7.20.2008

Tomatoes Terre Vivant

Riding the tide of heat and humidity, tomatoes swept into town this week. In Orleans, the bell tolled to start the market and a sea of ferocious tomato-lovers descended upon the stalls, determined to buy that first box of yellow cherries or sweet red plums. Children ran around with green breakfast boxes, popping the treats like candy, never-minding what they spilled as the stampede whirled on.

In Provincetown, the heirlooms stole the show. Gargantuan, half-pound breeds tinged with red and green, yellow and orange, radiated like a rainbow of color waves out from the stem. The bubbled, bursting fruit lay piled on newspaper folds, selling in an instant at the caller's mention of a fresh cooked sauce or a caprese salad.

I succumbed along with the rest, four imperfect beauties hanging from my arm with the weight of a dumbbell and ripe red cherry boxes lined up row after row in my flat bottomed basket. At home in the kitchen, they seemed suddenly excessive, the impulse buy of a farmers' market shop-a-holic.

I got out the canning jars and headed towards the stove, but the thought of steaming sauce and a water bath in the heat of the day stopped me. Instead, I turned to an old French technique gleaned from the pages of a Terre Vivant compendium, Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning. According to Anne Duran from St. Front, with a handful of fresh basil, a few slices of onion, several spoonfuls of vinegar, and a whole lot of olive oil, I could skip the heat and still save my tomatoes for a winter sauce.

CHERRY TOMATO OLIVE OIL PRESERVES, WITH BASIL AND ONION

Makes 1 quart

Wash and dry one pint cherry tomatoes, making sure to select only fruits that are very firm and ripe and no bigger than a tangerine. Peel and thinly slice one green onion. Wash and dry 10-15 fresh picked basil leaves. Fill a sterile quart jar with tomatoes, layering with onions and basil as you fill. When the jar is filled to one and one half inches beneath the rim, sprinkle with several pinches coarse salt. Add 2-4 tablespoons cider vinegar or lemon juice, and cover with olive oil and a sterile lid. Store in a cool place (50-60 degrees) and eat after two to three months but within a year.

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