tomato tarragon gazpacho

This recipe is one of my summer staples, taken long ago from somewhere, maybe Bon Appetit?, back when I still read print magazines.  It’s a thinly modified and pureed recipe from someone’s Andalusian grandmother, who adds tarragon to the local speciality when she serves it to guests at her restaurant.

What can I say about gazpacho?  It’s a sipping soup, refreshing on a hot day when you’re too weary and sticky to even face the kitchen.  It keeps in the fridge for days, becoming more pungent with garlic as it sits, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  It’s great served in little glasses as a party appetizer for your last summer barbecue, too.  Gazpacho, with its green herbal notes, musky cucumber and sweet pepper, freshening up the elixir known to man as sun-ripe tomato juice, rejuvenates the very soul.

Gazpacho is the reason I grow cucumbers and peppers to go with my tomatoes, because there is simply nothing like gazpacho made fresh from the vine.   If you don’t have these items in your garden, hop over to the farmer’s market, where tomatoes are a-plenty, and buy some big, acidic, ruby red slicers.  Ask the farmer which ones fit the bill, especially this year.  Pick up some fresh tarragon — you won’t regret it.  As for the rest of the ingredients, well, you can fudge.  I made due with a good red wine vinegar for years, until I was seduced by a grossly expensive bottle of sherry vinegar at the Spanish import store in Berkeley.  The sherry vinegar makes it.  Honestly.  It’s one of the only condiments I have *just* for one dish.

I like the texture of pureed gazpacho studded with pristine cubed vegetables as a garnish, but many people like to keep it chunky and skip the garnish step.  If you’re really fancy, you can food mill it, which makes the texture silky and gorgeous on the tongue.  In any case, serve with croutons or some sort of bread, ye carb-deprived be damned.

We have a couple more hot days ahead of us, Eugeniuses, so get crackin’ on some cool soup!

Tomato Tarragon Gazpacho

Serves: 6 as an appetizer

2 pounds slicer tomatoes of premium quality
2 large red bell peppers
6-8 pickling cucumbers, unpeeled
2 large garlic cloves
2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar, or substitute 1 T. good red wine vinegar and 1 T. good balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 baguette, day-old, cubed
1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon leaves
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

Place bread cubes in small bowl and cover with water or the juice of a third tomato, mashed up, if you have some to spare, and a bit of salt. Allow to soak for at least 10 minutes.

For extra flavor, char the skin of the tomatoes and bell peppers. You can do this in a few ways. I generally just use metal tongs and my gas stove burner turned up on high. You can place the peppers directly on top of the burner grate, and turn them every minute or so, until they are charred on all sides. You MUST watch them carefully. The tomatoes are more delicate, but you can do the same process; I usually roast them just until they are charred in places but still raw inside.  Or, even better, have your gracious partner grill them on the Weber while you are chopping veggies.

Let peppers rest and steam in a brown paper bag or covered dish while you chop the tomatoes and cucumbers. I don’t bother slipping the skin off the tomatoes, but you can if you like. Add tomatoes and juice to large bowl.

Chop cucumbers finely; add to HALF to bowl with salt and pepper, HALF to small bowl to reserve as garnish. Finely chop garlic and stir into tomato mixture with cucumbers, tarragon, vinegar, and oil.

Carefully slit the peppers and pour the juice into the bowl. Peel the charred skin off the peppers and remove the seeds, stem and ribs. You may rinse off the pepper, but it will remove some of the smoky remnants. Chop peppers finely and add HALF to bowl, HALF to another small bowl to reserve as garnish.

Drain bread, without squeezing out excess liquid. Mix into bowl with rest of ingredients.

Let mixture sit four to eight hours in the refrigerator to let flavors meld. Leave yourself a couple of hours before serving, because you will need to puree the soup and chill it again.

In a food processor purée the mixture, in batches if necessary, and return to bowl. Chill gazpacho, covered, for an hour or so.

Serve with reserved cucumber and roasted red pepper. You may also garnish with chopped bell pepper, a tiny bit of chopped jalapeno, chopped hard boiled eggs, avocado, and freshly made croutons, if you are adept at such things. Maybe not authentic, but delicious.

couteau bonswan’s blackberry pie

People always ask me how to make a blackberry pie.  Actually, no one has ever asked me.  But if they did, without hesitation, I’d give them the recipe at the top of this page, which is the best blackberry pie I’ve had.  Couteau Bonswan is a food blogger who has moved on to other pastures, apparently, but someone needs to spread the word that her pie lives on.  I’m pasting it here as a quote in case I lose the link again, ‘cuz it doesn’t want to come up in searches for me.  Hope you don’t mind, Couteau!

I haven’t tried her other recipe for a blackberry custard pie, but it it’s half as good as this one, I sure will.

Couteau Bonswan’s Blackberry Pie

4.5 cups blackberries
.5 cup water
2 tbs cornstarch
1 cup sugar

Mash 1.5 cups of berries with a fork. Add .5 cup of water and cook until warm. Mix 2 tbs. cornstarch with 1 cup sugar. Add to berry mixture and cook until thick. Cool partly.

Put 3 cups of berries in cooled pie shell. Pour above mixture over top and stir around a bit to distribute throughout. Chill.

Top with whipped cream (optional).

tomato jamboree

I’ve been preparing for the upcoming tomato preservation class, buried in 25 pounds of tomatoes, boning up on mah skillz.  I’ll be running the drying workshop — I was the understudy, and the star can’t take the stage!

Tomatoes are easy to dry, but you have quite a few choices when it comes to the type of fresh tomato and the end result.  Cherry tomatoes turn into little raisins packed full of sweet tomato oomph.  Large slicers yield wafer-thin, lovely tomato wafers great for snacking and dips.  Today, I tried several varieties of dried plum tomatoes: plain, basil and oregano from my garden, Penzey’s Italian herbs (with fennel a predominant flavor), and my homemade celery salt.

The tomatoes, once dried, can be turned into dried tomato oil and homemade tomato mustard, both recipes we’ll discuss and sample at the class.  I also plan to have demo samples of what can go wrong:  overdried and underdried tomatoes.  And that would be because I am an expert at that!

Crazy drunk on tomatoes, I also put up 5 quarts of crushed tomatoes and 9 pints of salsa today.  It took me the entire day, and now, I have luscious, lovely tomatoes to last through the winter.

And now, with tomato juice and little seeds spurted from one end of the kitchen to the other, I’m also even more excited by the class.  There are still openings, and if you’re in Eugene or thereabouts, please consider coming by for the day.  We could sure use your support, and you won’t regret it.  One of the best teachers I’ve ever had, Nellie Oehler, who has run the Master Food Preserver program for over 25 years, will be teaching the class, along with a big cadre of volunteers, and her tips  alone will guarantee you’ll get your money’s worth.

As a reminder, here is the announcement for the tomato class.  See you there!

On September 20, the Lane County Extension Master Food Preserver Program will be offering a day-long (9:30-3 pm) fundraising class on preserving the gorgeous tomatoes that are now ready in our gardens and markets.  We’ll taste-test the best local tomato varieties and sample many other kinds of tomato preparations.  All participants will get hands-on training in how to preserve your garden bounty by drying, canning, and freezing.  We’ll be demonstrating salsa making and many ways to use up your green tomatoes, too.   The class will held at the Extension office next to the Fairgrounds on W. 13th in Eugene.  Early registration is $40 a person, $75 for couples, and at-the-door is $50 a person.  Spaces are filling up, so please call 541-682-4246 to register soon!

of corn and distraction

In the sweet, rich depths of late summer in the Willamette Valley, no one wants to do anything but laze around the campfire.  I’m even too distracted to go camping, distracted by how achingly lovely the harvest is, the air feels, the sun shines.  OK, this might be because I just spent several weeks pounding away at my keyboard inside, but it could just as easily be the reality of school starting or the sharpness of the morning or…see, I’m not even making sense.

Virginia Woolf once wrote about the unique potential of illness to stir up wonderful fancies in the imagination.  When we’re sick and feverish, the mind roams and wanders down the strangest corridors, stopping to smell the flour or see the ee’s through the trees. She wrote about how reading becomes more like associative dreaming, and sentences morph and fade away into

To wit: I almost burned down the house last night, having turned on a kettle full of corn to blanch it for freezing, then, thinking of the caramel flavor of Meadowfoam honey in the dozen half-pints of Willamette Valley dark fruit jam I had put up that evening, I carefully shut down the back of the house, locked the doors, turned off the light, said goodnight to my husband, enrobed myself with a kitty, and shut my eyes.

I’m not even sick.

About 30 minutes later, he found the corn with a cry, and I’m in trouble, and I deserve it, and the corn’s wrinkly and was it ruined?  I wanted to freeze it.  I wonder if it would plump up in the freezer.  Or corn chowder, I forgot, does he like corn chowder?  And I made a salmon chowder last year with corn that was deeeelish…or corn salsa, that kind they used to sell at the old Berkeley Bowl back in the day.  They’d sample it on weekends.  I’d buy a pint and eat almost the entire thing immediately upon returning home.

Home sweet home, and sweet corn, triple-sweet.  The corn this year, my friends, is not pretty.  I went through dozens of ears at several different farm stands yesterday, looking for solid ears, and *every single one of them* was wormy.  I’ve never seen corn this infested.  I got tired of sinking my fingers into mush, so I gave up, distracted, several times before convincing myself I needed to try the Triple-sweet variety at Deterings.  I managed to find five good ears before ruining them worse than a worm on a rampage.

And I can’t forget to pick up the dehydrator on my way back from Corvallis for the chanterelles.  A big bag.  $10 a pound!  And more pickles and sauerkraut, the king of the summer, king corn, king of the mountain, yes i said yes i will Yes.

molten grilled tomatoes

Howdy, pardners.  I’m just going to keep the tomato recipes a-comin’.  And a few more on pickles, which I am pondering.  The beef jerky, which has been waiting for a month, will have to continue to wait.  It’s shelf-stable.

I’m so in love with the late summer Willamette Valley, but it’s been a tough, mostly indoor summer for me, so it’s more like unrequited love.  But surfacing this weekend reminded me how gorgeous the produce is, and how you really can thrive on meaty, acidic, juicy, deep red tomatoes for weeks.  I’ve been eating sliced Willamette tomato salads for dinner, comprised of um, tomatoes.  And salt.  Today, I branched out a bit because Retrogrouch is back and made a cherry tomato and herb salad with a very tiny bit of sherry vinaigrette.

But I digress.

These molten tomatoes are a family recipe, a summer BBQ recipe invented by my dad and modified by me.  It’s messy, sticky sweet, and oozy, so it’s not really fancy cocktail food, but who wants fancy cocktail food in the dog days of summer? His recipe is terrific, even with the parmesan in the green can (which I confess we use when we’re camping and don’t feel like grating cheese), but it’s even better with parmesano reggiano. It’s even good with sub-par tomatoes. You can omit the butter and red pepper flakes, but they do add an important dimension of flavor.

It’s critical to use good-quality foil so the boats don’t fall apart. Lots of liquid will be inside the packet. What’s particularly nice is that these tomatoes go well with any kind of meat, and their juiciness helps dry cuts like chicken breasts.

Molten Grilled Tomatoes

Serves: 2-4 (one or two tomatoes per person)

  • 4 medium-sized, perfectly ripe, round, meaty tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese (fresh is best)
  • 1 T. butter, cubed into four pieces
  • 1-2 T. honey
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • red pepper flakes

Make foil packet: Using a wide bowl, mold the foil to the bowl, leaving plenty up top to seal the packet. The bowl will provide shape and structure, as well as assist in moving the tomatoes to the grill.

Slice tops off tomatoes and score tomatoes, cutting a checkerboard pattern about halfway down (don’t cut through bottom). Place tomatoes in foil packet. Sprinkle tomatoes with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste, then add a blob (maybe 1/2 t.?) honey on top of each tomato. Mound grated parmesan cheese on top of each tomato about 1 inch high, then place pat of butter on each mound. Seal foil packet and grill over medium fire, enough to carmelize the bottom but not enough to burn, for about 30 minutes. Serve with bread.


The picture to the left is a variation using yellow plum tomatoes from my garden last year that were a bit too mealy to eat out-of-hand. You can easily use roma tomatoes, halved (allow for a few more per person). I added thinly sliced red peppers and basil before grilling. Probably better to add the basil after grilling, since it turned brown.

something fishy

I’ve been grinding away at a big deadline for the past few weeks, but I did have a chance to can tuna for the first time, good Oregon albacore, a couple of weeks ago.  It is delicious, a bit stronger in flavor (“oh, you mean it doesn’t taste like catfood” – Anonymous MFP) than normal tuna, and it’s fabulous in tuna salad.

Apparently, there will be a late run on albacore this year, so if you do decide to pressure-can tuna, please give the Master Food Preservers a call on our hotline (listed to the right on this page) if you have any questions.  I think I had four the other day, and since tuna is such a long, expensive process with safety issues, they were worth it to the callers, I’m sure.

On another fishy note, I’m going to the coast tomorrow to save my husband from broken glasses on his bike trip.  It’s the first time I’ve been away from my life of drudgery in Eugene for weeks and weeks.  Well, ok, I did go to Ikea.  But still.  I’m feelin’ an overdue of naughti-cal and beachy.  Anchors away!

roasted tomato sauce for losers

My paste tomatoes (Saucy cultivar) suffered blossom-end rot this year.  It’s strange, given I imported my dirt and fertilized as usual, but this season has been so odd I don’t really have a reliable theory.  I’ve heard of similar stories from other, better gardeners suffering this year.  Anyway, they ripened way before the slicers, even my early-ish season Willamettes, and ripened all at once as determinate plants do.  I was keen on making sauce with them.

Someone called in last week on the MFP hotline with exactly my problem, and I had the bad fortune of delivering the news:  you can’t reliably can blossom-end-rot tomatoes, even if you discard the bad ones.  Here’s why: the plant is stressed, and when it’s stressed, it messes up the acid and sugar levels of the fruit.  Tomatoes are a borderline-acid fruit, so this could cause problems with susceptibility to microorganisms that live in low-acid environments.  Ripening early is a sign of a problem.  My absolutely lovely German Striped (left), an heirloom that yields fat yellow and red slicers, gave me one tomato very early, too, before succumbing. The tomatoes are fine to eat and cook with, but canning is dicey, so you’ll want to preserve them in other ways.

Next year, I’ll be sure to use a trick gleaned from that fateful day. Luckily, I was sitting next to a Master Gardener at the hotline.  Calcium is the problem if you’re watering properly.  He told me to sprinkle organic powdered milk around the plants, because they uptake the calcium more easily than with broken eggshells.

So.  When life gives you blossom-end rot, make roasted tomato sauce.  The recipe is incredibly easy, and I don’t have any brilliant methods, so I’ll just make this a narrative.

Roast all your plum tomatoes on skewers on a hot grill until the skin blackens.  Let the tomatoes cool in a bowl overnight.

Remove the skin and stem end of each tomato, placing the skins/stem bits in a small bowl.  Drain off all the tomato juice you can into a storage container.  This juice makes a great substitute for water or chicken stock in pasta.  I use mine to soak bread for panzanella and gazpacho.  It can also be frozen.

Next, and this is important, squeeze all the tomato goo out of the skins. You will get A LOT of goo, and it helps to thicken the sauce.  You might choose to remove the seeds in the tomatoes, but I don’t, since they add flavor and the Saucy cultivar really doesn’t have many.

Place tomatoes and goo in non-reactive saucepot, and bring to a simmer.  Cook until saucy about 30 minutes, mashing tomatoes down with a wooden masher, letting the juice reduce to thicken the sauce.  When it looks like the picture at the top of this post, remove from heat and either use or freeze in one or two-cup portions for ease of use.  You’ll be very, very happy this winter, and no one will know you lost your shirt at the tomato game.

Note: this is a basic, unsalted, unflavored sauce.  I recommend this type for freezing for flexibility’s-sake.  To make a good basic pasta sauce, just sautee some onion and garlic, then add your thawed tomato sauce, salt and pepper, and a bit of oregano.  Throw into some julienned fresh basil at the end of cooking.