You Say Tomato, I Say Tomato: Recipes From Garden to Table

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17 Jul 2008
.Please note: fresh fruit and vegetables need to be inspected for insect infestation. Please consult our guide

imageLike its nightshade relatives, the eggplant and potato, it was once thought to be poisonous. The French named it pomme d’amour (love apple) and considered it an aphrodisiac. Really a fruit, it’s called a vegetable. Call the tomato what you want. I call it delicious.

According to John Cooper in “Eat and Be Satisfied,” tomatoes were brought to Europe from Mexico in the sixteenth century, but weren’t cultivated in earnest until a hundred years later. Many Jews in Eastern Europe thought they contained blood, deeming them unkosher. “It took considerable time in the United States for the children of immigrants to become acculturated and to enjoy the taste of lettuce and tomatoes,” Cooper writes.

The first Israeli settlers from Europe encountered the tomato in the kitchens of their Sephardic neighbors, to whom their red color suggested “savour and piquancy,” says Oded Schwartz in “In Search of Plenty.”

The importance of tomato was so great that it entered early Israeli folklore. The word was used to describe newcomers in the same way that “green” is used in English. This probably came about because the newcomers, who were mostly very pale and unaccustomed to the Middle Eastern sun, used to get very red on first exposures. Tomato was also the subject of a very popular folk song of the period.

Every summer neighbors and friends are growing tomatoes, and I’m just hoping to be included in a bumper crop giveaway. Having never cultivated anything more than table manners myself, I’m always envious of someone who can pluck a salad from her own backyard. My friend Carolyn Dymond assures me that even a novice gardener can reap a foolproof crop with tomatoes.

Her secret is burying the plant deep – one half to three quarters of the plant, leaves and all – to get a good root system. “Once you’ve tasted your own home grown, you’ll never settle for the supermarket variety,” she says.

“Don’t water on a schedule,” she cautions. “Wait until the soil is dry.” And forget the chemical bug spray. Dymond prefers to pick off the green tomato worms as she sees them. “You have to stare at a tomato plant,” she says with a chuckle. “But fortunately we’ve been really lucky. Maybe it‘s because my husband’s out there. We have more trouble with the rabbits. Sometimes it looks like a convention.”

When I ask for a recipe for her tomatoes she winces. “The best recipe is to pick them and eat them! You want the simplest thing you can do with your ingredients.”

But Dymond has been known to throw them in a pie with fresh basil and chives from her herb garden and some sliced olives and mushrooms – at least she buys those – to make her signature Tomato Pie, smothered in a rich, cheesy topping.

Now, eating and cooking with tomatoes – that I can dig!

Farmers’ Market day is Wednesday in my Orange County, California, hometown, but when I get a chance, I head up to the Santa Monica farmers’ market, where, if I’m lucky, the undisputed queen of this market, Amelia Saltsman – writer, cooking teacher, producer/host of her own TV show and author of “The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook” – might be on hand for some pointers.

With gas prices going out of sight, buying local assures that what you put on the table doesn’t have a passport with more stamps on it than yours! “But the main reason to shop at a farmers’ market is the taste,” says Saltsman. “Because the ingredients are so fresh, they will keep for a surprisingly long time, because they’re picked at their peak. Their entire shelf life is spent in your home, not being shipped.”

Every grower greets Saltsman, who has immortalized them in her new cookbook, which is as much an homage to the farmers, their histories, and their commitment to excellence as it is a collection of fuss-less, original and artful recipes inspired by the amazing varieties they produce.

“People are overwhelmed by choice,” she notes. “but don’t know how to proceed. The only way farmers are going to grow these unusual varieties is if people know how to cook them. And even the very ordinary things sing with great flavor, the simplest things – carrots, potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes – it makes all the difference in the world.”

A lettuce-free summer salad of tomatoes and cucumbers is perfect in the heat of summer “when it’s too hot for delicate greens to survive in the field, but ideal weather for cucumbers,” Saltsman writes. Her Italian tomato-bread salad is a kind of panzanella that improves upon standing.

As the season continues and tomatoes are plentiful and delicious, go ahead and freeze them for winter soups and sauces, a tip Saltsman gleaned from a grower. Freeze them on a baking sheet and store in resealable plastic bags. “When you are ready to use them,” she writes, “rinse the frozen tomatoes briefly, and the skins will slip right off.”

Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of COOKING JEWISH: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family (Workman) and can be found on the web at

Carolyn Dymond’s Tomato Pie

6 servings



  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Bake the pie crust for 5 minutes. Then remove it from the oven and reduce the heat to 400°F.
  3. Cover the bottom of the piecrust with the tomato slices. Sprinkle the salt, pepper, basil, and chives over them. Add the olives and chopped mushrooms.
  4. Thoroughly combine the mayonnaise and cheese in a small bowl. Carefully spread the mixture evenly over the tomato slices, making sure it reaches the edges of the piecrust.
    Bake until the crust is golden and the cheese has melted, about 35 minutes. (If the crust starts to brown too much, cover it with aluminum foil and finish baking.) Serve immediately or at room temperature.

From “COOKING JEWISH: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family” (Workman Publishing) by Judy Bart Kancigor

Tomato and Cucumber Bread Salad

8 servings



  1. Preheat oven to 250°F.
  2. Dry the bread chunks on a baking sheet in the oven, about 20 minutes.
  3. Cut the tomatoes into wedges, chunks, and thick slices, and place them and whole cherry tomatoes in a large bowl.
  4. Peel the cucumbers, cut them in half lengthwise, and use the tip of a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Cut the cucumbers crosswise into ½-inch-thick slices.
  5. Add the cucumbers, olives, and bread to the bowl. Drizzle with the oil and vinegar, using the smaller amounts to start, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss well and add more oil and vinegar to taste. Add the basil and toss again.
  6. Let stand for 1 to 2 hours before serving.

From “The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook” (Blenheim Press) by Amelia Saltsman

Classic Tomato Soup with a Goat Cheese Swirl

8 servings



  1. In a wide pot, cook the leek, carrot, onion, and celery with a little salt in the butter over medium-low heat until the vegetables are tender, 10 to 15 minutes, covering the pot halfway through the cooking time.
  2. Uncover, add the tomatoes and herb bundle, season with salt and pepper, and raise the heat to medium-high. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat as needed to maintain a gentle boil, and cook, uncovered, until the tomatoes break down and thicken slightly, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add 4 cups of the stock, bring to a boil, and cook for 20 minutes, reducing the heat if the soup becomes too thick.
  4. Puree the soup with an immersion or stand blender. For a refined puree, pass the soup through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean pot to remove any stray seeds or lumps. If the soup is too thick, add the remaining 1 cup stock. If too thin, cook uncovered over medium heat to reduce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Top each serving with a spoonful of goat cheese and chervil.

From “The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook” (Blenheim Press) by Amelia Saltsman

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.