You know that scene in The Return of the King where Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn are in the cave with the ghost army, and all the millions of skulls coming tumbling down?
Now think cherry tomatoes instead of skulls. That's what I feel like.
One of the things that can catch inexperienced gardeners unaware is the bounty. Everyone's heard the apocryphal stories of the sneak zucchini attack-- some hapless gardener plants 10 zucchinis in a fit of madness and can't get rid of them, so they leave them on some unsuspecting neighbor's porch in the middle of the night.
This year, as part of the Eat Real Food challenge at Not Dabbling in Normal, I decided to see if I could preserve enough food to make it into January before resorting to store bought (since I'm trying to stay local and seasonal). I planted twice as many tomatoes as usual, plus 6 cherry tomatoes, thinking I'd eat the cherries and preserve the full size.
And like the newbie that I'm not, I got caught unaware-- I've got cherries out the wazzoo. About 4-5 quarts so far, with double that ripening as I write. They make great snacks, and a friend is taking 2 quarts (plus some corn, and though she doesn't know it yet, refrigerator pickles, not to mention, ahem, zucchini) in payment for a design job, bless her, but what to do with the rest?
Cherry Tomato Eggplant Bruschetta
1 quart Cherry Tomatoes (about 60-80 tomatoes, depending on the size)
garlic to taste (let's say 3 large cloves)
2+ T olive oil plus 1 T olive oil
Fresh herbs (basil is nice, also parsley, also oregano)
Salt and pepper
Adjust quantities if you have 80 pounds of cherry tomatoes, like I appear to.
Peel and dice eggplant and dredge it with salt. Let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour, until some liquid has accumulated. Rinse, pat dry, and macerate in 2 tablespoons olive oil until thoroughly absorbed. Quarter or dice the tomatoes, chop the herbs very fine, press the garlic. Mix it all together with the remaining olive oil. At this point you can either roast it in a cool oven (300-325F/150-160C) for 45-55 minutes, or cook it in a skillet at high heat for about 5 minutes. Cool and eat right away, or spoon the hot bruschetta into hot jars and heat preserve. For a sweet garlic taste, roast a head of garlic whole first, then whip that with the olive oil before mixing it all together.
Cherry Tomato Salsa
Use any basic salsa recipe, just with quartered cherry tomatoes instead of diced full-sized tomatoes. Here's one from mykitchenaddiction.com:
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeño, minced
Juice from 1/2 of a lemon (I'd rather use lime, but she uses lemon)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Toss the cherry tomatoes, red onion, and jalapeño together in a small mixing bowl. Squeeze the lemon (um, lime?) juice over the mixture, and stir in the fresh cilantro. Season to taste with salt. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes prior to serving.
Cherry Tomato Paste
You need at least 3 quarts of cherry tomatoes to end up with a pint of paste, or a quart of sauce. Put the tomatoes into a sauce pan with a little water (maybe a quarter cup, just to keep them from burning until they start to release their own liquid). Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until all the tomatoes have lost their shape. Run through progressively finer sieves in a food mill, until the seeds and skin are separated. Compost the seeds and skin, or use them as the base for stock. (Then compost them.) Return the tomato-y liquid to the pan and cook down by half (i.e. keep cooking and stirring until half or more of the water has simmered off.) Spoon hot paste into hot jars (1 cup for paste, larger for a thinner paste, larger still for a sauce consistency) and heat seal. Since cherry tomatoes have a high sugar content, for extra insurance against spoiling add a little lemon juice, citric acid or vinegar. (Do this to taste. You don't want your tomato paste to be sour. For additional insurance, store these cold.) If you like, you can add salt, spices, garlic or onion to this, but I like the flexibility of a pure paste.
Dried Cherry tomatoes
Cut your tomatoes in half and lay between two clean screens. Set out in the sun for 2-3 days; bringing them in overnight. (from the gardener behind Read Between the Limes). Colleen Vanderlinden, the organic gardening guru at About.com, says she does this with her grape tomatoes especially.
More tweeted advice:
Thanks to all my tweeps for the ideas!
18 hours ago