Monday, September 6, 2010
I could blame the late, soggy, cold spring, the too few really hot days we had this summer, or just the conjunction of Jupiter and Mars. Whatever. Tomatoes hate me this year. Here it is, the second week of September, and I have had, count 'em, exactly three ripe tomatoes out of a tomato patch the size of southern Saskatchewan and the approximate density of mid-town Manhattan. Grr... That averages out to about $75 a pound for mediocre specimens.
And yes, I'm taking it personally. Yesterday my friend Jane filled a small gunny sack with luscious, ripe, red cherry tomatoes from her garden, and handed them over to me with the same smug aplomb with which most gardeners unload their over-abundance of zucchini on the unsuspecting. Our other gardening friends, the Meyers, will be munching on fresh tomatoes hot out of their garden until Thanksgiving. My canning shelf reveals that last summer I had such a glut of the stuff that I was making tomato chutney in mid-August. So the only conclusion I can draw is that this year the tomato gods have it in for me. Next year I'll try to appease them by sacrificing a virgin bunny rabbit (of which we do have an abundance, though I'm not so sure about the 'virgin' part).
Never mind - we live about 15 short klicks away from the most amazing greengrocer in the Lower Mainland. Their tomatoes are not only plentiful, they're organic, and they're cheap. An investment of about $12 buys you a 20 lb. case of gorgeous, plump plum tomatoes, suitable for sauces, salads, or, our favourite - smoking. So that's my solution to this year's home-grown shortage - spent one gloriously near-fall afternoon last week tantalizing the neighbours with a three-hour binge of smoking tomatoes.
Here's how we do it: Wash and cut the tomatoes in half, discarding the seeds. Spread them, cut side up, in a single layer on the smoking racks. Sprinkle with kosher salt and maybe some fresh rosemary or sage. Meanwhile, set your smoker (or an ordinary covered grill works well, too) to a low heat - we kept ours at about 200°F - and add your choice of wood chips. We used mesquite this year, but only because that's what we had on hand. We have had fine results with hickory, alder, and applewood in the past.
The result is that we now have a year's supply of smoky heaven. Cut up and tossed into a hearty soup or pasta sauce, they add a depth of flavour similar to prosciutto or double-smoked bacon. They're the base for addictive appetizers, topped, for instance, with a generous pinch of gorgonzola and popped under the broiler for a minute. And nothing, but nothing, in my opinion, makes a better topping for a simple pizza.