August 19, 2012 § 7 Comments
A little over a year ago, my husband and I left San Francisco — our renovated garden, the eucalyptus-scented air, the freezing summers — to create a second home in NYC.
During the winter in NYC, we worked on our plans to renovate our apartment, overcoming the various hurdles required when you change anything in a landmarked building. We escaped the chilled concrete to tromp through snow at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
I missed San Francisco, deeply. I got to visit my garden in San Francisco a few times. Beyond the herbs, like this bushy sage, the edibles mostly fed the chirping birds or ran wild and spindly in a chilly, windy spring.
But the ornamentals thrived.
And as sunshine, longer days and warm weather emerged on the east coast, I began to experiment, growing a garden in pots on our tar-paper roof atop our apartment-in-renovation. In anticipation for The Farm that we’ll build eight stories up in the sky, I wanted to see what I could cultivate.
It turns out, a heck of a lot more than in our San Francisco garden. While I always knew this in my head, seeing the evidence of heat and sun has made me feel a joy I wasn’t sure I’d feel living in NYC.
Tomatoes actually grow. Despite erratic watering and life amidst a construction zone, my plants produced juicy, sweet, delicious tomatoes…nothing like the sad, moldy cherry tomato plants I struggled to keep alive in San Francisco. More on the zen I learned from that experience here.
I’d always read that growing basil near tomatoes would keep insects away and make the tomatoes tastier. Perhaps this thriving basil is, indeed, doing its job. It makes a delicious basil lemonade (recipe here). And it delights visitors to the roof with its scent.
The half a dozen shallots I planted from this past spring’s harvest — just to see what would happen — have grown faster in two months than they did in four in San Francisco.
Of great delight is the eggplant experiment. We picked up a couple of seedlings at a nursery en route from Maryland to NYC one weekend. The beautiful, fuzzy plants thrived on the roof, surviving even a violent thunderstorm that bested our apartment pipes but left the plants with just a few leaf holes.
And this week — the first few fruits have emerged from the lavender, parasol-shaped flowers with yellow centers. Tiny, purple. Perfect.
September 22, 2010 § 23 Comments
1 — Get up early. Have a big mug of coffee.
2 — Enlist a friend or loved one to accompany you (you’ll see why in a sec) to your local farmers’ market. Present your morning’s mission to your companion: to find the best darned tomato in the market. Sample all of the tomatoes; compare notes. Go to the farm stand that had the unilaterally best tomatoes and ask how much they’ll charge you for a 20-30 pound box (SFoodie reported prices at $1.60-$2 per pound for a box. I got a 30-pound box for 30 cents per pound at Alemany Farmers’ Market from the stand right near the Putnam Street entrance; they weren’t certified organic, but I asked, and the farm doesn’t spray and uses sustainable farming practices).
3 — Ask your companion very nicely to help you lug the box back to the car and into your abode.
4 — Put on clothes you don’t mind getting tomato-ey, and an apron.
5 — In your kitchen:
- Clear and clean counter space.
- Set up your biggest cutting board on the counter. Fold paper towels length-wise and nestle them around your cutting board to catch the tomato juices that will run away once you start cutting up tomatoes.
- Sharpen your favorite knife.
- Set up the other kitchen utensils you’ll need, depending on what you’re making (see recipes below).
- Turn on some lively music — whatever pumps you up.
- Pour yourself a glass of wine or pop open a beer (by now, it might be noon — at least, it is somewhere).
6 — Let the extravaganza begin!
I’ve ordered these roughly along the lines of how tasty they are relative to input of time and effort:
(1) OVEN-ROASTED TOMATOES – Easy-peasy, super flavorful, very versatile and freezable
(2) TOMATO JAM – The sweet-savory punch is, in my mind, completely worth it; while it takes some time to prepare (and more if you plan to can it), the recipe is relatively simple
(3) TOMATO SAUCE – Time-intensive but not technically difficult, and fresh tomato sauce, especially in the winter, is a treat
(4) CANNED TOMATOES – Time-intensive and takes some technique (more on my simultaneous interest in / fear of canning in a later post), but then again…tomatoes in January? Awesome
Specific recipes are below, including the volume of tomatoes I used and yields I got and serving notes.
(1) OVEN-ROASTED TOMATOES
Volume: 3 pounds of small-ish tomatoes –> 56 tomato halves
Total Time: 4-6 hours + 15 minutes. Prep: 15 minutes. Cooking Time: 4-6 hours
Planning Notes: The prep is minimal, and you can roast these while you’re watching TV. Or, if you want, you can prep the tomatoes and stick them in the oven before you go to bed. Just remember to set your alarm to get up and take them out of the oven so you don’t end up with tomato hockey pucks.
Thank you to Chiot’s Run for the inspiration for this recipe (click here for hers).
However many tomatoes you want to roast
Chopped herbs, if you like (I used basil, but oregano would be tasty too)
Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Wash the tomatoes and drain in a colander.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Slice smaller tomatoes in half, larger ones into quarters. Arrange them on top of the parchment paper on the baking sheet, leaving ¼ inch or so between the tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle chopped herbs on top of tomatoes if using. Put in oven (middle rack).
Tomatoes should shrink considerably (see pictures below); be curled up around the edges and about as firm to the touch in the middle as the meaty part of your palm (under your thumb) while still slightly moist; and taste like sweet-tangy, concentrated tomato.
Check in four hours. If the tomatoes meet the description above, take them out and let them cool on the pan. If they don’t, roast them for another one to two hours.
Once cool, you can pack into freezer bags; squeeze out the air before sealing. Or, you can put in an air-tight container and store in the fridge for a few days.
Great in salads, with eggs (chopped in omelets or egg scrambles; in an egg sandwich), on pizza, tossed into pasta or plain.
(2) TOMATO JAM
Volume: 3 pounds of tomatoes –> 24 ounces
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes; approx. 1 hour 45 minutes if canning. Prep: 15 minutes. Cooking Time: 1 hour 15 minutes + 10 minutes processing time if canning
Planning Notes: If you’re canning the jam, make sure your jars, lids and rings are washed. Then, start bringing water to simmer in your boiling-water canner and put the jars in a 225 degree oven to sterilize them before you prep the jam ingredients.
I basically used Mark Bittman’s recipe (click here)
Notes On The Recipe
I doubled the recipe as I was canning it, so I used 1 large jalapeno and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne as I wanted a mellow heat to offset the sweetness, vs. a spicy jam. If you’re making the recipe as is, you could just use the jalapeno or do half of a jalapeno and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne.
Simmering the jam 1 hour 15 minutes as Bittman instructs did not yield a thick jam consistency for me, so I brought the jam to boil to the “gelling point”. There are three ways to test for the gelling point, but in my opinion the easiest way is the plate test: put 2 small plates in the freezer before you start cooking the jam. Bring the jam to boil; when it starts getting to a thick jam consistency, place a spoonful on the plate, put it back in the freezer for 1-2 minutes, take it out and run your finger through the jam. If the jam separates and slowly returns to its original form (vs. running right back together), it’s ready. If it runs right back, cook it 1-2 minutes longer and repeat the test with the clean plate.
Here’s my favorite: Slather this on a warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven biscuit (click here for my favorite cream biscuit recipe), and accompany it with a finger of smoky-sweet bourbon.
Also great on toast, eggs, fish and chicken.
(3) TOMATO SAUCE
Volume: 6 pounds 7 ounces of tomatoes –> 2 ½ pints (about 3 pounds tomatoes per pint, or 6.5 pounds tomatoes per quart)
Total Time: Approx. 2 hours; 2 hours 40 minutes if canning. Prep: 20 minutes. Cooking Time: 1 hour 40 minutes + 35-40 minutes processing time if canning
Planning Notes: If you’re canning the sauce, make sure your jars, lids and rings are washed. Then, start bringing water to simmer in your boiling-water canner and put the jars in a 225 degree oven to sterilize them before you prep the sauce.
Adapted from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving
However many tomatoes you want to use for sauce
Bottled lemon juice if canning the sauce (the lemon juice acidifies the sauce so it doesn’t go bad; using bottled lemon juice is key because the acid level is consistent, whereas fresh lemons vary in acidity)
Seasonings, if you like: chopped herbs, salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper (I made mine without since I use tomato sauce in a variety of recipes that may not go well with certain seasonings)
Wash the tomatoes and drain in a colander. Slice in half, cut out the stem/core. Cut into quarters.
Simmer 20 minutes in a large saucepot, stirring occasionally.
Puree tomatoes in a blender or food mill. Strain puree through a sieve to remove seeds and skins into a clean, large saucepot.
Cook juice over medium-high heat until it thickens and reduces by about half, or to desired consistency. This will take, depending on the volume of tomatoes you use, about 45 minutes.
If freezing, pour into sterilized jars or air-tight plastic containers and let cool before placing in freezer.
If canning, put lids in a saucepan of water and bring to a simmer (but don’t boil or a seal won’t form). When the sauce is ready, put 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice into each pint jar or 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice into each quart jar. Ladle hot sauce into a jar, doing one jar at a time, leaving ½-inch headspace. Wipe jar rim clean with a damp, clean paper towel or cloth; put lid on jar; screw on ring until finger-tight and place in boiling-water canner. Repeat process with remaining jars. Bring boiling-water bath to roiling boil, and from that point, process 35 minutes for pints, 40 minutes for quarts.
Great for use in chili, stews, pasta and pizza.
(4) CANNED TOMATOES
Volume: 15 pounds of tomatoes –> 13 ½ pints (about 1 – 1 ½ pounds of tomatoes per pint)
Total Time: Approx. 4 hours for 15 pounds. A lot longer with more tomatoes
Planning Notes: This is at least a half-day affair, all day if you’re doing a lot more tomatoes than 15 pounds. Just plan on being up to your arms (literally) in tomatoes, and don’t plan on much else that day!
I referenced The Bitten Word’s handy photo narrative and video (click here) and the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving
Notes On The Recipe
According to The Joy Of Cooking, if you’re doing a huge load of tomatoes, instead of blanching them a few at a time in boiling water and then putting them in an ice bath, you can place tomatoes in a single layer in a large roasting pan, cover with boiling water, let cool and then slip off the skins. I didn’t try it, but it sounds a lot easier than the blanching / ice bath / peeling assembly line I did!
Great for use in tomato soup, chili and stews all winter.
Did you find this post helpful? Would you make any of these recipes? If so, please vote above or comment below!
September 2, 2010 § 9 Comments
I thought I’d try something a bit different in this post: highlight a great local food event and the fruits and vegetables in season NOW at farmers’ markets, so you can enjoy a locavore weekend. (If people like this post, I’ll try to do it regularly.)
OFF THE GRID: GET YOUR FOOD TRUCK FIX
As I mentioned in my Eat Real Festival post, you didn’t have to go to Oakland to enjoy the offerings of the Bay Area’s copious food trucks. You can get the goods right here in S.F., every Friday at Fort Mason from 5-9 p.m, at Off The Grid.
The event has confirmed 25 food vendors for tomorrow, including three new ones (TaKorea, Curbside Coffee and Tru Gourmet Dim Sum) and returning vendors such as Chairman Bao, Creme Brulee Cart, Kara’s Kupcakes, and Senor Sisig. You can find the full list on their Facebook page. You’ll hear live music by three different bands, and a bar is available with beer, wine, margaritas (yeah!), mojitos and sangria.
FARMERS’ MARKETS: GET WHAT’S IN SEASON NOW…
…Before it disappears. Here are the best fruits and vegetables in season that I’ve sampled from last Saturday’s farmers’ market in Noe Valley and today’s farmers’ market at the Ferry Building* — plus some tips on how to eat the goods:
Pluots – Get these this Saturday because no more will be left on the trees after that
- What they are: A pluot is a hybrid of 70% plum and 30% apricot, though they mainly look like plums. They’re very sweet (sweeter flesh and less tart skin than plums), intensely flavored and full of vitamins A and C. See more on varieties below
- Varieties to buy: Flavor Grenade (yellow with a red-orange blush) was very sweet with no tartness in the skin; this was my favorite for eating fresh. Dapple Dandy was a close second, with a slightly tart beginning and end but a sweet middle when you eat it; I’m going to make jam out of these so we can enjoy the taste of summer in January! Flavor King’s skin was a bit too tart for me, but if you love plums, you’ll probably like these
- Where to buy: Ferry Building market: Tory Farms (near the Gandhi statue). I got to talk to Tory, the husband in this family-owned farm, who’s been farming for 50 years. He’s a really friendly guy with a grizzly gray beard and an unmatched enthusiasm for his produce. I asked him how he grew such sweet, large pluots (they’re the size of apples), and he says he leaves them on the tree until they’re ripe. They prune the trees so that the fruit ripens in phases — the top is ripe first, then the middle, then the bottom, giving them a few weeks’ worth of market sales out of the trees. When I tasted the Dapple Dandy and said I wanted to make jam, he got out a new box and helped me pick the best ones, sharing with me the tip that less ripe fruit has more pectin so sets better in jam, whereas riper fruit has less pectin and will make a runnier, but deeper-flavored, jam. I am now a loyal fan of Tory Farms
- How to store: Pluots continue to ripen once off the tree. Turn pluots upside down and leave them on the counter, out of the sun. When they reach the desired ripeness, store them unwrapped in the refrigerator up to three days. Tell the folks at the farm stand when you plan to eat them so they can help you choose the ones that will be at their peak at that time
- How to eat: Out of hand, best at room temperature; make jam (if it turns out well, I’ll share the recipe); make a pluot tart (which I must admit, I’ve never done as I never liked pluots until I found these)
White nectarines – These are only going to be available for the next 2 weeks
- What they are: I think self-explanatory, but they’re very sweet and best eaten the day of purchase or within 1-2 days
- Where to buy: Ferry Building market: Tory Farms (near the Gandhi statue)
- How to store: Nectarines also continue to ripen once off the tree. Turn nectarines upside down and leave them on the counter, out of the sun. Tell the folks at the farm stand when you plan to eat them so they can help you choose the ones that will be at their peak at that time
- How to eat: I like them crunchy, eaten out of hand, or cut up in a simple fruit salad — see my “recipe” here
Padron peppers – These may be nearing the end of their season too, so snap them up if you see them
- What they are: The 2-inch peppers originally from Spain are sweet and nutty, though there’s an occasional hot one
- Where to buy: Ferry Building market: Happy Quail Farms (which introduced the padron to California in 2001); Noe Valley market: Happy Boy Farms
- How to store: If you’re eating them the day you buy them, keep them on the counter, and wash them right before you cook them. If you’re not eating them for a couple of days, store them unwashed in the fridge
- How to eat: Typical preparation: wash and pat dry the padrons, heat oil in a frying pan until smoking, cook the padrons until they’re blistery and brown, then add salt and maybe red pepper (kind of like mini-pepper fries but better). They’re a great snack or “tapas” to eat before your meal. But, my favorite preparation are “kettle padrons” from The Inadvertent Gardener here — sweet, salty, and just plain scrumptious
- What they are: Heirlooms are considered to be a variety that has been passed down through several family generations because of its valued characteristics. However, due to the popularity of these funky-shaped, wonderfully-hued fruit, there are also commercial heirlooms, open-pollinated varieties that have been in circulation for at least 50 years
- Where to buy: Ferry Building market: Allstar Organics, Balakian Farms, Eatwell Farm, Heirloom Organics; Noe Valley market: Field of Greens
- How to store: Tomatoes will continue to ripen but lose flavor if you refrigerate them. Turn them upside down and leave them on the counter, out of the sun. Tell the folks at the farm stand when you plan to eat them so they can help you choose the ones that will be at their peak at that time
- How to eat: My two favorite ways to eat heirlooms are: (1) caprese salad — slice the tomatoes thickly, top with a thick slice of fresh mozzarella and a basil leaf, then sprinkle with sea salt and drizzle with olive oil; (2) tomato salad — chop tomatoes into big chunks and toss with small mozzarella balls and just a drizzle of balsamic vinegar
- What they are: We had these small, yellow-green beauties this past week, and they were very sweet, with tender skins and juicy insides. Unfortunately I didn’t get the variety, so if anyone knows, feel free to comment
- Where to buy: Ferry Building market: Twin Girls Farm; Noe Valley market: Twin Girls Farm (Twin Girls is one of my favorite fruit purveyors)
- How to store: In the fridge, unwashed, in a plastic bag. Wash right before eating
- How to eat: Out of hand as a snack
- Why to buy: Even though they’re not edible, they are gorgeous, so you may want to pick up a bunch or two to adorn your home, or as a host/hostess gift if you’re going to a friends’ Labor Day barbecue
- Where to buy: Ferry Building market: Thomas Farm
- How to keep: Dahlias will start wilting as soon as they’re out of water, so get them home fairly quickly if you can. Once home, snip off the bottom inch of the stems and put them in 2-3 inches of very hot water (i.e., kitchen faucet turned all the way to hot), which will perk them up and set the blooms so they last for 4-6 days
Enjoy your weekend! And let me know if this was at all helpful.
*Sorry, I haven’t yet had a chance to do reconnaissance on the Alemany farmers’ market, but I will soon!