Saturday, October 24, 2015

Help! I’ve Been Taken Prisoner by a Tomato Plant
What’s cooking? Savory Tomato Jam and Cherry Tomato Cobbler

Last spring, in a fit of optimism, I added a couple of Sun Gold tomato plants to my kitchen garden. Little bitty things, about 6 inches tall. I didn’t know how they’d fare on their own in the brutal Texas summer – the last time I tried this, we stayed put for the season, so I could nurse things along. I reminded myself that the beds get watered automatically once a week, and if they didn’t make it, well, so it goes.

By the time we left for the summer, they still weren’t terribly big and they hadn’t produced any fruit, but I felt very Farmer Lee with them. They’d gotten large enough that I put in some wire tomato cages, to support them in case they did survive.

On our return three months later, it was clear that I’d underestimated the growing power of a Texas summer, or the vitamins in my garden soil, or something. The place looked like Jurassic Park. It took a day of me and a couple of strong helpers just to clear enough room to move around in the space. All the herbs – basil, chives, thyme, rosemary, and oregano – had outgrown their beds. The weeds were up to my hips. And the tomatoes had gone completely nuts. Almost as if they took one look at my simple tomato cages and sneered, “Tomato cages? You make a little joke? Phooey. We need this iron fence for support.”

So, once I cleared the gravel path, I picked for a couple of hours each day for three days in a row. In all, I retrieved more than 5 pounds of edible fruit, to say nothing of the ones that were too soft and the hundreds of tomato carcasses whose seeds will no doubt show up next spring as “volunteers.”

Then I tapped into the internet to figure out what to do.

The quickest and easiest solution was to freeze some. Rinse them off, lay them on a small sheet pan, and shove it into the freezer. A couple of hours later, the tomatoes are like marbles, at which point you can easily load them into jars or baggies and put them back into the freezer. I’m thinking tomato sauce or frittatas in January...

But the Kitchen Goddess wanted to preserve some of them in the old-fashioned canning sense, even though “canning” happens in jars these days. Turns out my good buddy Mark Bittman has a recipe for Tomato Jam that seemed just the right level of savory-sweet. For a jammy texture, you have to put in sugar, so Bittman balances that sweetness with lime juice, then adds a medley of spices – ginger, cinnamon, cumin, and clove – to give it a sharp fall flavor. He used large tomatoes, but I felt sure my Sun Golds would jam up fine, and I was right.

What I most liked was that the tomatoes didn’t disintegrate completely – many held their orb shape, so the jam ends up having a nice, chutney-esque texture. I served some as a glaze on grilled salmon that night and was so thrilled with it that, the next morning, I made some cheese scones and ate the jam on them for breakfast in the garden.

Basking in the glow of the jam, I had just enough to make a Kitchen Goddess variation on Martha Stewart’s Tomato Cobbler. Wow. Baking brings out the sweetness of the tomatoes, but the onions and flour and herbs pull the dish back into savory territory. They also give the tomatoes enough structure to keep from turning into sauce, and the cheesy biscuit topping soaks up just the right amount of the juice. The dish is perfect for lunch with a salad, or as a side dish with dinner.

Savory Tomato Jam

Adapted from Mark Bittman in The New York Times August 19, 2008

Makes enough to fill four 8-ounce jars, with a little left over for some salmon or savory breakfast scones.

3 pounds ripe tomatoes (Bittman used Roma; Kitchen Goddess used small Sun Gold cherry tomatoes)
2 cups sugar
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh, grated ginger
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or 2 medium jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded and minced; or red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste – all depends on how much and what kind of heat you like)

If you are using full-size tomatoes, core and chop them into ½-inch dice. Use cherry tomatoes as they are; if your cherry tomatoes are large, you may want to cut them in half.

In a large, heavy saucepan, stir together all ingredients until sugar is well distributed. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Once the liquid reaches a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and continue to simmer for about 1 hour 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If at the end of that time, the mixture has not reached a consistency of jam, continue to simmer for another 15 minutes, checking occasionally. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then process as for preserves.

If you don’t plan to process the mixture in preserving jars, refrigerate the jam until ready to use. It should keep at least a week. This recipe can easily be halved for a smaller batch. If you do so, be sure to watch the thickness carefully, as a smaller batch will jam-up faster.

Kitchen Goddess note: The following recipe includes the KG’s tried and true method of making biscuit dough using her food processor. You don’t have to do it this way, though I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t because it’s so easy. And it works. If you prefer to use a pastry cutter or your hands to get those pieces of butter to pea size, go right ahead.

Cherry Tomato Cobbler

Adapted from

Serves 4.

For the filling:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ pounds small cherry tomatoes
1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or chopped fresh rosemary leaves, or fresh oregano - your choice)
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or ¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
¾ teaspoon coarse salt
freshly ground black pepper (about 8 grinds)

For the topping:
½ stick unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup grated cheddar cheese, plus 1-2 tablespoons for topping
¾ cup heavy cream, plus 1 tablespoon for brushing on top

Make the filling:
In a medium-sized skillet (I used a 10-inch), heat the oil over medium heat and add the onions. Cook the onions for about 30 minutes, stirring often, until lightly caramelized. Reduce the heat toward the end if necessary to keep the onions from burning. Add the garlic and continue to cook, stirring, another 5 minutes on medium-low. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a large mixing bowl, gently toss the tomatoes with the flour, onion mix, thyme, salt, black pepper, and Aleppo pepper. Pour the mixture into a 2-quart casserole dish and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375º.

Make the biscuit topping:
Cut the butter into four equal slices; cut each slice into quarters. Put the butter pieces on a plate and freeze until ready to use.

Put the flour and baking soda and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse 4-5 times to get them well mixed.

Add the butter from the freezer to the processor bowl, and pulse enough times (about 14-15) to get the butter down to pea size. Add the cheese and pulse until well mixed.

Pour in the cream and continue to pulse until the dough mostly forms a ball as it moves around the bowl. (The dough will still be sticky. Don’t fret.)

Using a large spoon, scoop clumps (about ⅓ cup each) of the dough, and arrange them on top of the tomato-onion mixture, leaving small openings here and there for the steam and juice to bubble through. Lightly brush the dough with the remaining tablespoon of cream, and sprinkle with the reserved cheese.

Bake 1 hour at 375º, or until the topping is golden brown. Set the dish on a rack to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Kitchen Goddess note: From the leftover dough, you can also make a couple of scone-like biscuits. Bake simultaneously on a greased pan or parchment, for about 40 minutes until golden brown. Maybe even have them for breakfast with the Savory Tomato Jam, hmmm?

And now I have to go – I have some tomatoes to pick.

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