Archives for posts with tag: tomatoes

Oh joy! The tomatoes are finally ripening, after months of (our) impatient waiting. It’s time to get creative with tomato recipes.

When I looked at the big plateful of tomatoes, I had a flashback to our trip to France last September. At a restaurant in Giverny where Monet used to hang out with his pals, I had a wonderful appetizer called something like “freshness of the summer.” It certainly tasted like summer. Mary and I tried to deconstruct it, and I came home with a scrap of paper with the words “tomato (gazpacho?) cucumber sour cream feta.”

All these months later, I can no longer envision it. But essentially it was a tomato parfait presented prettily in a glass. It was delicious. With my tomato bounty, I tried to re-create it. Here is my version, sorta kinda the same.

Tomato Parfait

2 c. of ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced

Balsamic vinegar, reduced to a syrup

2/3 c. creme fraiche (you can substitute plain Greek yogurt but it will lose some of the silkiness)

2 seedless mini cucumbers, diced

1/4 c. feta cheese, cut into small cubes

1 T. chives, minced

Divide the diced tomatoes among four stemmed glasses. Drizzle with the reduced balsamic vinegar syrup. Mix the creme fraiche and diced cucumbers, and spread on top of the tomato layer. Scatter the feta cubes on top. Sprinkle with minced chives.

Note: I don’t think this needs salt, because of the balsamic and the feta, but add if you think necessary.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

We plant a variety of vegetables every year — little of this, little of that. My dream garden would be all tomatoes, only tomatoes.

My earliest garden memories are of tomatoes. Big platters of my mother’s sliced beefsteak tomatoes, which my father would sprinkle with sugar to enhance the natural sweetness of the fruit. And like my grandmother, my mom grew yellow pear tomatoes, the distinctive shape and size delightful to a child.

My mother would extend the tomato season by canning quarts of them, beautiful jars of ruby-toned fruit lined up by the dozen in the basement. To this day, my 82-year-old mother grows at least one tomato plant and brags with the rest of us about her harvest.

This year, we’ve got a mix of old favorites, new varietals and (once again!) an experiment with grafted tomatoes. DeBaggio’s didn’t make our choices easy, with 100 varietals to choose from (they stagger their stock into early and late harvest types – check the website).

Juliet. These are slightly larger cherry tomatoes, oval in shape, growing in abundant clusters. We had great success with Juliet a couple years back, and I expect to be popping the first one into my mouth in less than 60 days.juliet

Brandywine. This is native to either Amish country in Pennsylvania or the Shenanoah Valley, depending on who you believe. In any event, it produces well here in the DC suburbs. DeBaggio’s says it is “considered by many to be the finest-flavored tomato ever offered.” Ever! Bold deep flavors is what I remember. Counting back from 90 days…

German Giant. We had great fun joking about our German Johnson tomato a few years back. This one is an heirloom that promises big deep pink fruit. Heirlooms are tricky in our hot humid climate, so we’ll watch it closely.

Tangerine. DeBaggio’s says this is a heavy producer of orange (tangerine?) colored fruit.

Japanese Black Trifele. This one is the wildcard. Color ranges from intense black to dark gray blushed with magenta. Pear-shaped fruit weighing three to five ounces.

These tomatoes are in the ground, with a sprinkling of crushed egg shells to strengthen the shaft with calcium (a trick we learned from gardening guru Mike McGrath).  They are thriving in last week’s rain and now basking in mid-70s sunshine. The grafted tomatoes are coming from Wisconsin, and given the long cold winter there, might not show up til June!

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

I arrived home one night last week and came face-to-face with a platter full of ripe tomatoes and peppers. CRR was out of town, so I knew tomatoes and peppers were the answer to the what’s-for-dinner question.

Then I remembered a recent tweet from @ChefJoseAndres about an attractive tomato & egg concoction. He’s one of my favorite Washington chefs, has a great story. Andres trained as a chef in Spain, came to Washington with little but his knives, and proceeded to build a culinary empire. His debut restaurant, Jaleo, helped put Penn Quarter on the map before the neighborhood was cool. A host of Andres restaurants are within a stone’s throw of my office: Jaleo, Oyamel, Zaytinya and Minibar. All are excellent, with a great vibe.

Just a few blocks from Jaleo is DC Central Kitchen, a food bank that turns leftover food into healthy meals for the needy. Andres got involved with DC Central Kitchen soon after he arrived in Washington, using his celebrity to transform the food bank into a cause. Bravo, Chef.

Now, back to that platter of tomatoes and peppers. His tweet was a photo of a traditional Spanish dish, pisto manchego. It can be served warm or cold, on just about anything, according to the recipes I consulted. I ate mine with a fried egg, as served by Andres.

pisto manchego

pisto manchego

Pisto Manchego for One

2-3 ripe tomatoes, skin removed, chopped

1/2 medium onion, chopped

2 peppers, chopped (I prefer the natural sweetness of red peppers)

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

(optional: zucchini)

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a sauté pan, add the peppers and onion and cook over medium heat until softened. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes, then a pinch of sugar to balance the acidity, cover, and cook until almost all the liquid is absorbed. Season with salt and pepper. Remove pisto to a pretty bowl and cover to keep warm. Fry one egg to soft stage, drape over the pisto. When you cut into the egg, the yolk will melt into the pisto. Enjoy.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

Beguiled by its beauty, we planted two Indigo Rose tomatoes this year and they clearly are going to be the most prolific tomato plants in the 2013 garden.

Oh dear.

A gardening neighbor wandered by last weekend and asked about the little dark-purple fruits. I told him the jury was out, and offered him one to taste.

His polite response: “Hmmm. Novel.”

That’s kind of how I feel too. Because of the unusual dark coloring, I went online to figure out when to harvest them and also to get a sense of what other people say:

“The taste is how I think grass clippings probably taste.”

“No acid, no sugar, not much flavor at all. Very prolific producer–maybe 150 2-ounce fruits, but unless the skins appeal, little to recommend it.”

“They have a plum type flavor.”

That last comment was the most positive in the online chat, and I’m trying to be brave since we (obviously) are going to have scores if not hundreds of the little charmers.

Indigo Rose

Indigo Rose

Indigo Rose was developed in the 1960s when two scientists cross-cultivated tomatoes with wild species from Chile and the Galapagos Islands, seeking the magic antioxidants that promote good health. So: My new attitude is that I’m going to promote the “super food” aspect and exotic coloring of these tomatoes.

This definitely is a cautionary tale. If you’re going to experiment with an unknown tomato, buy ONE and let it prove itself.

P.S. I whirled some Indigo Rose tomatoes into the first gazpacho of the season, and they were delicious in concert with cukes, parsley, garlic, scallions, V-8 juice and seasonings.


Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

Usually this far into the summer, I’m getting tired of tomatoes. Last year, we were eating tomatoes by mid-June. This year, the long cool spring has really set back the tomato crop. But one of our new tomatoes, the Legend, is finally producing.

The Legend was developed at Oregon State University by James Baggett. As promised by OSU, it is the first of our large tomato varieties to ripen. This particular plant is one of the ‘grafted’ tomatoes that we bought this year. It’s full of fruit, doing much better than some of the other tomato plants that have struggled with recent monsoon-like rains and now a 6-day heat wave.

Baggett developed 45 varieties of vegetables during his long career at OSU, and was named to the Seedsmen Hall of Fame. No, I didn’t make that up. The Seedsmen Hall of Fame, sponsored by Victory Seeds, is dedicated to the horticulturalists who create the thousands of varieties of fruits and veggies that fill the seed catalogs – and entice you in the winter to over-order. “Preserving the past, one seed at a time,” is its slogan.

If you’re interested in history, click on some of the biographies of the Hall of Famers. It’s a Who’s Who of  those seed catalogs. W. Atlee Burpee, who pioneered the mail order seed business. George W. Park, whose company became an empire but eventually fell into bankruptcy. Henry Field, who made his fortune by undercutting Burpee’s prices. Fascinating reading if you’re a gardener.

Legend Tomato

Legend Tomato

Back to the Legend. I can tell you that Baggett developed a tasty tomato. I ate the first one with just a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. It was excellent.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.


Here is the mystery plant. If you can guess what it is, we’ll share whatever…”it”…produces this summer!

mystery veg

mystery veg


I hadn’t visited the garden in about 10 days. CRR was there every day, so it seemed redundant to make a site visit when he gave me a 5-minute report each evening –along with a nice salad as evidence.

Ten days turned out to be an eternity in vegetable years. Apparently, 90-degree heat and abundant rain was all our little vegetables needed to muscle their way toward puberty. Two tomato plants – Indigo Rose and Brandywine – sport little fruits about the size of a small egg. One pepper plant brandishes a 2-inch-long jalapeno. We’ll be eating the first beets this week – some of the red ones are already 2-3 inches across.

Our only cherry tomato seems to be in need of some TLC but with we are left scratching our heads because rain and sun have both been plentiful. The peas have pooped out, victim to some rust or blight that afflicts us every year. The lettuce and spinach seem to be surviving on the rain, heat be damned.

And we have two “mystery” guests – volunteers that every year we swear we will eradicate upon sight. But CRR, of the tender heart, is nursing these two lucky orphans along. In our haste to get to the baseball game today (Go Nats!), we neglected to take a photo. I’ll post one soon so you can play the guessing game with us.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

We never had much luck growing seedlings. Wrong equipment, wrong soil, wrong timing, whatever.

For Christmas I bought CRR a 4-foot-long grow light contraption. Our furnace room hasn’t looked the same since.

I figured he would grow some lettuce and maybe some herbs over the winter months. He started out slowly, with various kinds of sprouts. Then boom! Some long-repressed farm gene kicked in, and he went into high-yield mode. Fence row to fence row, in farmer’s parlance.

At this moment, there are 133 seedlings thriving under that grow light, stretched from one end of the workbench to the other. Beef Steak tomatoes, Big Beef tomatoes. Celebrity and Indigo Rose tomatoes. And enough Genovese basil to stock an Italian restaurant. I’m not even counting the dozens of seedlings that are growing in big pots, awaiting transplant.

Now, a rational person might ask: What does a family of two intend to do with 133 seedlings, other than eat ourselves into Caprese salad heaven?

Like a city version of Johnny Appleseed, CRR intends to spread his seedlings far and wide to friends and colleagues. Are you interested?

As the saying goes, you can take the boy off the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.Image

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.