Tag Archives: fruit

Got fresh tomatoes? A recipe for Summer’s End Tomato Tart

If you’re like me, you believe that a fresh, ripe tomato is one of the best things about summer. And this tart is an ode to the tomato in season — and a lesson about how to make the most of it.

Let’s start with how to choose the best tomatoes. First, pick up your candidate, smell the stem and confirm that it smells strongly like a tomato. Next, figure out if it is juicy by hefting it. You want a heavy tomato; if it’s heavy, it’s juicy.

On the chance that you buy more tomatoes than you plan to eat right away, store the extras on a counter away from the sunlight. Do not put them on a sunny windowsill, which can make them rot. Likewise, don’t put them in the refrigerator, which can kill their flavor if they’re not already ripe and make them mealy after a few days.

If you bought a few tomatoes that weren’t quite ripe and you want to speed up the process, put them in a brown paper bag with a banana. The ethylene gas given off by both the tomatoes and the banana will do the trick.

Do not seed the tomatoes. Once upon a time we routinely seeded them, a nod to the French ideal of finesse, which decreed that seeds were crude. Years later, I read a story in Cook’s Illustrated magazine that persuaded me that discarding the seeds is a mistake. Apparently, the seeds and the jelly surrounding them are the most flavorful parts of the tomato. And — bonus! — you save a bunch of prep time when you don’t bother to remove the seeds.

One of the main reasons we love tomatoes in season is because they’re so juicy. That’s great when we eat them raw, not so great when we’re making a tomato pie. How to keep juicy tomatoes from turning that pie into a watery mess? By slicing and salting them ahead of time. The salt delivers a one-two punch, draining the tomato of its excess liquid and concentrating its natural flavors.

Though tomatoes are terrific all by themselves, they also get along famously with a cornucopia of other ingredients, starting with virtually every herb under the sun and moving on to just about any cheese you care to name. This recipe calls for Gruyere, but you’re welcome to swap in sharp cheddar, mozzarella or even feta. Point is, feel free to experiment with different herbs and cheeses that melt. Make this recipe your own.

Tomatoes are so meaty and satisfying that I’m sure everyone _ even die-hard carnivores _ will be happy to see a slice or two of this pie set down for lunch, maybe with a simple green salad on the side. And picnickers take note: This tart happens to be as scrumptious served at room temperature as it is hot right out of the oven.

SUMMER’S END TOMATO TART

Start to finish: 2 hours 55 minutes (30 minutes active)

Servings: 8

All-purpose flour, for rolling out the dough

1 pie dough (recipe below) or 12 ounces store-bought pie dough

1 1/2 pounds large tomatoes

Kosher salt

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 1/2 cups coarsely grated Gruyere cheese

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely minced

1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as mint, basil, thyme, chives, tarragon or a mix

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pie dough until 1/8 inch thick. Transfer the dough to a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, easing the dough into the pan and pressing it into the corners. Trim off any excess dough hanging over the edge. Prick the dough all over with a fork, then chill it for 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 375 F.

Line the pie shell with foil and fill it with pie weights, dried beans or rice. Bake in the lower third of the oven until it is opaque throughout, about 25 minutes. Carefully remove the weights and foil. Return the shell to the oven and bake until light golden, about another 8 minutes. Transfer the tart shell to a rack and let it cool 15 minutes.

While the tart shell is baking, slice the tomatoes 1/3 inch thick, sprinkle them liberally with salt, then arrange them on a wire rack to drain over the sink or a rimmed baking sheet.

Increase the oven temperature to 400 F. Spread the mustard evenly over the bottom of the tart shell, then sprinkle the cheese over it. Pat the tomatoes dry and arrange them over the cheese in one overlapping layer. Bake on the oven’s middle shelf until the pastry is golden brown and the tomatoes are very soft, 35 to 40 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir together the olive oil, garlic and herbs. Sprinkle the pie with this mixture while it is still hot, spreading the mixture gently with the back of a spoon. Serve the pie hot or at room temperature.

Nutrition information per serving: 370 calories; 230 calories from fat (62 percent of total calories); 26 g fat (14 g saturated; 0.5 g trans fats); 60 mg cholesterol; 570 mg sodium; 24 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 9 g protein.

PIE DOUGH

Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes (15 minutes active)

Make 1 batch pie dough

1 1/2 cups (6.4 ounces) all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon table salt

10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 to 4 tablespoons ice water

In a large bowl, stir together the flour and the salt. Add the butter and, working quickly, use your fingertips or a pastry blender to mix the dough until most of mixture resembles coarse meal, with the rest in small (roughly pea-size) lumps. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of ice water evenly over the mixture and use a fork to gently stir until incorporated.

Gently squeeze a small handful of the dough. It should hold together without crumbling apart. If it doesn’t, add more ice water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring 2 or 3 times after each addition until it comes together. Be careful: If you overwork the mixture or add too much water the pastry will be tough.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface. With the heel of your hand, smear in a forward motion on the work surface to help distribute the fat. Gather the smeared dough together and form it, rotating it on the work surface, into a disk. Wrap the disk in plastic, then chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

1st GMO apples approved for sale in U.S.

What would Johnny Appleseed do?

The USDA this month deregulated two genetically engineered apples, allowing Canada-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits, which developed the Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny Smith, to move forward with commercial production in the United States.

Orchard growers in the United States must now decide whether they want to plant trees that will produce apples engineered to resist browning and bruising. And consumers must decide whether “GMO” tarnishes the appeal of the golden delicious.

Already, a broad coalition of food safety groups, independent farmers, politicians, consumer advocates and environmentalists are opposing the USDA decision, maintaining that the government doesn’t know enough about the impact of an Arctic apple a day on human health.

“There is no place in the U.S. or global market for genetically engineered apples,” said Lisa Archer, food and technology program director of Friends of the Earth. “Farmers don’t want to grow it, food companies don’t want to sell it and consumers don’t want to eat it.”

The Arctic apples were the focus of review by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Healthy Inspection Service, which said in February that the fruits are unlikely to pose risk to crops or other plants and not likely to have a significant impact on the human environment.

Okanagan president and founder Neal Carter called the decision “the biggest milestone yet for us.”

Carter, noting that apple trees take several years to produce significant quantities of fruit, said the first Arctic apples will be available in test markets in late 2016.

To create the apples, Okanagan employed gene silencing and essentially shut off the enzyme that initiates the browning process when an apple gets “injured” — bruised, cut or bitten.

On a FAQ page on its website, Okanagan says, “No frankenfood here, folks — just apples.”

Carter said, “All we’ve done is reduce the expression of a single enzyme. There are no novel proteins in Arctic fruit and their nutrition and composition is equivalent to their conventional counterparts.”

But he hasn’t convinced Archer to take a bite. “We will keep working to ensure that the market — from grocery retailers to baby food companies — continues to listen to the majority of consumers who don’t want to eat this and other new, genetically engineered foods that are inadequately studied or unlabeled.”

Friends of the Earth said RNA interference (RNAi), the technique used to engineer the Arctic apples, is experimental and could have unintended impacts on people and the environment.

Other concerns from growing associations and horticulture councils: non-browning apples might look fresh but in fact be decaying, gene silencing in apples may be imprecise, GMO crops may contaminate conventional and organic crops and that natural browning enzyme may help fight disease and pests.

“We are concerned that USDA’s safety evaluation of this apple was inadequate, particularly with regard to the health and environmental implications of this particular RNAi technology,” said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at the Consumers Union.

Tomayto, tomahto: Either way it’s a nutritious summer treat

Let’s make one thing clear. A tomato, despite its uses, is botanically a fruit — specifically an ovary, together with its seeds, of a flowering plant.

However, a tomato has far less sugar than any other fruit, making it less suitable for all those tasty usages to which fruit is put. Yes, there are green tomato pies, but would you ever dollop chopped tomato over vanilla ice cream? 

Still, tomato — or “tomahto,” if you prefer the British pronunciation — is one of the botanical and culinary joys of late summer. Our garden is ready to burst with this year’s heirloom varieties, and we can’t wait to get them on our plates.

We’re waiting patiently for our Big Rainbow heirloom beefsteak variety, its yellow flesh mottled with red, to be sliced and served drizzled with olive oil and fresh basil as a succulent appetizer. Our Lemon Boys will be quartered and chunked into salads, adding their delightful flavor and colorful contrast to succulent Bibb lettuce and peppery arugula.

As to the remaining heirloom cultivars — Chocolate Cherry, Cherokee Purple and Black Krim — their colors and flavor variations will also delight us. Our garden also is home to cantaloupe, cucumber, eggplant, and both black and pimento peppers; but it’s clear that our rubyfruit jungle of tomato varieties will always be the anchor tenant.

Tomatoes, like potatoes, originated in South America’s Andes Mountains. The plant takes its name from the Nahuatl word tomatotl, and records show that by 500 B.C. tomatoes were being cultivated in Mexico. 

Although European colonists first thought tomatoes, a member of the deadly nightshade family, to be poisonous, conquistador Hernán Cortés was recorded to have taken some small yellow tomatoes to Europe in 1521. There is also evidence that Christopher Columbus may have introduced tomatoes to Spain as early as 1499.

Tomatoes are considered among the world’s healthiest foods. They’re an excellent source of the antioxidant lycopene, vitamins C and K, and a host of minerals and other nutrients. 

Our dish of sliced Big Rainbow tomatoes is, in fact, one of the healthier serving options, because olive oil helps increase the body’s absorbance of lycopene, a naturally occurring compound that has been linked to a reduced risk for cancer, heart disease and age-related eye disorders. Add a little oregano, some buffalo mozzarella cheese and dashes of pepper and sea salt and you have an insalata Caprese, one of the most popular summer salads.

Tomatoes offer nutrition and flavor without a lot of calories: A cup of chopped raw tomatoes contains only 32.

Tomatoes are delightful both raw and cooked. Here are several tasty ways to use your summer harvest.

For more tomato recipes, visit
www.wisconsingazette.com

Watermelon-peach salsa and tomatoes

If you like your summer dishes sweet and hot and your tomatoes raw, this salsa may be just the thing to get your taste buds tingling. You’ll need:

Ingredients

½ cup hot pepper jelly

1 tbsp. lime zest

¼ cup fresh lime juice

2 cups seeded and diced fresh watermelon 

1 cup peeled and diced fresh peaches 

1 cup chopped fresh basil

¼ cup chopped fresh chives

3 cups baby heirloom tomatoes, halved

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Garnish: fresh basil sprigs

Directions

Whisk together pepper jelly, lime zest and lime juice in a bowl, then stir in watermelon, peaches, basil and chives. Season halved baby tomatoes with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and spoon into cocktail glasses. Top with salsa and garnish with basil sprigs.

Grilled tomatoes with basil vinaigrette

Many foods are grillable, but few fare as well as tomatoes. Here’s how to make the most of those lovely little orbs over red-hot coals. You’ll need:

Ingredients

3 yellow tomatoes

3 red tomatoes 

3 tbsp. olive oil, divided

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper

2 tsps. white balsamic vinegar

2 tbsps. chopped fresh basil

Garnish: fresh basil sprigs

Directions

Cut tomatoes in half and thread onto skewers, alternating colors. Brush with 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat (300 degrees to 350 degrees) for 10 minutes, turning skewers often. Combine remaining 2 tablespoons oil, vinegar and basil and drizzle over kabobs. Garnish, if desired.

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Gardening: Native plants offer fruit, beauty

More and more gardens are going native these days. Butterfly weeds are edging out delphiniums, clethra is hobnobbing with flowering dogwood, and sunflower is strutting like a prima donna.

Fruit plantings, though, are stalled in the past, with many people still planting apples, peaches or pears — all non-natives.

Yet native fruits are worth planting even if they are less familiar. Many are highly resistant to pests, which is more than can be said for apples, peaches and the like. In addition to distinctive and delectable flavors, some native fruits also are borne on handsome plants that can mingle in the landscape with other ornamentals.

Let’s foray out into the American wilderness and look at a sampling of such delectables (also covered in my book “Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden,” Timber Press, 2008).

FRUIT TREES GO NATIVE

Why not start with trees, with American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)? This native lives up to its botanical name, meaning “food of the gods,” only if you choose one known to bear tasty fruits and can ripen them within your growing season. The best are something like a dried apricot that’s been soaked in water, dipped in honey and then given a dash of spice.

In the northernmost growing regions (into USDA Zone 4) or in coastal areas where summers stay cool, good choices are Szukis, Mohler, Yates and Dooley. In hot-summer areas and further south, choose from a slew of good varieties, including Early Golden, John Rick and Garretson. None of these varieties need another tree for cross-pollination, and all are draped throughout summer in languorous, slightly bluish leaves that, in autumn, turn a rich, golden yellow. With some varieties, the orange fruits cling to branches long after leaves drop, decorating the bare limbs like Christmas ornaments.

Mulberry (Morus rubra) is a native that perhaps would be more loved if it were more difficult to grow. (We also have non-native mulberries, and their hybrids with our natives — all delicious.)

This familiar fruit resembles a blackberry in shape, but ranges in color from deep black to red to lavender to pure white. Fruits on wild trees usually are cloying, appealing mostly to children. Illinois Everbearing and Oscar are among the best varieties — to adults — for their refreshing dash of tartness.

Mulberry leafs out late and fall color is inconsequential, so it is in summer that the tree comes into its own as an ornamental. Some weeping forms also bear fruit.

Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a native tree with tropical aspirations. With large, drooping, lush leaves that resemble those of avocado, this is not the sort of plant you would expect to find in woodlands of the eastern U.S. It does have botanical connections with the tropics, being the northernmost member of the Custard Apple family, which includes such delicacies as the cherimoya and soursop.

Pawpaw sheds some of its tropical airs in the fall, when its leaves turn a clear yellow. The fruits, though, carry on the tropical theme. They are the size and shape of mangos and ripen in clusters like bananas. Inside, the fruit is creamy and tastes much like banana, with hints of pineapple, avocado, vanilla and mango.

Plant two different varieties for cross-pollination (and fruit from each).

Juneberry (Amerlanchier spp.), also known as serviceberry or shadblow, is a native tree more often planted as an ornamental than for its fruit. Early spring brings clouds of white or reddish blossoms; fall ignites the leaves in purples, oranges, and yellows; and the plants continue to earn their keep through winter with neat form and striped, gray bark.

The fruits look like blueberries but have a unique flavor that is sweet and juicy, with the richness of sweet cherries and a hint of almond.

FRUIT BUSHES GO NATIVE

If you are looking for a native, fruiting bush rather than a tree, you might again turn to juneberry. Bushy juneberries have the same qualities as the trees do, except that they are more multi-stemmed and shrubby.

And speaking of fruits that look like blueberries, let’s segue over to the real thing. Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum and V. asheii) would undoubtedly be planted as ornamentals if they were not so valued for their fruits. Clusters of blossoms dangle from the stems like dainty, white bells in spring, and the leaves turn a fiery red in autumn. Even in winter, blueberry’s red stems add welcome color to the landscape, especially against a snowy backdrop.

The secret to success with blueberries is a soil low in fertility, rich in humus and very acidic.

A blueberry relative also ideal as a native fruit is lingonberry (V. vitis-idaea). This half-foot-high plant sports evergreen leaves as lustrous as those of holly and as dainty as mouse ears.

In spring and again in summer, flowers dangle from lingonberry stems like rosy white urns. Lingonberry requires the same soil conditions as blueberry, and in fact grows well in a bed with lowbush blueberry (V. angustifolium).

Both spread to create an edible groundcover; they are as happy together in a garden bed as their fruits are in a jar of jam.

Perhaps the star performer among native plants offering beauty and good flavor is a relatively unknown currant, the clove currant (Ribes odoratum). At the turn of the 19th century, it was a common dooryard shrub whose large, yellow flowers would waft spicy fragrance indoors.

Clove currant is a tough plant, able to laugh off drought, heat and cold, as well as insects and diseases, deer and birds. The shiny, blue-black berries are aromatic, fairly large and have a sweet-tart flavor.

Wisconsin’s top fruit comes out for the holidays

As America’s foremost gustatory holiday, Thanksgiving brings with it expectations of special celebratory foods. Topping the list is – or should be – the lowly cranberry. Even if we grew up staring with morbid curiosity as our parents plopped those quivering, blood red, gelatinous cylinders from cans onto plates, we’ve gradually learned to appreciate this strange fruit.

In Wisconsin, the cranberry holds special stature. In fact, it’s the state’s top fruit crop. We Badgers produce nearly 60 percent of all the cranberries grown in the United States, surpassing the output from runners-up Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington combined.

In 2004, the cranberry was named the state fruit, and the 2011 yield is expected to surpass 430 million pounds, or 26 cranberries for every man, woman and child on the planet, according to the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, based in Wisconsin Rapids.

“Wisconsin has an abundance of the right combination of conditions you need to grow cranberries,” says Tom Lochner, WSCGA’s executive director. “We have plentiful water, the right soil and weather conditions and a tradition of growing and cultivating cranberries.”

Scientifically speaking, cranberries are produced by a group of evergreen dwarf shrubs of the genus “oxycoccus.” While that might sound like a social disease, it’s actually a relative of the blueberry. Cranberries grow on low trailing vines and favor sandy, acidic soil. The plant’s bright pink flower and stem configuration was thought by early North American settlers to resemble the head and neck of a Sandhill Crane, initially earning the tart fruit the name “crane berry.” The name was later shortened.

Cranberries were first cultivated in the Wisconsin territory in the 1830s. The crop now accounts for major agricultural activity in 20 central and northern Wisconsin counties. The vines grow on an aggregate 180,000 acres of wetlands, the harvestable areas of which are flooded with up to 8 inches of water each fall during harvest season. The fruit floats to the top and mechanized harvesters automatically separate it from the vines. 

Despite the difficult financial times, Wisconsin’s cranberry crop still contributes $300 million annually to the state economy and accounts for 3,400 jobs.

“The sweet dried cranberries – Ocean Spray calls them ‘Craisins’ – have allowed local growers to really open up overseas markets,” Lochner says. “Ten to 15 years ago, roughly 5 percent of out total output was exported. That number is now 30 percent.”

The economic impact of the cranberry aside, there are still more reasons to recommend Wisconsin’s top crop for the Thanksgiving table. Cranberries have been designated a “super food” because of the vitamins and nutrients packed into each little berry. The fruit also offers significant health benefits, according to information gathered from various studies by the Carver, Mass.-based Cranberry Institute.

Diets supplemented by cranberries have been connected to a lower incidence of tumor development among breast cancer patients. Cranberries also can help protect the brain from neural damage caused by the release of free radicals that can lead to motor or cognitive function loss. A component in cranberry juice can inhibit production of certain oral bacteria that can lead to dental plaque and periodontal disease.

In addition, cranberries are good for your heart, producing flavonoids and polyphenolic compounds that are a potent antioxidant and aid in the prevention of atherosclerosis. A compound found in cranberry juice combats the bacteria responsible for the formation of peptic ulcers. There is even evidence to show that cranberry juice can contribute to the prevention of urinary tract infections.

And, if all that weren’t benefit enough, cranberries are finding their way into cosmetics, thanks to their vivid natural color and healthy characteristics. A growing number of commercially produced natural exfoliants contain cranberries, largely for their anti-microbial qualities that are especially good for use on mature and sensitive skin. 

But the fruit’s biggest draw is still that tart, vivid flavor that provides a sharp Thanksgiving table contrast to roast turkeys, thick gravies and other seasonal goodies, Lochner says.

“Public appreciation for cranberries has increased over time,” he says. “It’s true that some of that has to do with health benefits, but these days we’re all consuming a lot of cranberries.”

For more information and some innovative cranberry recipes, visit www.wiscran.org.