Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tomato: A Fresh-from-the-Vine Cookbook

Tomato: A Fresh-from-the-Vine Cookbook
Publisher: Storey Publishing (2010)

When it comes to produce at it's prime, Summer means one thing and one thing only: tomatoes. It's hard to argue that anything tastes better than a fresh, sun-kissed beefsteak or handful of cherry tomatoes sliced onto toast, tossed with a simple salad or simply fresh off the vine. However, if you have ever grown tomato plants yourself, you know the inevitable glut that comes near the middle of August when you just can't think of another way to use them. Meeting this need for late-season (or any time) inspiration is Lawrence Davis-Hollander, founder of the Eastern Native Seed Conservancy and Director of Horticulture at the Berkshire Botanical Gardens, with his latest book Tomato: A Fresh-from-the-Vine Cookbook.

Tomato is packed with 150 recipes from all over the globe, including those from famous chefs like Massimo Capra (of Toronto's Mistura), Daniel Boulud and Rick Bayless. Every course is incorporated into the pages - sauces & salsas, starters, soups, salads, pizzas & sandwiches, vegetable mains, meat and fish mains, sides and even desserts like the strangely appetizing Candied-Tomato Tart with Five-Spiced Hazelnut Crust (p. 220). Davis-Hollander even includes a critical chapter of preserves (p. 227), with information on freezing, drying, juicing, pickling, canning and even confiting your harvest for the long winter ahead. Ideas for using your preserved (or storebought canned) tomatoes are also entwined with the book's recipe collection, from a Sun-Dried Tomato and Olive Bread (p. 132) (which coincidentally goes wonderfully with the Green Tomatoes on Toast on the next page) to canned diced tomatoes in Tomato, Lentil and Almond Soup (p. 86) and the juice (of course) in the Bloody Bull (p. 65) and Spicy Tomato Cocktail (p. 66). A guide to saving tomato seeds to plant next year is also included on page 259.
Confit Tomatoes (p. 251)

Mouthwatering photography in this book is provided by Sabra Krock - I just wish there was more of it, and incorporated into the flow of the book itself. As a reader I look for photos accompanying the recipes, and while I appreciate the inclusion of photos at all, searching for an example of a stellar-sounding dish in only 8 pages is often a letdown.

The recipes in Tomato themselves are generally nothing short of spectacular - I have made the Confit Tomatoes (p. 251) three times this season, and packed some home-dried cherry tomatoes in olive oil (p. 250) for holiday gift giving. The beginning and end of the season (when the tomatoes in our backyard were not quite at their peak ripeness) saw impromptu half- and quarter-batches of the Roasted Heirloom Tomato Sauce (p. 20), which capitalized on the available sugars in the fruit but was too sweet for our palates. Luckily, modifying the acidity and salt is a simple technique for any cook, and when the basic recipe is as foolproof as this Market Kitchen offering I even ventured to roast the onions and garlic as well. This modification proved to be a great boon to the outcome, adding a slightly bitter edge to the candy-sweet tomatoes, and a kiss of lemon juice with a dash of salt rounded out the flavours.

Roasted Heirloom Tomato Sauce (p. 20)
For those less inclined to fire up the oven or stove who enjoy absorbing a wealth of food knowledge, Tomato is also filled with information on the crop's heirloom varieties (p. 253, as well as throughout), growing in containers (p. 7), choosing the best variety for the recipe (p. 9) and even the economics of the food and it's associated products. I loved reading the article "America's Love Affair with Tomatoes" (p. 69), where I learned that almost 22 pounds of fresh (and 72 pounds of processed) tomatoes are consumed per capita in the USA, but that China, not a western country, is the largest producer of them! For the truly tomato-crazy, Davis-Hollander shares some of the festivals around the USA, and for those interested in the chefs behind some of Tomato's recipes, biographies are included near their offerings.  "Top 10" lists of various foodie's favourite varieties also lace the book, which is a great resource when selecting a cultivar to plant or buy.

While the season in the northern hemisphere may be drawing to a close, the treats and information in Lawrence Davis-Hollander's book are timeless. Whether you are looking for a use-up for an over-productive garden, trying to jazz up a can from the store or searching for ideas as to what next year's crop will be, you'll find something of use. For tomato lovers (and those who cook for them) Tomato: A Fresh-from-the-Vine Cookbook is an easy to savour addition to the culinary library.

No comments: