The Last Tomatoes of Summer

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In his famous poem, Ode to the Tomatoes, Pablo Neruda describes summer as a time when “The street filled with tomatoes, midday, summer, light is halved like a tomato, its juice runs through the streets.”

The juice certainly runs through our household as the Cute Gardener cultivates various breeds. It is a time when whole buckets full are brought in from the garden and Saturday mornings teem with the scent of a simmering pot stuffed to the brim. Hours later the reduced, seething lot will be pressed through a sieve into jars that will last us throughout the year as we liven pasta sauces and pressure cooker braises of hearty pork and beef. Lambs shank will soften for musky one-pot meals and chicken breasts will turn Mediterranean swimming in bright red stews spiked with black olives and herbs.

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We spend many warm season noontimes in the vein of Neruda where “…unabated, the tomato invades the kitchen, it enters at lunchtime, takes its ease on countertops, among glasses, butter dishes, blue saltcellars. It sheds its own light, benign majesty.”

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This majesty comes in the form of simple dishes where the tomato is star, untainted by complicated preparation but extolled for its purity. We dice cucumbers and toss them with diced, plump Cherokee tomatoes, feta and olive oil for light salads. Or sliver yellow grape tomatoes with bits of avocado, panko breadcrumbs and arugula. Or slice bulging marzanos for Swiss cheese and rye sandwiches, adorned with nothing but a few flakes of Maldon salt.

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But my favorite, the sun dappled heirloom arrives fat and orange with the innards a world unto itself. Cut in half, it reveals a universal starburst of veins that Neruda’s description merrily befits …”the tomato, star of earth, recurrent and fertile star, displays its convolutions, its canals, its remarkable amplitude and abundance, no pit, no husk, no leaves or thorns, the tomato offers its gift of fiery color and cool completeness.”

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These vivid cross sections make for excellent layers of a dressed down quesadilla, juicy slabs atop a spare bed of cheese, swathed within a thick and fluffy tortilla.

And when we’ve exhausted all options there is nothing better than chopping up the remains of the harvest into grand tubs of fresh salsa to be enjoyed, daylong, with crisp triangles of white corn chips.

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