Elaine Revelle: Putting strawberries to ultimate use

wooden spoon

I have a confession: I’m in love.

Not in the romantic sense, my current passion is with garden fresh tomatoes. And, to be honest, who doesn’t love them?

Originating in the tropical area between southern and central America, the tomato is another New World culinary contribution.

While we treat it as a vegetable, tomatoes are fruits, berries to be exact.

A relative of nightshade or belladonna, tomatoes were originally thought to be poisonous. In the 1800s, they were called “love apples” in Britain and pommes d'amour in France due to its botanic connection (belladonna), which was known for its aphrodisiac qualities.

An outcome of our self isolation has been an increase in my television consumption and, no surprise here, I’m close to OD-ing on cooking shows. One caught my attention, it’s a PBS offering, Julia Child’s Best Bites. 

The word “tomato” is derived from the Spanish tomate, which comes from the Nahuatl word tomatl, meaning “the swelling fruit."

Eventually when Aztecs began to cultivate them, they produced larger, sweeter and red fruits. While originally a yellowish color, these new species were called xitomatl, which translated to “plump with navel” or “fat water with navel."

My family has always had a love affair with tomatoes. Lush red, round, succulent and juicy, what could be more appealing than a vine-ripened tomato?

My mother, no matter how limited our yard space was, always had a tomato patch. She and her brother, my uncle Joe, fought a running tomato war. Each year they would vie for the tallest, biggest, hardiest, most productive plants. It didn’t matter the variety, the climate or condition, their conflict raged annually.

While neither ever admitted defeat, the rest of us were the real winners. We reaped the spoils of their warring and watering and enjoyed a vine-ripened bounty.

They also waged a constant battle against the voracious appetite of tomato worms, and my mother had a unique answer to that problem.

In my opinion, her clever tactics took top honors. She would offer my girls 5 cents for each worm they found. Then, before paying up, she would check the plants and penalize them that same nickel for each worm she located.

An interesting solution, to avoid the penalty they would spend hours scouring the leaves and stems, often squabbling over possession of a mutually spotted worm. Eventually, they would end with some spending money and my mother would best her brother in the pest-free category of their war.

For a midsummer pizza feast with friends, I was tasked with appetizer. Luckily, I scored some plump, vine-ripened tomatoes and decided to make caprese with balsamic glaze. It was a success and now’s the right time to add this to your repertoire.

Pick round, evenly shaped tomatoes for this one and save the irregulars for salads.

CAPRESE WITH BALSAMIC GLAZE

3 to 4 medium ripe tomatoes (about 1-1/2 pounds)

fresh lemon juice

flaky sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese*

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic glaze (recipe below)

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

Slice tomatoes 1/4-inch thick and arrange on serving platter, sprinkle with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Top each with mozzarella and a little olive oil. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and garnish with basil leaves. Serve immediately.

*buy presliced 1/4-inch-thick rounds.

BALSAMIC GLAZE

1 cup balsamic vinegar*

Place vinegar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced by around one-third and mixture coats a spoon. Remove from heat and cool (it will thicken). If too thick, place over low heat, add more vinegar and stir until incorporated. If not thick enough, return to heat until thickened.

*it’s not necessary to use an expensive vinegar for this, any moderately priced one will do.

By the way, here are some other uses for balsamic glaze: over fruits such as strawberries, cherries, peaches, etc., grilled veggies, cheese and meats to name a few. Fans even suggest drizzling it over ice cream … not sure if I’m ready for that one.

Longtime Valley resident Elaine Revelle can be reached at thewoodenspoon@juno.com.

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