Summer on a plate

Adrienne Freeman Originally Published July 18, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated July 17, 2013 at 11:28 a.m.
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Adrienne Freeman

Fresh homegrown tomatoes are a summertime favorite. The classic bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich is a favorite, too, but ingredients such as avocado, cucumber and spicy mayonnaise can add a twist. Serve the sandwich with another seasonal fave, watermelon, and you have summer on a plate.

Certain things — especially food — are expected for specific holidays: hot dogs on Independence Day, succulent turkey for Thanksgiving and, of course, sweets for your sweet to mark Valentine’s Day.

Then there are the staples that virtually define the seasons. Cinnamon and apples make cooling autumn days memorable, and Dutch ovens filled with soul-warming soup make winter bearable. Spring is synonymous with freshly sprouted young peas and slender, tender asparagus sprouts — the first signs of the reassuring circle of life.

Summer, a time bookended by Memorial Day and Labor Day — the high holy days for barbecue — also has a wide array of fresh fruits and vegetables to reward dedicated gardeners, offer respite to the sun-kissed and round out picnics, potlucks and parties thrown together for any old reason.

But for many, it’s just not summer until the “good” tomatoes are ready. Ripened on the vine to a ruby red, the ubiquitous fruit is the best of the best, the master of the summer plate. Any discerning diner who has sampled a premium-priced hot-house tomato, usually perfectly round and blemish-free, next to a home-grown, maybe misshapen, fresh-from-the-garden delight, can taste the superiority of the juicy, slightly sweet home-grown variety.

Tomato growing is a true test of good gardening skills. Water, temperature, disease and fertilizer come together in a mind-bending equation with little room for error to produce an end product that needs not more than simple seasoning salt for a taste-bud treat.

The wet, cool spring during the early tomato-growing season left the tomato- eating public wanting. What is usually a mid-June crop was delayed by two or three weeks. Even the 57th annual Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival, home of the official state fruit of Arkansas, held the second week in June, gave patrons an early warning this year — no tomatoes yet.

The good news is, the crop is ready! Brian Isaac of Arkansas’ Killer Tomato Farm near Toad Suck replanted his initial 395 tomato plants after the disastrous 19 inches of rain in May and now has almost 350 healthy, producing plants.

“I plan to donate at least 20 percent of the yield to a local shelter,” Isaac said. The solar-powered, size-efficient farm relies on natural fertilizers and as few chemicals as possible to produce a healthy, disease-free crop.

The abundant statewide crop is enjoyed in a wide variety of ways. A quick Facebook poll, albeit unscientific, about favorite ways to prepare fresh tomatoes produced these enthusiastic answers: a classic bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, or with the twists of a creamy avocado slice, crisp, cleansing cucumber or spicy mayonnaise; a tomato sandwich; a simple Caprese salad — sliced tomatoes stacked with fresh mozzarella and distinctive basil leaves, dressed with a favorite vinaigrette; or the hands-down winner – tomatoes seasoned with kosher salt and cracked pepper, letting the fresh flavor and texture shine.

Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich with Avocado and Spicy Mayonnaise

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 teaspoon adobo sauce (from canned chipotles in adobo sauce)

4 slices smoked bacon, fried until just crispy

Two leaves butter lettuce, washed and rib removed

2 - 3 slices fresh tomato

¼ cup chopped avocado

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Sourdough bread

Directions:

In a small bowl, mix mayo with adobo sauce, set aside.

Lightly toast the bread. Spread each slice with spicy mayonnaise. Assemble the sandwich in this order: lettuce, bacon, avocado, tomato. Season tomato before adding the second slice of bread.

Tomato, Ham and Cheese Pie

Adapted from Southern Living

Ingredients:

1 (8-ounce) package diced cooked ham (Most deli ham has too much moisture for this recipe. Packaged ham is more suitable.)

½ cup green onions, sliced, white and green parts

1 (9-inch) frozen unbaked pie shell

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced

1 large egg

1/3 cup half-and-half

1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped

1/8 teaspoon pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Sauté ham and green onions in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat 5 minutes or until ham is brown and any liquid evaporates.

Brush bottom of pie shell evenly with mustard; sprinkle with ½ cup mozzarella cheese. Spoon ham mixture evenly over cheese, and top with single layer of sliced tomatoes.

Beat egg and half-and-half with a fork until blended; pour over tomatoes. Sprinkle evenly with basil, pepper and remaining ½ cup cheese.

Bake on lowest oven rack for 20 to 23 minutes or until lightly browned and set. Cool on a wire rack 20 minutes. Cut into wedges to serve; garnish, if desired.

Tomato Jam

Sort of a thick ketchup, this sweet and savory jam is perfect for those leftover or blemished tomatoes.

Ingredients:

1 cup peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes

½ cup rice-wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

2 teaspoons minced garlic

¼ - ½ teaspoon chipotle powder (Cayenne can be substituted. Adjust for your taste.)

¼ kosher salt

Directions:

Combine all the ingredients in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow jam to cool to room temperature before serving.

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