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Savoring the Goodness of Homegrown Tomatoes

Caprese Pizza Showcases Seasonal Flavor

Growing up, my friend’s grandfather always told us girls that to enjoy a fresh tomato all we needed was a sharp knife and a pinch of salt. Indeed, there were tomatoes served at every one of their meals during those hot, sticky summers. And as he would slice in to the fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes, juice would flow like a roiling creek. It was a wonder to my youthful, wide eyes. As a frequent dinner pest – er, I mean dinner guest – I was always first in line to sample his latest garden finds.

This certainly is the time of year to celebrate that bounty. Tomatoes are in their peak around the country, each one ripe for the tasting. While just a pinch of salt does do wonders, there are also some terrific tomato recipes out there that really get my taste-buds tingling.

Capreses are about the best thing to happen to the tomato since the invention of salt. Simply meaning a combination of basil, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, capreses come in many shapes and sizes: sandwiches, flatbreads, pasta, salads. Nikki Smith of Hemet, CA thinks that caprese pizza is the way to go. She uses fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes, freshly chopped basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese and olive oil to embellish a refrigerated pizza crust. The simplicity of the preparation is matched only by the simplicity of the flavors. Happily, they come together to form one delicious, crowd-pleasing treat.

Stuffed tomatoes are also a great way to make use of excess produce. Cherry tomatoes transform into darling, bite-size appetizers at the hand of Texas cook Jeanne Benavidez. She uses a mixture of cream cheese, onion, garlic and avocado to fill her party-ready Avocado-Stuffed Tomatoes. “A friend brought this to a back yard party once and I really liked it,” says Jeanne. “She was kind enough to give me the easy recipe. I have made it several times and everyone seems to really enjoy the little morsels of coolness.”

Equally cool, figuratively speaking, is Judy Sprague’s recipe for full-size Stuffed Tomatoes. This fellow Kentuckian bowled me over with her bacon, broccoli and onion stuffed ‘maters. Topped with panko breadcrumbs and salty Parmesan cheese, it’s easy get creative with this one and add in other veggies of your choosing. (Extra zucchini, perhaps?) “I love the taste of this!” says Judy of her super summery dish. “It is a very easy side dish to make a meal special!”

Now, rather then cooking up his leftover tomatoes, Greg Honeycutt of Birmingham, AL chooses to preserve them in an especially unique way. “I dehydrate extra ones,” he says. “I slice them as thin as I can, put them on a Silpat in a low oven and leave them be. 200 degrees for several hours usually does the trick. I then crush them to powder with mortar and pestle. Great for a tasty, colorful garnish, or to add a bit of flavor to anything you wish.” Imagine how good those freshly dehydrated tomatoes will taste come soup-making season!

And Greg’s not the only one preserving summer freshness for colder days ahead. Linda Scharek of Wildwood, FL described her favorite preservation method during a recent conversation in the Cooking Tips and Hints Discussion Group. “You can freeze tomatoes,” she says. “Cut in quarters and put in a Ziplock bag. When you need tomatoes for sauce, just take them out of the freezer, skin will come right off, and use for whatever.”

These great cooking ideas are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to celebrating the dear, humble tomato. Enjoy them simply sliced and sprinkled with a pinch of salt, baked atop an olive oil coated pizza crust, or stuffed with the freshest of herbs and veggies from your garden. No matter the how, simply enjoy. These warm days of bounty are meant to be savored.