Good winter tomatoes!

First, disclosure:  I have no connection with NatureSweet tomatoes except Cherub-10-5oz-MPv2that I eat them–all winter, and even in the summer; no remuneration or other consideration–they just taste good, they are good for me, and make great snacks while working.  And did I say that they taste good–every variety that I’ve tried. So I’m using the brand name because I’ve not found any other ones comparable.  Grape tomatoes are readily available and better than most winter tomatoes, but none have been as good as this particular brand.  And non-GMO too.  And bumble-bee pollinated!

Until I discovered these, winter meant canned tomatoes or no tomatoes.  The Cherubs (grape tomatoes) were the first ones that I discovered at my local Harris Teeter supermarket at least a year ago and I have been noshing on those since that first taste.   Over the past year, I’ve discovered other 20190105_191244-1NatureSweet tomatoes:  Sunbursts (deep yellow), Constellation (a mix of different kinds)–all with excellent flavor. I’m sure you wondering why I’m posting this now.

I just discovered another kind of NatureSweet tomatoes:  Twilights.  I don’t know if they are new in the store, or I just had not seen them before.  Whenever I can find heirloom tomatoes in the summer I gravitate to the Cherokee Purple, Black Krimm, and the like because I think there is something special about the flavor.  It’s just not the same flavor as red, pink or yellow tomatoes; or Green Zebras, or any others that I can think of.

When I saw these I just had to try them.  (These are just about actual size.)  They have the flavor of the dark heirloom tomatoes–tomato-y, some sweet, some tart–good balance of flavor–very similar to the big heirlooms.  I’m amazed to find something so good in the supermarket especially in the winter.  Happiness!

Twilights-Master

A son gôut!

 

—Ô¿Ô—

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Lentil & couscous salad with cherry tomatoes, mint and goat cheese

As you can tell, I like lentils!  And tomatoes.

It’s getting to the kind of weather where I begin to think about “salads” for hot-weather meals.   I know it’s a bit early for this since tomatoes not  ready to pick yet.  While I was writing about lentils, shortly after planting some tomato seeds (Black Krim, Japanese Black Trifle, Black Pearl, Brandywine, Indigo…..) I couldn’t help but think of this salad with some anticipation as I planted the Black Pearl cherry tomato seeds.

Lentil & Couscous Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Mint and Goat Cheese

This is my adaptation of the recipe from Gourmet 1995, retrieved from Gourmet on Epicurious with a few changes from me.  (This is a great place to browse for salad inspirations.  You don’t need to follow the recipes–just look at the ingredients and make a salad.)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup lentilles du Puy (French green lentils) or brown lentils (or any small lentil that will hold its shape well)
  • 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar  (The original recipe calls for white wine vinegar–but I prefer sherry; use what you have at hand.)
  • 1-1/4 cups water
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced and mashed to a paste with 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves (spearmint, rather than peppermint)
  • 1 bunch arugula, stems discarded and leaves washed well, spun dry, and chopped
  • 2 cups vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, halved.
  • 1/4 pound feta, crumbled (about 1 cup)

Preparation

  • Cook the lentils in a small pan, covered by about 2 inches of water until tender but not getting mushy.  The lentilles du Puy cook more slowly than other varieties, so if you substitute, watch them carefully to keep from over-cooking them.  My preference is for the french, Spanish brown, or black lentils instead of the brown.
  • When tender, drain well and transfer to a bowl.  Stir in 1 tablespoon of the vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.
  • Prepare the couscous:  bring water to a boil and couscous and salt (use the package directions).  Remove from heat and let stand until the water is absorbed.  Fluff and transfer to a bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the extra-virgin olive oil and cool.
  • Dressing:  Whisk together the garlic paste, remaining vinegar (to taste), and oil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add the lentils and dressing to the couscous and mix well. Chill well–about 2 or 3 hours.
  • Before serving, add the crumbled goat cheese and the mint leaves.

One problem I’ve found is that the cherry tomatoes can give off a lot of liquid and make this salad too juicy.  I like to toss the halved cherry tomatoes with about 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and let them stand in a colander for about 15 or 20 minutes before I add them  to avoid the excess juice.  This doesn’t make them “salty”–but do taste before you add the last salt to taste.  This will hold well in the fridge for about 24 hours if you’ve  gotten some of the excess liquid from the cherry tomatoes.

My favorite garnish for this is crispy slices of European style cucumbers and crispy, crunchy radishes on the side as well.

Tomatoes, tomatoes, and more tomatoes…..

It’s so easy to run out of room to plant tomatoes, and to plant (and produce) more than you can actually, really use!  Especially in December and January when you’re drooling over the seed catalogs and yearning for really good tomatoes.   There are some that I just have to plant every year.    The list gradually gets modified as I read about and try new varieties, though I often plant heirlooms, even though they may not be the most productive.

Given limited space, I don’t usually plant “paste” or “plum” tomatoes–I’ll settle for buying good quality canned tomatoes for sauce and winter use.  I usually only plant indeterminate tomatoes, and those that are good for eating–cherries and medium-sized fruits.  The first requirement is that they must taste really good–I like some acid tang in my tomatoes, but I like complex flavor too–so here are some of the ones that I plant at home.

I don’t want absolutely huge tomatoes either–I use a lot of “cherry” or “grape” tomatoes since they do well in salads, and as snacks.  I really want a tomato that is the right size for me to eat at one time since refrigerating a cut tomato changes the flavor and texture in a way that really makes it inedible as an uncooked tomato!

Sungold cherry tomatoes on the vine

Sungold

Topping the “must-have” list are Sungold cherry tomatoes–it’s summer candy and snack food!  These are a deep tangerine orange, small, cherry tomato–about the size of a dime–that grows in clusters. You won’t find them in the grocery store–they are fragile–a bit of rain and they split very easily.  If you want them, you’ll need to visit your local farmers’ market or plant your own.  They’re very productive, early indeterminate tomato–meaning that the do get tall and gangling as they continue to put out new growth.  The good thing about this is that they will keep on producing tomatoes until frost–in the mild NC climate, I’ve sometimes picked them in December.  If you’re growing them, you’ll soon learn that if you hear a rumble of thunder you should run right out and pick  the ripe ones so that they don’s split in the rain.

photograph of Black Krim tomato fruit from Johnny's Select seeds.

Black Krim

Even though they don’t produce a lot of fruit, I almost always plant Black Krim tomatoes.  (Since I don’t have pictures of my own, I’ve gotten some from various catalogs/websites from which I usually buy seeds.)  I always wish that they were more productive, but I like them so well that I’m very grateful for the few that I do get from each plant.   These are a slicing tomato that is usually about 8 to 16 ounces in size.  The flavor is very complex–often characterized as “smoky”.  These are in the “beefsteak” category–meaty, with few seeds.  These are not going to be the most regular, round tomatoes that you’ll get from the garden, but they are luscious. They do need to be harvested while the shoulders are still green–while they may seem slightly under-ripe.  I think that they get “over-ripe” easily and then they will not have good texture–they’ll just kind of disintegrate.

pear-shaped Japanese Black Trifele tomatoes on the vine.

Black Trifele

Another “must-have” for me is the Japanese Black Trifele tomato.  Again, no photograph of my own so I’ve used the one from Johnny’s Select seeds.  (Yes, I am very partial to the “black” tomatoes–there’s something about the flavors of them that has me hooked!)  These are a smaller tomato–about 4 to 6 ounces–that are great in insalata caprese, or any other way that you care to serve them up.  These are also indeterminate plants that will continue to produce over a long season.   Like the Black Krim, they should be harvested while the shoulders are still green.   These are a “potato leafed” tomato–if you’re used to the usual tomato leaf shape, these can look distinctly un-tomato like.

Indigo Rose cherry tomatoes..very deep red to purple.  From Johnny's Select Seeds.

Indigo Rose

A new addition for me this year is the Indigo Rose tomato–I’ve not seen it before this year, nor have I tasted it, but from the catalog descriptions it was just not possible to pass it up!   Since it’s new, the photograph comes from Johnny’s Select Seeds.  I can’t wait to see how these look and taste from my garden.   I should share what I was looking at in December so here’s the description from Johnny’s Select Seeds: “Anthocyanins are powerful anti-oxidants. In the early stages of fruit development, Indigo Rose develops a dark purple pigment in its skin where exposed to direct sunlight. Green when unripe, purple-red when ripe, the 1-2 oz., cocktail-sized tomatoes have good flavor with ‘plummy’ overtones. Developed by Jim Myers at Oregon State University using traditional plant breeding techniques. Compact indeterminate.   Days to Maturity or Bloom:   75.

Black Cherry cherry tomatoes.

Black Cherry

Another (if my plants succeed) that I hope to have is  the Black Cherry tomato.  Again, a cherry tomato that’s about an ounce or just a bit under, with maroon exterior and a wine red meat.  I first planted these two years ago.  They’re an indeterminate tomato as well–they were very productive for a long season.  (The deer ate the plants last year.)  I’ll hope that I’m lucky enough to have my own pictures of the ones in my garden this year–but  until then, these are courtesy of Johnny’s Select Seeds catalog.

That’s the selection so far…under consideration for the very few remaining spaces–maybe even only one–on the tomato trellis is a basic red slicing tomato…nothing huge, just something tasty!  Time to prowl the farmers’ market, though I might end up with another “specialty” tomato since the plants that we put in the field to harvest  for the farmers’ market provide me with a good supply of more basic red slicing tomatoes–like Brandy Boy, John Baer, Valley Girl, Champion, and others.  That means that I can get really esoteric with my choices for the home garden and still have the basics in good supply!