Kathleen Cue has a garden free of cherry tomatoes this season, but she's still eaten tons of them.
“I am not growing any this year,” said Cue, a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska extension office. “But I get plenty from people who want to share.”
Cue isn't alone. Lots of Omahans have seen bumper crops of cherry tomatoes this late summer. The huge crops have a bit to do with the weather and a bit to do with the nature of the cherry tomato plant. What's much harder to figure out, though, is just what to do with all those tiny red fruits.
Salsa and tomato sauce are two of the most obvious ideas. But Cue, along with food editors from Martha Stewart Living magazine and Taste of Home magazine, have many more creative suggestions. Think fruit-forward salsas instead of spicy ones, or roasted tomatoes for spreading on bread or spooning over chicken. Canning and freezing, age-old techniques, are once again popular.
Cue is in the roasting and freezing camps. She slices the tomatoes in half, lays them on a cookie sheet and tops them with olive oil, garlic powder and black pepper, then roasts them in a hot oven.
“When I take them out, they are a little rubbery,” she said. “But I freeze them and use them in the winter on top of pasta, with artichokes and mushrooms. It's wonderful.”
Karen Burner, chief food editor at Taste of Home, said the magazine's readers are big fans of the roasted cherry tomato.
“Cherry tomatoes lend themselves well to that kind of slow heat,” she said. “The skins get nice and chewy, but you still have the liquid in the centers.”
Like Cue, she suggests them for pasta. She also suggests mixing the roasted tomatoes with fresh herbs, spreading the mixture on sliced baguette and topping it with cheese for a quick appetizer.
Cue said this year's cherry tomato crop is large for two reasons. Small tomatoes ripen faster, she said, and the plant needs fewer resources to produce them. Temperatures in the 80s for a few weeks meant many cherry tomato plants were covered with developed green tomatoes. Then, hot temperatures over the past few weeks helped those tomatoes ripen quickly, leaving gardeners with lots of fruit.
Lucinda Scala Quinn, the executive food director for Martha Stewart Living, grows oodles of cherry tomatoes on the terrace of her New York City apartment, and she likes to serve them as a snack at summer cocktail parties.
She puts the tomatoes in a big bowl along with small bowls full of olive oil, salt and pepper.
“It seems like nothing,” she said. “But its the perfect little bite with a cocktail.”
She said she also skewers cherry tomatoes along with a caper berry and an olive and serves that as a light nibble.
Sun dried tomatoes — an ingredient many diners got tired of in the 1990s — are again having a moment.
“I thought the sun dried tomato was in my past,” said Scala Quinn.
But then she saw sun dried tomatoes at a market in New York and started making them at home, either using a dehydrator or slow-drying halved cherry tomatoes in her oven.
She packs the dried tomatoes in jars with olive oil and herbs.
“They just taste a little bit unexpected,” she said.
Burner said canning and preserving cherry tomatoes is easier than others — cooks don't have to remove the skins. She suggests throwing peppers, onions or other seasonal vegetables in the mix with the tomatoes before canning.
Scala Quinn suggested ideas for emphasizing the fruitier side of the tomato in an unusual way: with tomato essence.
Puree the tomatoes along with salt in a blender and then pour the puree into a colander lined with four layers of cheesecloth.
Cover the dish and put the bowls in the fridge, she said, letting the “tomato water” strain through the sieve.
“I love to use it in cocktails,”she said. “You can use it in a sauce or in soups to intensify flavors.”
She suggested pairing the essence with mangoes in a salad or with sliced peaches and an herb for a light summer dessert.
Creative fruit and tomato pairings in salsa are another option. Tomatoes with pineapple or strawberries both work.
Burner said when all else fails, keep it simple.
“I don't have a lot of counter space at home, and I had so many cherry tomatoes I would pick them and just leave them laying on the counter,” she said. “I ate cherry tomatoes like candy all day.”
* * *
Recipe: Strawberry Salsa
One of the most common uses for cherry tomatoes is salsa. Try this unusual savory-sweet version with strawberries.
• 2 pints cherry tomatoes, quartered
• 1 pint fresh strawberries, chopped
• ½ cup minced fresh cilantro
• 8 green onions, chopped
• 6 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
• ½ teaspoon salt
• Tortilla chips
In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, strawberries, onions and cilantro. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, vinegar and salt; gently stir into tomato mixture. Chill until serving. Serve with tortilla chips. Yield: 6 cups.
Recipe: Roasted Grape Tomatoes
The basic recipe for this roasted tomato condiment starts with one pound of tomatoes, but if you have more, its easily doubled or tripled and can be used as a spread, on a protein or over pasta.
• ½ cup cider vinegar
• ¼ cup packed brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons canola oil
• 4 garlic cloves, minced
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon pepper
• 1 pound grape tomatoes
• 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
In a large bowl, whisk the first six ingredients. Add tomatoes; toss to coat. Transfer to a greased 15-by-10-by-1-inch baking pan. Sprinkle with parsley.
Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees for 12-14 minutes or until softened, stirring occasionally. Serve with crackers and cheese. Yield: 4 cups.
— Recipes courtesy tasteofhome.com.
Recipe: Heirloom tomatoes with cherries, balsamic and hyssop
You can substitute any floral, aromatic herb, such as mint, tarragon or basil for hyssop.
• 1 large red heirloom tomato, about eight ounces, sliced
• 6 red cherry tomatoes, halved
• 1 cup fresh Bing cherries, halved and pitted
• 2 tablespoons good-quality balsamic vinegar
• 2 tablespoons small fresh anise-hyssop leaves and flowers (optional)
Divide heirloom slices among four plates. Scatter cherry tomatoes and cherries on top, then drizzle with vinegar. Scatter hyssop on top.
— Recipe courtesy marthastewart.com.