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Season Stepp: Ripe time for tomatoes

 
By Season Stepp
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updated: 9/4/2015 4:58 PM

It is now prime time for tomatoes. Tomatoes are one of the most commonly grown vegetables (OK, fruit) for home gardeners, and for good reason: There are few things more satisfying than a tomato still warm from the sun.

Tomatoes contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that reduces the risk of many types of cancer.

When cooking many fruits and vegetables, certain nutrients are depleted or lost. In the case of tomato's lycopene, results are quite different: the lycopene in tomatoes is released when cooked and is able to dissolve in fat, such as olive oil, to be more easily absorbed by our bodies.

Roasted tomatoes are delicious, healthy and can be used in dozens of ways.

To roast tomatoes, cut in half across the equator.

Use your fingers to remove some or all of the seeds -- if desired, save them for another use. Place the tomatoes, cut-side-up, on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil; sprinkle liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Roast in a hot oven, about 400 to 450 degrees, until the tomatoes are soft, shriveled and some of the skins have slightly browned.

At this point, the tomatoes (and their juices!) can be frozen and saved for later or used right away. Toss them with vegetables in a mayo-free pasta salad, add them to a sautéed chicken or a shrimp dish, or puree them for tomato soup.

Roasted tomatoes make a great appetizer on bruschetta or in an antipasto platter; smear a bagel with cream cheese and top with a few roasted tomatoes for an amazing breakfast or snack.

Roasted Tomato and Pesto Caprese Panini

Ingredients:

2 ripe tomatoes, such as heirloom or beefsteak

Olive oil

6 slices sandwich bread

Pesto

1 (8-ounce) ball fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced

¼ cup mayonnaise

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone liner or parchment paper.

Cut each tomato in half across the equator and use your fingers to remove seeds and gel from the cavities. Slice into ½-inch thick slices.

Spread the tomato slices onto the pan; drizzle with olive oil, and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast until slightly shriveled and beginning to brown, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Preheat a panini press.

Assemble 3 sandwiches by spreading 1 slice of bread with pesto, top with a third of the tomato slices and a third of the mozzarella, and top with another slice of bread that has been spread with pesto. Press with your hands to squish the sandwich together. Spread a very thin layer of mayonnaise on outside of both slices of bread. Repeat with remaining sandwiches.

Place a panini on the press and grill until the cheese has melted. Cut each sandwich in half diagonally and serve immediately.

Note: If you do not own a panini press, use a grill pan or griddle. Preheat before using, and weigh down the sandwich with a sheet of aluminum foil and a heavy pan. Flip the sandwich only once.

Roasted Tomato-Basil Soup

Ingredients:

2½ pounds mixed tomatoes, cored (such as vine-ripened, heirloom or beefsteak tomatoes)

6 cloves garlic, unpeeled

2 small onions, peeled and halved

Olive oil

4 cups chicken stock

2 bay leaves

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes

¼ cup heavy cream (optional)

½ cup fresh basil leaves, chiffonade

Lemon juice, to taste

Parmesan Herb Crackers (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone liner or parchment paper.

Cut each tomato in half across the equator and use your fingers to remove seeds and gel from the cavities. Spread tomatoes, garlic and onions into a single layer on the baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Place in oven and roast until the onions have softened and the tomatoes have burst, about 15-25 minutes, depending on size.

Remove from oven and remove garlic cloves. Squeeze the roasted garlic meat and discard the skins. Transfer garlic, tomatoes and onions to a medium-sized soup pot over medium-high heat.

Add chicken stock and bay leaves; bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes.

Remove bay leaves and add basil. Working in batches, transfer the soup to a carafe of a blender and puree until smooth. In the last batch, add the butter, a few cubes at a time, blending between each addition. Add the heavy cream, if using, and blend again. Return the soup to the pot and season to taste with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and lemon juice, as needed. Serve with Parmesan Herb Crackers.

Parmesan Herb Crackers

Ingredients:

2½ ounces Parmesan cheese, cut into small pieces

¾ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary needles, minced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes

5 tablespoons sour cream

Place the pieces of cheese into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to finely chop. Add the flour, salt, pepper and herbs; pulse to combine. Add the butter, and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the sour cream and pulse until the dough forms a ball.

Transfer mixture from the food processor onto a sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Roll into a 1½-inch wide log. Place in the freezer for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone liner or parchment paper.

Use a sharp non-serrated knife to slice into 1/8-inch thick slices. Place the slices onto the prepared baking sheet about an inch apart. Bake, flipping once, until the centers are firm to the touch, about 25-30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Reach Spartanburg (S.C.) Herald-Journal correspondent Season Stepp at Season28@aol.com.