Friday, August 5, 2016

Gardeners' Holidays 2016: Tomato Festival

Due to schedule oddities, we're celebrating the August 1 gardeners' holiday a little late this year. And instead of celebrating it as Squashmas in honor of our zucchini, this year I'm calling it Tomato Festival. It's not that we don't have any zucchini; the squash vine borers did get to our plants as usual, but they haven't petered out yet, and we already have two good-sized squash in the vegetable drawer. But that's normal for this time of year. The tomato harvest, on the other hand, is really something to write home about.

Normally, as July melts into August, we're getting only a trickle of Sun Gold tomatoes and maybe a couple of other early ones. But apparently the peculiar weather we had this spring, which killed off our entire plum and cherry crop, very much agreed with the tomato plants. The tomatoes started appearing in late June, and since then they've been coming so fast and furious that we haven't really kept track of them all. But Brian estimates we've harvested at least two pounds of Sun Golds already, along with eight or nine Glaciers (an early, cold-resistant variety), about a dozen Black Princes, and a dozen or so Amish Paste.

This last variety is a plum tomato, the ideal kind for our favorite pasta dish, pasta à la Caprese. And since the garden is also producing plenty of basil and a few peppers, the other veggies that go into the same dish, a batch of this seemed like the ideal way to celebrate our tomato bounty. Also, as luck would have it, we had about a half-pound of fresh mozzarella cheese in the fridge, which we happened to find on sale on our last trip to the supermarket. Normally this stuff costs upwards of five bucks a pound, but this time we were able to get a pound of it for only $3—less than what we pay for the cheap shredded mozzarella from Aldi. So for once, we were able to make this dish with the good stuff.

Our recipe for this comes from The Clueless Vegetarian, our favorite vegetarian cookbook. The basic idea behind it is that you take the ingredients of a Caprese salad—fresh basil, tomatoes, mozzarella—and just toss it with hot pasta. The key, however, is that you have to prepare the sauce a good hour or so ahead of time. You mix together chopped tomatoes, chopped bell pepper, basil, garlic (the recipe calls for two cloves, but we use lots more), olive oil, salt, and pepper in a big bowl, and you let it stand at room temperature while the flavors get acquainted. An hour is the bare minimum for this step; you can leave it all day if you like, and the dish will only be the better for it.

Once the sauce is well commingled, you boil the pasta, drain it, and then quickly dump in the sauce and cheese and hastily toss it together. The still-hot pasta melts the cheese, which spreads throughout the dish as you stir. And the result is a-may-zing.

Of course, with no cherry crop this year, we won't be able to do much in the way of a home-grown dessert to go with it. But we do still have a loaf of last year's zucchini bread in the freezer, so maybe a slice of that would make a fitting close to our celebration.

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