Lousy tomato crop calls for special recipe

  • By Jan Roberts-Dominguez For The Herald
  • Wednesday, September 3, 2008 11:00am
  • Life

Usually by the time summer hydrangias have begun to fade we’re up to our eyeballs in fresh, local tomatoes. But not this year.

This year’s crop got off to a late start and has been on a roller-coaster ride of cool and wet days ever since, with a few hot spells thrown in just to tease.

What fruit I am able to harvest I’m treating all the more dear.

That means pulling out my most special recipes. One such candidate is a spin-off of a bruschetta preparation I shared with you last summer.

It’s one I make only when the tomatoes are sweet and local, and the garlic fresh and juicy.

I roast the garlic and turn it into a flavorful puree that I spread on the toasted bread before adding the tomatoes. Then I drizzle on an intense balsamic vinegar reduction and fresh pesto. It’s a heavenly approach!

But it’s not a recipe to be taken lightly. There are a few extra steps that you’ll need to take to achieve perfection.

Your reward, however, will be a satisfying round of groans from your fellow diners.

This truly is one of the most exquisite bruschetta preparations that you’ll ever encounter.

For wine, I highly recommend serving either a medium to full-bodied Pinot Noir, or a well crafted Syrah.

What makes it work so well with these two wines? For one thing, there are no sharp edges to contend with: the garlic puree is mellow and caramelly, the balsamic vinegar reduction is onion-laced and syrupy, and the local tomatoes are vine-ripe and flavorful. No acidic edge to conflict with the fruity character of the Pinot or the Syrah.

I keep last minute preparations to a minimum, by making each of the component ahead. All three mixtures will keep in the refrigerator for weeks. Then it’s a simple matter of assembly.


81/2-inch thick slices good-quality crusty Italian-style bread

1/4cup (about) roasted garlic puree (recipe follows)

3medium vine-ripe local tomatoes, chopped and drained

6tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (see note)

Pinch of salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1tablespoon balsamic vinegar reduction (recipe follows)

3tablespoons pesto, homemade (recipe follows) or commercially prepared

Grill or toast the bread until nicely browned on both sides. Depending on the size of servings you want, either leave the bread slices whole or cut each one into halves or thirds. Spread each piece with a thin layer of the roasted garlic puree.

Combine the tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Toss gently. Spoon the mixture onto the grilled bread slices. Drizzle each piece with some of the balsamic vinegar and pesto, then serve.

Note: Use the fruitiest, most flavorful extra virgin olive oil you can afford, because it can really boost your offering from common to sublime!

Makes 8 generous servings.


15-20 peeled garlic cloves

2tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

1-2 pinches salt

Place garlic on a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle pepper and salt.

Gather up the edges of the foil to enclose the cloves without completely sealing the package shut (if it’s tightly sealed, the cloves will steam rather than roast and won’t develop as rich a flavor). Place the packet of garlic over a medium-hot bed of coals (or in a gas grill, or in a 350 degree oven), and roast until the cloves are soft, about 20 to 25 minutes).

Let the garlic and oil cool, then scrape it into a blender and blend until the mixture forms a puree, adding a little extra oil if necessary, or scrape onto a plate and mash with a fork.

The mixture can be prepared several weeks ahead and refrigerated until needed.


2cups balsamic vinegar

1/2cup coarsely chopped yellow onion

1coarsely chopped clove garlic

2teaspoons sugar


To turn an average balsamic vinegar into a very rich and flavorful one, pour vinegar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add onion, garlic, sugar and peppercorns.

Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer until the mixture has reduced down to 1/2 to 1/3 cup and is thickened and somewhat syrupy. Let the mixture cool and then strain through a fine sieve. Be sure and press the onions and garlic with the back of a wooden spoon to squeeze out all of the juicy balsamic vinegar.

Store the reduction in a tightly closed jar. It will keep for months and months.

Use it to drizzle over tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, or to jazz up a vegetable saute or to drizzle over roasting vegetables. Deelish!

Makes 1/3 to 1/2 cups.

@1. a BODY STYLES:I make several batches of this while basil is at its peak and freeze it in 1/2- and 1-cup containers, which, when thawed, can be used within a few days.


2cups packed fresh basil leaves

5-6cloves garlic, peeled

2tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1/4cup pine nuts

1/2cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/2cup olive oil

1/2teaspoon salt (or to taste)

Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the basil, garlic and parsley in a blender and process until finely chopped. Add the pine nuts and Parmesan and process just until blended. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil and process until a smooth paste is formed. Scrape the mixture into a bowl and stir in salt and pepper to taste.

Dried tomato variation: After you have made the pesto, add 16 oil-packed dried tomatoes (drained of the oil), and 1/4 to 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, and continue processing just until the tomatoes are finely chopped, but flecks are still visible.

Makes about 3 cups

Jan Roberts-Dominguez: janrd@proaxis.com.

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