin, broken into 1/2" pieces

8 rounds pancetta (or slices bacon)

Cut the top 1/4-inch off each tomato and reserve. With a serrated knife, cut the tomato meat away from the outside skin without cutting through completely; scoop the membrane and seeds out with a spoon and transfer to a strainer set over a bowl to drain. Season the hollowed tomatoes and the membrane in the strainer with a drizzle of vinegar and some salt and pepper. Put onion slices in a small bowl and cover with 2 tablespoons vinegar and a pinch of salt. Let stand 10 minutes to remove some of the raw, sharp flavor of the onion. Whisk together 1 tablespoon vinegar, the garlic oil and 1/4 cup of the drained tomato water. Season well with salt and pepper. Coarsely chop the drained tomato and put in a mixing bowl. Drain the onions and add them along with the grissini pieces. Drizzle the dressing over the bowl and toss very well; season again and add more oil, tomato water and vinegar, as needed, to evenly moisten the stuffing. Stuff each tomato with 1/4 of the stuffing and garnish with the tomato tops. Chill until ready to serve. Fry pancetta/ bacon and set aside for assembly. Before serving, top with the crisp pancetta or bacon.

Elysa Boffo, Camp Hill,

Tomato & Broccoli

Panzanella

Serves 8

Dressing:

1/2 c. olive oil

1/3 c. red wine vinegar

3 T. basil – fresh, chopped

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1 clove garlic – large, fresh, minced

Salad

8 slices Italian bread – thickly sliced

2 c. broccoli florets - fresh

4 plum tomatoes – medium sized, seeded and coarsely chopped

1/2 c. red onions - thinly sliced, separated into rings

1/2 c. bell pepper – yellow, cut into thin strips

1/2 c. parmesan cheese

In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine all dressing ingredients, shake well. Place Italian bread slices on broiler pan. Broil 4 to 6 inches from heat for 4 to 5 minutes or until deep golden brown and crisp, turning once. Cool five minutes and then break or cut into 1/2- inch cubes. Place in large serving bowl; set aside. Bring 1/4 c. water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add broccoli; cook 2 to 3 minutes or until broccoli is crip-tender. Drain and rinse with cold water to cool. Right before serving, add broccoli and all remaining salad ingredients to bread cubes; toss to coat. Pour dressing over salad; toss gently to coat.

Kathy Rohrbaugh, Shrewsbury

Quick buying tips for fresh PA tomatoes

Tomatoes must ripen to a deep, rich red color to achieve their best flavor.

Ripen pink tomatoes at 60 degrees - 70 ºF in an open area with good air circulation. Never refrigerate tomatoes until they are red and fully ripened.

Return to top