Greet the season - with tomatoes and basil dishes

Even as we move deeper into the holiday season, after nearly a week of Thanksgiving leftovers, many of us wouldn’t mind turning the calendar back a few months for a chance to revisit the pleasures of eating fresh tomatoes with basil and other herbs.

Depending on where you live, access to fresh local tomatoes is all but impossible this time of year, but it need not be a hopeless challenge to find good tasting tomatoes at the supermarket for eating raw in salads, or as the main ingredient in savory dishes. I find smaller cherry and grape tomatoes, as well as Roma tomatoes, to be the most flavorful and least likely to disappoint.

Basil, and a wide array of other herbs, is not problem to get hold of either. Available in small plastic containers, or even as live plants, choose the herbs you need and try others you may not be familiar with. When using fresh herbs, keep in mind you’ll need three times as much of a fresh herb as you would dried.

Used with permission, the recipe here for Paula Deen’s Savory Tomato Pie, is good offered as an appetizer. Accompanied with a salad, the pie makes a fine main course. And, if you’re craving soup, do try the Basil Tomato Soup. It’s nice garnished with croutons, homemade if you have the time.

Both recipes require blanching the tomatoes before use, and the directions for this simple cooking method follows the recipes.

Paula Deen's Savory Tomato Pie

Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie

 

1 9-inch prebaked deep dish pie shell*

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup grated Cheddar

1 cup grated mozzarella

½ cup chopped green onion

10 fresh basil leaves, chopped

4 tomatoes, blanched, peeled and sliced*

Salt and pepper

 

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Blanch* the tomatoes and slice. Place the tomatoes in a colander to drain.

Using a medium sized bowl, mix mayonnaise, cheddar cheese and mozzarella cheese. Layer the tomato slices, basil and onion in pie shell. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the mayonnaise and cheese mixture on top of the tomatoes and bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned.

To serve, cut into slices and serve warm.

 

*Kitchen Ade note: To keep your crust from becoming soggy, brush with a little beaten egg white mixed 1 teaspoon of water. For the purposes of this recipe, I used 1 pound ripe Roma tomatoes. Direction for blanching tomatoes follows recipe.

Fresh Tomato Basil Soup

Servings: 4

 

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 ½ pounds (about 5 large) blanched ripe tomatoes, chopped

(See following recipe for directions for blanching tomatoes.)

1 onion, chopped

1 stalk celery chopped

3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish

2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme, or ¾ teaspoon dried thyme

2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

Salt and pepper

Toasted croutons for serving (recipe follows)

 

In a large pot, over medium heat, heat butter with oil until butter foams. Add tomatoes, onion, celery, garlic and thyme, cooking until vegetables soften. Add broth, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower to a simmer, cover and cook 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat; working in batches, transfer to a blender and blend, until smooth, but not completely puréed. (The soup should have some texture to it.) As each batch is blended, place into a large bowl. When blending the last batch, add basil. Return all the soup to the pot and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Heat soup on lowest setting to keep warm until serving time, then garnish with additional basil strips and croutons.

Garnishes: Croutons and Basil Chiffonade

For the croutons

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss thick cubes of day old-bread with a little olive oil on a rimmed cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, tossing once or twice, until cubes are dry and lightly toasted.

For the basil chiffonade

Basil cut into thin strips is referred to as “basil chiffonade.” To fashion basil chiffonade, stack basil leaves into a neat pile, then roll into a tight, cigar-shaped cylinder. Using a scissor, snip the basil into thin slices.

To blanch tomatoes

Blanching is a cooking method whereby a food is briefly plunged into boiling water, then removed to an ice water bath to stop the food from cooking further. Blanching tomatoes (and peaches) allows the skins to slip off easily.

Core tomatoes with a paring knife, removing the stem and white middle part. Cut an “x” in the bottom (the end opposite the core) of the tomatoes, being careful to cut the skin only. Plunge the tomatoes into a large pot of boiling water for 20 to 30 seconds (or until the “x” splits open), then remove them with a slotted spoon to a bowl filled with ice water.

(Do not immerse more than four tomatoes at a time into the boiling water, as too many tomatoes will slow down the boiling process.)

When tomatoes are cool enough to handle, carefully slip off the skin with the edge of the knife.

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