Hanging on to Summer: Using the Tomatoes

The corn is so tall right now and I drove by a field dotted with orange pumpkins this mornings. the mornings are chilly, but the afternoon sun still beats down toasty and warm. Fall is rolling in and I'm starting to make some cool-weather garden plans.  So, imagine my surprise when I went out with friends last Friday night and bit into the most disgusting tomato ever.  Pale flavorless, mealy...it was just plain gross. I couldn't help but wonder where in the world they even  got such a vile tomato this time of year!  It made me think, though, and realize that all of this great produce is slowing down now.  So I decided to do something about it rather than whining and headed out the next morning with a plan to enjoy the heck out of some fantastic tomatoes over the rest of the weekend while they're still so lovely and plentiful.  

I hunted through things I've saved and jotted down the easy things I usually do and wanted these to be easy summer and fall meals to enjoy without a lot of fuss.  "Recipes" might be a stretch on a lot of the things that popped into my mind: Sliced bread with cheese and tomatoes (fresh or thrown under the broiler), cucumber and tomatoes chopped into a quick salad, panzanella (my favorite) or a quick sauce of roasted tomatoes and onions and garlic. Nothing too crazy, but all things that keep it easy, which makes me happy. 

Tomato and Feta Tart
This is so easy and looks so lovely.  It's easier than a pizza and the bite of saltiness and oregano from the feta and olive spread add a layer of flavor that also helps to keeps the puff pastry from getting soggy from the juice in the tomatoes. 

1 sheet of puff pastry
5 smallish tomatoes sliced thinly or 2 large tomatoes sliced thinly or 1 cup cherry tomatoes halved
2 oz. feta
2 oz. cream cheese
1T olive oil
1T chopped fresh oregano (or 1/2T dried oregano)
1 clove of garlic
4-6 kalamata olives
zest and juice of 1/2 of a lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Defrost and prep the puff pastry according to instructions on the package, keeping in mind that the colder you can keep it the better your end puffing results will be.  Preheat your oven to the temperature suggested on your puff pastry package (mine was 415 degrees.) Slice the tomatoes so they're ready to go and set aside.  In a food processor or blender, add clove of garlic, oregano and olives and pulse a few times until all are chopped finely.  Next add the feta, cream cheese, olive oil and lemon zest and juice and pulse until everything is combined.  

On the prepped puff pastry, smooth the feta spread in the middle leaving a good amount of edge uncovered with the spread so that it can puff.  Layer the tomatoes keeping in mind that you want the layer to be fairly thin so that you don't have a lot of extra liquid.  Bake for 15 minutes. 

End of Summer Panzanella (Bread Salad)
You can read the story here of how I fell in love with bread salad - it's been a staple in my life ever since.  I posted the recipe there, but the thing about bread salad is that it's basically adaptable with whatever you have around.  Toasted bread, veggies, a little cheese and herbs and dressing and you're set! This is the version I made on this day with what we happened to have around. Peppers are always great in here, especially for the extra crunch, but we didn't have any this day and didn't miss them. Play with it and try different breads and veggies you have on hand. I also love to throw in whatever salad greens we have around to round it out, especially if I accidentally go a little heavy on the dressing and need to sop up a bit more.

1/2 small round loaf of olive bread
1 clove of garlic, chopped very small
4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1 small cucumber, chopped into slices or small cubes
2 green onions, sliced
2-3 medium-sized tomatoes, chopped (use whatever tomatoes you have!) 
1/2 cup chopped parsley 
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the bread into small cubes and bake at 300 degrees until crunchy or saute in a pan until crunchy.  Go a little further on the crunch than you might normally since they'll have dressing on them and it's nice to keep the crunch.  I often see suggestions to toss bread in oil before making croutons and you can if you want, but I never do. It always feels like one too many steps when they get all nice and toasty anyway without the extra oil.

Ia large bowl, mix all prepared ingredients except the toasted bread cubes.  You can prep this ahead of time for an easy meal, then toss the toasted bread in just before serving to make sure the bread doesn't get soggy when it soaks up the juices.  

A few more that sound worthy of a try while tomatoes are still plentiful:

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