My fondest memories of my grandpa are of him in his garden. It was a modest vegetable plot, that he kept meticulously maintained. Many afternoons during late summer I would find him standing in the jungle of tomato plants, pinching the tops of the plants with his finger and thumb-his way of encouraging them to direct their energies toward the swelling fruits. He would talk to me about the different varieties, how to remove the bottom part of the plant that was browning and look for those nasty worms (which I refused to touch!) I loved the smell of the discarded branches. They were warm, green, and deeply aromatic. It is the scent that is the essence of deepest summer.
My grandpa liked to grow beef steak tomato’s that would grow to the size of a clenched fist. He also grew a cherry tomato called Gardener’s Delight, many of which never made it as far as the salad bowl. We would pick the ripest and devour them in the hand. If the sun had been particularly relentless that summer the initial snap of sharpness, backed by a deep, mellow sweetness would require neither salt nor pepper. I developed a fondness for them, a certain wonder. My enjoyment may have been heightened simply because I had a hand in their upbringing.
Now that I have my own garden, I like to experiment with different varieties, traditional as well as heirloom. I have especially enjoyed growing a cherry tomato called Sungold. If you can only grow one tomato, this has to be the one. Sweet-sharp, small, golden fruit with masses of flavor. I have a Green Zebra with the fruit just setting on, its amber and green strips and crisp flesh are delicious in salads. The San Marzano is looking quite promising right now and is a rather cute addition to the garden.
Cooking with fresh tomatoes can be a revelation to those who have been led along the canned tomato route. Although convenient a canned tomato lacks the sweet-sharp quality of a fresh one. Rarely is a cooked tomato a star in my dishes as much as it’s a part of the chorus. A thinly sliced tomato on top of a square of puff pastry and a crumble of goat cheese then baked off is a delight. A roasted cherry tomato can be wonderful once it surrenders its juices. The smoky flavor can’t be beat when topped on a crusty piece of bread, drizzled with olive oil and torn basil.
This soup is a celebration of summer. It is a simple soup that takes hardly any time at all to prepare and barely a half hour on the stove, then puréed to a thick, pulpy broth in the blender. The lion’s share of the soup is devoted to yellow tomato’s but I also added a few heirloom white and yellow carrots. They add an earthy sweetness and give a little backbone to this soup. This is a coarse-textured soup, as bright and cheerful as a pitcher of sunflowers. As the last ladle was poured into a bowl someone mentioned it would have been good chilled. But by that time it was too late to try. Shannon
A lovely Summer Soup
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, sliced
1 small leek, white and light green parts, sliced
Pinch of salt
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 pounds ripe yellow tomatoes, washed, cored, sliced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 Tbsp. white rice
1 small sprig of thyme
Chives, finely cut (optional)
Toasted pumpkin seeds (optional)
Sunflower sprouts (optional)
Warm a heavy bottom pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Add the onion, leek and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook until soft but not brown. Add water to keep from browning if necessary. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, carrots, rice and herbs. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the tomatoes fall apart. Add 1 cup of water and the 1 tablespoon of butter. Continue cooking for another 10 minutes, until the rice is tender. Remove the herbs. Carefully ladle the soup into a blender not more than one-third full. Blend until smooth, about 1 minute. Pass the puréed soup through a medium strainer to remove skins and seeds. Taste for salt. Add more water if the soup is too thick. Serves 6-8
Garnish the soup with finely cut chives, toasted pumpkin seeds and sunflower sprouts