Perhaps nothing says summer in the South better than a gloriously red tomato, sun-ripened to utter perfection. It is one of the truest, simplest joys of the season. And, when it comes to a good homegrown tomato, often the uglier, the better! The best ways to serve them are also the easiest – sliced with a splash of vinaigrette or, if you’re feeling fancy, topped with some shrimp or fresh crabmeat. Others opt for the now classic caprese, or Capri salad – lush tomatoes layered with fresh mozzarella cheese and tender basil leaves all drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Then, there’s the splendid simplicity of a traditional tomato sandwich, with a slick of good mayonnaise and a whisper of sea salt and freshly ground pepper on snowy, soft white bread.
Not so long ago, the only tomatoes available in stores were big and bland and often pink and mealy. Back then, even cherry tomatoes seemed rather cutting edge. Eventually, plum and roma tomatoes started showing up, and, in recent years, we’ve come full circle. We’re back to the full-flavored varieties that used to crop up, literally, in your neighbor’s yard or, better yet, your grandmother’s garden. Now, these “heirloom” tomatoes have become all the buzz, and consequently there is an array of tasty tomatoes to choose from in sundry shades and shapes.
In the March issue, in celebration of the upcoming season, we included seeds for heirloom tomatoes that we hope you planted and are preparing to enjoy. The recipes that follow are locals’ favorites, incorporating the fruit of the harvest.
DID YOU KNOW? The tomato is a fruit. It is a member of the Solanum family, which also includes the poisonous nightshade. Thus, for a long time, folks were afraid to eat tomatoes raw, fearing it was unsafe. It did not become popular to eat fresh uncooked tomatoes until the mid-19th century.
Edamame and Shrimp Salad in a Tomato Shell
Beth Morrissette is a vibrant community activist and fabulous foodie. This adaptation of her recipe is especially pretty served in a hollowed out tomato or atop tomato slices.
1 cup frozen shelled edamame
1 – 2 cups chopped cooked shrimp (Beth likes to sauté the shrimp in a little oil and garlic.)
1 cup canned cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 tablespoon minced jalapeños
4 large ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1. Cook edamame according to package directions. Drain. Rinse with cold water. Drain again.
2. Combine edamame, shrimp, cannellini beans, onion and jalapeño pepper. Refrigerate.
3. Meanwhile, using a serrated knife, cut the top 1/3 off each tomato.
4. Working over a colander set over a bowl, gently squeeze each tomato to remove as many seeds as possible. Then, scoop out the tomato flesh, being careful not to break the tomato shell.
5. Dice the removed tomato flesh. Add to the refrigerated edamame and shrimp mixture.
6. Combine cilantro and the remaining ingredients, stirring with a whisk. Drizzle over the edamame mixture, and toss gently to combine.
7. Cover mixture and tomato shells, and chill for several hours or overnight.
8. When ready to serve, sprinkle a little salt and pepper inside the tomato shells, then spoon the salad into each shell. Serve 4.
Gulf Coast Gazpacho
Fresh lump crabmeat or shrimp give this cold soup an extra bit of Gulf Coast flair.
3 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
6 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 red onion, finely diced
1 yellow bell pepper, finely diced
1 cup fresh tomato puree
2 – 3 tablespoons hot sauce (I prefer Cholula.)
2 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce
1/4 cup minced fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound lump crabmeat, if desired
1 pound shrimp, if desired
1. Combine all ingredients except the crabmeat, shrimp and grape tomatoes, stirring well.
2. Refrigerate for at least an hour. When ready to serve, top with lump crabmeat or shrimp, if desired. Serves 6.
Dave Trent, site director of Airbus Americas Engineering Center, and his wife, Michon, moved to Mobile from Southern California in 2006. Dave has perfected this ultra fresh salsa, which is divine served simply with chips or over grilled fish or chicken.
2 pints grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 small bunch green onions, chopped
1/2 bunch of cilantro, chopped
1 small jalapeño, chopped (Remove seeds, unless you want it hot!)
freshly ground pepper, to taste
pinch of sea salt, to taste
1. Toss all ingredients together. Let marinate for at least half an hour, preferably several hours. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
2. Give the salsa a light stir before serving with tortilla chips. Makes approximately 4 cups.
Simple Tomato Pie
The first lady of Mobile, Jean Stimpson, shares this recipe for her delectable tomato pie. Look back in MB’s April issue for her equally delicious West Indies Salad.
frozen pie shell
2 or 3 tomatoes, sliced
1/2 cup green onions
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
several basil leaves, torn
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Prebake pie shell according to package instructions.
2. Drain tomatoes on paper towels.
3. In the pie shell, make 2 layers of tomatoes, onions and herbs.
4. Mix mayonnaise and cheese. Spread over top of tomato layer.
5. Bake pie at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Serves 6.
Greek Tomato Spinach Strata
Dorothy Morrison of Spanish Fort is a lifelong hostess with an adventurous spirit. This Mediterranean-inspired combo makes a marvelous vegetarian main dish, a lavish side or something special for brunch.
1 (10-ounce) package chopped frozen spinach
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 pound small curd cottage cheese
3 – 4 tablespoons flour
1/2 stick butter, melted
1/4 pound Monterey Jack cheese, grated
1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled
2 large ripe tomatoes, sliced
Greek seasoning, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Prepare spinach according to package directions. Drain well.
3. In a large bowl, combine cooled spinach, eggs, cottage cheese, flour and butter.
4. Add cheeses, stir to combine. Pour into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
5. Cover the top with tomato slices. Drizzle tomatoes with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a bit of Greek seasoning. Bake for 1 hour. Serves 6 – 8.
text by Sallye Irvine • photos by ashley rowe