Tuesday, August 10, 2010
The devilishly good local tomato
The lowly tomato has a lot to answer for apparently. Many locavores were launched on their locavore journey by the sad, sad condition of the grocery store tomato. Either they've just come back from Italy, or eaten their own garden tomato, and it hits them: why, oh why, do we buy these tasteless things *called* tomatoes that are so far from the real thing. And every summer I go through the same revelation. Today I ate my first (and so far only) ripe tomato from my roof top garden (okay, my handful of containers plopped out on the roof). Boy was that tomato good. "Mountain Princess" it was called and I had bought the seedling from David at Amarosia farms a couple months back. Today was a veritable feast of tomatoes since I had also bought a quart from David on the weekend and today I turned some of them into my favourite quick pasta dish which was almost entirely made up of Maritime ingredients: you boil some rotini (okay, not Maritime - although there are sources of handmade pasta here, Sisters in the Saint John market, and another pasta maker in Dieppe market); sautee some tomatoes (Amarosia's tomatoes, beautiful, small, sweet, a hint of lemon flavour?) in oil (organic canola from Quebec) with garlic (Amarosia's organic), and toss the pasta and tomatoes with feta (from Homestead in NS - and available at the Super Store), and basil (from my rooftop, organic, plants from Northern Arrow farms, Kingston Market), and finally throw in some olives (okay, on this one I admit defeat but hey, the point is to source as *much* locally as possible not absolutely everything, unless you're a real diehard.) To die for. The whole dish was accompanied by a salad of local greens, cukes and cilantro dressed only with the most amazing canola oil I've ever had. I cracked open a new bottle of Fox Mill Organic canola oil from NS that I had picked up at Winterwood in Sussex (but also available at True Foods in F'ton). It has the most beautiful flavour, almost walnutty. Really, hunt it down and try it out.
It really is a great moment when the tomatoes start coming in and we are reminded so forcefully of why local is better - it *tastes* so much better to start with. When I checked on canned tomatoes and pesticide residues using the "what's on my food" button above - the canned variety came out not too bad, in comparison to the fresh (which had 30+ residues, while canned had 8). So canned doesn't look like a terrible option until you investigate the salt question. You may have noticed that the government just brought in "voluntary" guidelines on salt in Canadian processed food since we discovered that most of us are getting 2-3 times the recommended daily allowance, which in turn is contributing to heart disease, stroke, etc. But some 77% of the salt we're getting comes from processed foods (including innocent looking things like breakfast cereal, and "healthy" soups). In other words, we don't have a lot of personal control over our salt intake. So, back to the tomato question. If we don't go for canned, what do we do? My "Beginner's Guide to Preserving Food at Home" says you can freeze them (wash and core them and freeze them on a cookie sheet before packaging) but canning is much better, although I've also heard that this can be dicey unless done right. You have to add acid (citric acid or lemon juice) to tomatoes to can them for starters or they will definitely go off. Drying them is another option if you have one of those dehydrator thingies. And my guidebook also has a way of making those "last of the season" green ones last for up to 6 weeks ripening under layered newspaper and kept in a cellar. Maybe I'll just try canning some tomato sauces this year and see how it goes. But if you have hints, let me know. The basil is just going wild as well so I guess I'll also have to learn to make pesto too.... (and now that I've discovered that both Armadale and Jolly Farmer make parmesan I can make a pretty local variety too!)