Iris Clark Neumann: Tomato season provides many varieties to meet summer tastes

Basil, tomatoes and goat cheese are served on top of toast with a side of cucumber slices sprinkled with basil salt.

Basil plants come in many different varieties, some having green or purple leaves.

A colorful variety of cherry tomatoes can add interest to any dish.
By : 
Iris Clark Neumann
Food for the Neighborhood

Tomato season has arrived! It was delayed a couple of weeks this year because of our unfavorable spring weather.

The favorite at our house are the variety of cherry tomatoes my farmer son, Logan, starts from seed and I plant in my backyard. They range in color from bright yellow to deep reds.

I grow them in cages and this year, they have far outgrown their three or four feet confines, but the cages make it easier to find and pick the fruits.

The abundance of rain in earlier weeks spoiled me, but now I am back to watering. The warm sunny days have contributed to the bright colored fruits maturing, so I am not complaining and the sunshine has been moral boosting.

Not only are the cherry tomatoes maturing, some larger tomatoes have been turning red, offering a great option for slicing or recipes.

Basil is my favorite for flavoring in tomato recipes. To make sure I can have basil for year-round use, I make batches of basil salt. Basil is an herb with varieties having either green or purple leaves, which loves warm weather.

Basil salt sprinkled on sliced cucumbers is a favorite of my grandkids, so I need to store up extra containers of it to sometimes send home with them.

The heavy rain we had earlier battered the leaves of my numerous basil plants. So I trimmed off many of the damaged leaves and chopped them in my food processor with a bulb or two of garlic. Then I mixed the ground up mixture with sea or coarse kosher salt, and let it dry in an open container sitting on the back of my stove.

Since cucumbers are also very abundant right now, sprinkling them with basil salt is a perfect touch for a simple way to serve them.

This has been a busy summer for me. Because I divide my time between two homes, I sometimes feel like I am stretched thin in trying to get gardening chores done before taking “time off” and heading to our Wisconsin home.

Occasionally, when we have three-day weekends up north, I feel like I'm trying to do a week's worth of chores in three days. Yeah, I am retired, but I keep pretty busy with gardening, helping my son with harvesting, and managing a once-a-week farmers market.

Wednesdays, after market is done, I probably should rest, but because I am thinking of all the chores I need to complete, I dive in and try to tick them off my mental list. Pick tomatoes and cucumbers, mow the lawn and keep pulling the weeds from between my patio pavers. (Round Up doesn't seem like a good option anymore.) Oh yeah, my bathroom really needs a cleaning.

We do a better job of keeping our cabin clean than our regular home.

Sometime weekends back at home are nice. I hate to miss the annual Eyota Days and sometimes other things happen, like a death in the family that keeps one back at home.

When my cousin, Mark, passed away, I felt like I should do something to contribute. I cleaned my house and prepared to have a dinner for any of my siblings or their children who might come back to Minnesota.

It was a great feeling to clear the dining room table of newspapers, magazines and gardening tools. It also felt good to have meat simmering in a slow cooker all day and salads ready in the fridge. I was also happy that I'd even cleaned up the deck and patio.

However, I kind of goofed because a Sunday night dinner after the visitation did not work well for others. But my husband and I had a good time visiting with my son, Tyrel, and his family that evening. The leftovers were wonderful for meals in busy days that followed.

But the clutter-free weekend passed and my dining room table has been a stuff magnet again. Have you ever noticed how a cleaned space is suddenly filled with things again?

When I cook, I do my best to clear a space before I start; it helps me focus on the task at hand.

Dirty dishes in the dishwasher, papers confined to one space, and unneeded items put away—it feels really good.

Someone asked me at market if I always cook wonderful things for myself to eat at home. The answer is no. If I don't have others to cook for, I grab a peanut butter sandwich or toasted bagel, eat a tub of yogurt, or dip a few veggies in a prepared humus dip.

And I eat the imperfect cherry tomatoes while I am picking them.

Tonight, I chopped a few orphaned tomatoes (the ones with blemishes) and created a quick basil and tomato mixture to spread on toast over goat cheese and served it with sliced cucumbers. Fortunately, I also had a fresh pie I'd purchased at the farmers market to serve for dessert. The bread was leftover white bread baked by our Amish market vendor.

Fresh Tomato Bruschetta

4 ripe tomatoes, chopped

1/4 cup thinly sliced sweet or red onion

2 tablespoons minced fresh basil (include a few purple basil leaves for extra color)

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

A few grinds of salt and pepper

Thick slices of French or similar heavy bread

Slices of goat cheese

Wash vegetables and basil before beginning. Chop the tomatoes and onions and place in a medium sized bowl. Add the basil, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper, then stir together.

Toast bread in oven or on a fry pan brushed with olive oil. Top each slice of bread with goat cheese and a large spoonful of tomato mixture. Garnish with extra basil, if desired.

Basil Garlic Salt

1 cup packed basil leaves

1 or 2 garlic cloves

1 cup kosher or sea salt

Wash basil in cold water, then allow to dry on paper towels before using. Strip the basil leaves from the stems and pack into a measuring cup. Peel the garlic clove(s) by crushing the clove with the broad side of a knife. Lift off the papery peels and cut the garlic into thin strips.

Measure 2 to 3 tablespoons of the salt into a food processor and add the garlic and whirl. Then gradually add the basil leaves and pulse until it is finely ground. Pour the remaining salt into a glass baking dish (9 x 9-inch size). Mix basil mixture with salt. Air dry for about 24 hours, stirring it occasionally while it dries. Store in small airtight containers.