Tomatoes: Star of the Summer Table

This month's recipes

by: M. R. Stanton

photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger

There are two things that island appetites wait for all summer long: tomatoes and corn. Both take center stage come August.

The tomato, however, does have an advantage. It thrives extremely well in a greenhouse setting, and thus gets advance billing on the summer dinner table. Dave Bartlett at Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm has seemingly perfected this growing technique, putting tomatoes on our tables as early as June.

For Dave, who has been growing tomatoes since he was 7, the simplest preparation of tomatoes is the best. “I just like eating them out of my hand, like an apple,” says Dave, who also notes a fondness for the way his wife Tiffany prepares cherry tomatoes with basil and mozzarella.

His sister-in-law, Rebecca Bartlett, shares Dave’s tomato-eating philosophy.

“I’m a purist,” says Rebecca. “My favorite way to eat tomatoes is the simplest: sliced with just a little bit of salt and pepper and good-quality olive oil. The tomatoes are so good that they don’t really need a lot of embellishments.”

Rebecca grew up on a farm in upstate New York and met her husband John while they were both students at Cornell. He was studying agriculture while her interest was finance. Today he oversees the operation of the farm’s roughly 120 acres under cultivation, while Rebecca serves as controller.

A working mom with two daughters, Grace, 7, and Lily, 4, Rebecca says she doesn’t have the time she once did to spend in the kitchen. But the family enjoys one of the best perks of all in any island business – the opportunity to pick their own vegetables, and flowers, from the fields at Bartlett’s Farm.

“It’s a very good fringe benefit,” says Rebecca, who enjoys going out into the fields with her family in search of ingredients for the dinner table.

One of her favorite lunches is the simplest of all summer sandwiches.

“I just love a good lettuce and tomato sandwich with Hellmann’s mayonnaise on fresh Something Natural bread,” says Rebecca.

Tomatoes also provide home cooks with many outlets for culinary creativity.

“There are so many good tomato recipes out there it’s hard to choose a favorite,” says Hilary Newell, who works at the farm and is married to Pete Smith, the head grower for Bartlett’s. The two of them have contributed mightily to the “Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm Cookbook.”

Hillary points to Pete’s recipe for Habañero Salsa as one that is popular in her family and is easy to put together for casual summer get-togethers.

Salsas are a great way to use a variety of summer vegetables for dips with chips, as sauces for grilled meats and fish, or to fold into omelets or breakfast scrambles.

Gretchen Anderson, who worked at Bartlett’s for many years, is another fabulous island cook. She and her husband, Rev. Ted, keep a garden and orchard on their Two Sheds Farm on Somerset Road and enjoy the fruits of their labor in the kitchen.

Gretchen’s tomato and cheese strata is a make-ahead dish that combines two of Nantucket’s best-known ingredients: Portuguese bread and Bartlett’s Farm tomatoes in a dish that is served bubbling hot. It is perfect paired with field greens and a light vinaigrette. Leftover strata can be sliced into small squares, placed in a buttered dish, drizzled with olive oil and reheated the next day for lunch, or even breakfast.

This is a great dish for later in the month and into September, when hurricane flags start to fly and the weather turns decidedly cooler and breezier.

Last summer, not a particularly good one for tomatoes considering the lousy weather, Gretchen found a new way to keep summer’s taste fresh and alive in the dreary months of winter.

“What I did last year with all the tomatoes I had left over at the end of the season was to cut them in half, sprinkle them with some olive oil and herbs, and roast them. I did it with both plum tomatoes and the big beefsteaks, which of course are juicier and take longer to roast, but they were just wonderful,” Gretchen says.

After roasting, the tomatoes were packed away in airtight containers and put in the freezer.

“I used them all winter long. I’d use them in sauces, or in casseroles, put a few in the blender for marinara, in meat loaf or pop a few in a sandwich,” she says.

Those oven-dried tomatoes are far juicier than the ones you buy in the store, and sweeter too.

No article on Nantucket tomato recipes would be complete without a recipe from Marian Morash, former chef at Straight Wharf restaurant, and author of “The Victory Garden Cookbook,” which is now in its 14th printing. We have included her recipe for a fabulously simple but tasty gazpacho in these pages.

Marian was the cook at Straight Wharf during its early glory days when Julia Child was known to swing by for a stint in the kitchen. Marian and her husband Russ, producer of the PBS series “This Old House” and “The Victory Garden,” have had a house and garden in Shawkemo for many years. For more inspiration on tomato cookery, pick up “The Victory Garden Cookbook,” published by Alfred A. Knopf, and “The Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm Cookbook,” published by Nantucket Press, both available at Mitchell’s Book Corner.

M.R. Stanton writes about food, wine and travel for Nantucket Today.


Pete Smith’s Habañero Salsa

Habañeros are 100 times hotter than jalapeños, says Pete, who cautions to use care when adding to the recipe, or just use jalapeños.

12-15 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 habañero pepper, chopped, or jalapeños to taste
1 cucumber, chopped, with peel on
2 green peppers, seeded and chopped
1 large red onion, chopped
1 bunch of cilantro leaves, chopped
juice of 1 lime
salt to taste

Combine all ingredients and serve with corn chips.

- From “Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm Cookbook,” reprinted with permission of Nantucket Press.

All Kovalencik’s Smoked Tomato Corn Salsa

Serve warm with grilled swordfish or chilled with blue corn chips. This was the first-prize-winning recipe in the Bartlett’s Farm First Annual Tomato Cook-off!

10 farm-fresh tomatoes
3 bunches scallions, chopped
6 ears of corn
2 bunches cilantro, chopped
1⁄2 cup rice wine vinegar
1⁄4 cup sugar
1⁄2 tablespoon salt and pepper

  1. Seed and chop 6 tomatoes.
  2. Quarter and smoke 4 tomatoes on hickory wood barbecue. (Substitute 1⁄2 tablespoon liquid smoke, if easier). Purée.
  3. Cook corn for 2 minutes. Remove kernels.
  4. Combine all ingredients and chill.

- From “Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm Cookbook,” reprinted with permission of Nantucket Press.

Gretchen Anderson’s Tomato and Cheese Strata

This strata must be made in advance of serving. Any leftovers can be sliced into small pieces, placed in a buttered baking dish, drizzled with olive oil and heated until bubbly.

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 onions, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 green peppers, minced
12 medium tomatoes, peeled and sliced
1 small can tomato paste
dash each of cayenne pepper, salt, pepper, oregano
1 tablespoon fresh parsley or 1 teaspoon dried
2 teaspoons fresh oregano, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
3 to 4 fresh jalapeños, seeded and chopped (wear rubber gloves)
16 slices white bread (preferably Portuguese), buttered and cubed
1⁄2 pound cheddar cheese, grated
6 eggs
4 cups milk
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

  1. In a skillet, heat oil and sauté onions, garlic and peppers for 5 to 10 minutes or until tender.
  2. Mix together tomatoes, tomato paste, herbs and jalapeños. Add to onion mixture and simmer for 30 minutes until thickened.
  3. In a buttered 9x13-inch pan, layer half the bread, tomato sauce, half the cheese, remaining bread and cheese.
  4. Combine eggs, milk, mustard, salt and pepper and mix. Pour over the casserole and make sure all bread is covered.
  5. Cover and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight.
  6. When ready to serve, preheat oven to 350° F. and bake for 1 hour.

Serves 8.

- From “Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm Cookbook,” reprinted with permission of Nantucket Press.

Gretchen Anderson’s Oven-Roasted Tomatoes

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line large rimmed baking sheet with foil to make cleaning easier and keep juices in. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on each sheet.
  2. Cut each tomato in half through the middle (not the stem end).
  3. Sprinkle each tomato with a pinch of sugar and salt.
  4. Drizzle each tomato with a few drops of balsamic vinegar.
  5. Thinly slice a few cloves of garlic and stick in each tomato, so the garlic is covered with tomato juice.
  6. Sprinkle each tomato generously with chopped fresh or dried thyme.
  7. Pour olive oil over each tomato half.
  8. Bake for 2-3 hours. They will end up much juicier than sun-dried tomatoes, but will have turned a deep red and will have utterly collapsed.
  9. Let cool completely. Pack in small freezer containers, including some of the oil, and freeze.

Marian Morash’s Gazpacho

Tomatoes are the main ingredient but without the bite of scallion and garlic, gazpacho would be drab indeed. It is essential to hand-chop the vegetables! The texture is worth whatever time it may take. This soup may be easily doubled or tripled. Serve in chilled bowls.

4 large ripe tomatoes
2 1⁄2 cucumbers
1 large green pepper
10-12 scallions
1-2 cloves garlic
1⁄4 cup red wine vinegar
1⁄3 cup olive oil
3 cups tomato juice
1-11⁄2 cups beef broth or water
Hot pepper sauce
Freshly ground pepper
Plain croutons

  1. Peel, seed and chop tomatoes and 2 of the cucumbers in 1⁄4-inch dice.
  2. Wash and trim pepper and scallions and chop into 1⁄4-inch dice.
  3. In a mortar, mash garlic and 1 teaspoon salt. Beat in the vinegar and oil. Combine this dressing with the chopped vegetables and stir in the tomato juice.
  4. Add broth or water, to the consistency you prefer. Season with a dash of hot pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Chill.
  5. Slice half a cucumber paper-thin. Serve gazpacho in chilled bowls topped with cucumber slices and croutons on the side Serves 4 to 6.
  6. Some people prefer a gazpacho with the traditional addition of breadcrumbs. Add 1⁄2-1 cup soft fresh breadcrumbs with the vinegar and oil.
  7. Mash in fresh herbs such as basil with the garlic.
  8. Serve soup with chopped vegetable garnishes such as finely-chopped cucumbers, red or green peppers, scallions or celery.

- From “The Victory Garden Cookbook,” reprinted with permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Tina Fournier’s Tomato, Thyme & Goat Cheese Tart

3 tablespoons herbs (thyme and basil)
1 clove garlic, minced
1⁄4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 sheet puff pastry
6 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 pound tomatoes, sliced

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
  2. In a bowl, combine herbs, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss with onion slices and let sit until needed.
  3. Spread puff pastry in a 6x9-inch tart pan. Trim to fit.
  4. Crumble goat cheese over pastry. Arrange tomato slices over goat cheese. Place onion and herb mixture over tomatoes. Bake for 30 minutes or until pastry is done.

Serves 2 to 4.

- From “Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm Cookbook,” reprinted with permission of Nantucket Press.

Susan Simon’s Fresh Tomato Sauce

This is Susan’s stock sauce, simple and direct. She suggests using a skillet rather than a saucepan to make the sauce. The wide opening allows the moisture to evaporate quickly and the sauce to concentrate more evenly.
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1⁄4 cup pure olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds plum tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
Optional: 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, basil, mint or dill

  1. In a heavy-bottomed, nonreactive skillet over medium heat, sauté the garlic in the olive oil and butter for about 30 seconds. Simultaneously raise the heat and add the tomatoes.
  2. Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce until it is reduced by one-third, 20 to 30 minutes. Add salt to taste and fresh herbs as desired. Let cool and refrigerate or freeze until ready for use. Refrigerated, it will keep for up to 2 weeks; frozen, it will keep for up to one year (until next year’s summer tomato crop).

Makes about 2 cups.

From “The Nantucket Table,” reprinted with permission of Chronicle Books.