There’s nothing like a homegrown tomato. Juicy, literally bursting with flavor and sweet-to-boot!
We’ve been growing tomatoes for 3 summers now. Every spring, we attend a local tomato festival where we look at hundreds of seedlings, read their descriptions and choose which ones we’re going to adopt and raise. This year, we got 14 different varieties. Some are small and round, others are large and have more folds than a Shar-Pei. Some are bright red, others are orange and one starts out with a deep dark indigo and fades into yellow. There are super-sweet Japanese tomatoes that have no acidity at all, and there are heirloom varieties that have more complex notes.
Every year we pick our top 1-3 favorites and see if we can find them to regrow for another season, but we have a lot of fun trying new ones. Our trick to helping them thrive is for each plant to have its own large pot. We put some leaves and sticks in the bottom and then top that with a mix of our compost “fait maison” and potting soil. A sprinkling of tomato-specific fertilizer goes on top and then the pot is put in a round tray to collect water that may seep out too quickly so that it can reabsorb it and not dry out during long hot California days.
It’s tough to grow great tomatoes if your garden doesn’t get enough sun. We get between 7-8 hours of direct strong sunshine. Any less than 6 or 7 can mean trouble and frustration.
With all that sun, we also have to water often. My husband is the official Tomato Tender and he is excellent at remember to give our plants a drink every other day in the morning when it is still cool and before the sun has a chance to evaporate it all.
Our little poppable tomatoes are great as a snack, in salads, or halved and tossed with a French mustard dressing. Most of the time, we eat these raw as they are so sweet and best when their flavor is pure and unmasked.
Larger ones can be a canvas for a lot of fun recipes. One easy way to spruce things up without using the oven or any complicated techniques or ingredients is to grill them. Having to go outside and light the barbecue is a huge hindrance for me, so I use my nifty grill pan. It has a lid which I use for more sturdy vegetables, but it would crush our precious tomatoes so it stays on the shelf.
Grilling helps bring out the natural sweetness and flavors of the tomato, brings a nice change from a cold salad, and encourages them to absorb more of the vinaigrette which accentuates rather than competes with the tomatoeyness.
This vinaigrette gets a kick from wasabi powder and some richness from a bit of sesame oil.
Without further ado, here is my rendition of grilled tomatoes:
Just-picked tomatoes from your garden
Salt and Pepper
2 tsp wasabi powder
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3 Tbsp neutral oil (i.e. avocado)
1 Tbsp sesame oil
Cut tomatoes in half crosswise. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Heat a grill pan over medium heat. Brush with oil. Put tomato halves cut-side down on pan. Grill for 3-4 minutes.
Flip and grill for an additional 2 minutes. Place on a serving platter.
Combine wasabi powder, vinegar and oils and whisk to emulsify.
Sprinkle tomatoes with wasabi vinaigrette and fresh oregano and chives, if desired.
This recipe can be halved, doubled, tripled or whatever depending on how many tomatoes you have that are ripe and ready.
Pick ripe but firm tomatoes. If they are already soft, they will get a bit too squishy on the grill.