Looking across the field at the ruby dots suspended amongst tangles of vine, my eyes find inspiration. Especially in the late afternoon when the sun is hitting the field just right, casting a haze on the landscape as I look through my camera lens. I think of cherry tomatoes like most kinds of berries: radiant jewels in the garden. Harvesting them is a treasure hunt. When ripe, they release into your hand with ease. So do the larger tomatoes, but let’s face it: little things are cute.
Picking them is a pleasure and if you are inclined, you can eat as you go. Kids are supposedly more likely to eat a vegetable they’ve had a hand in growing themselves. I would say that’s true for adults too.
Pan-seared is my favorite way to eat them. I love the way little tomatoes pop and roll around in a hot pan. With enough heat and space in the pan, the petite varieties will blister immediately and begin to wilt. Less than a minute or so later, the tomatoes can be finished in endless ways: deglazed with a favorite spirit or fresh citrus juice or just a pinch of salt, for example. Then use them everywhere, from a garnish where vibrant color is desperately needed, to full-on side dish status.
Where I wouldn’t even consider buying a regular fresh tomato any time but the heat of summer, I have become more open to the cherry and grape varieties in the grocery store year round. With their higher sugar concentration, they tend to taste more like themselves even in the cold months. And my tendency to pan-sear them anyway makes the season irrelevant. Aside from a full sized August heirloom, I don’t eat raw tomatoes. I feel good about my tomato tendencies since common research shows that cooking tomatoes releases more of their antioxidant qualities.
1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, rinsed and dried
1 ounce of silver tequila, bourbon or juice of one lime
1 tablespoon or so of fresh mint, chopped
Pinch of salt
One half tablespoon extra virgin coconut oil, grape seed or other high heat oil
Heat a sauté pan on medium high heat. Add the oil and allow it to heat for a few seconds.
Cool oil won’t produce that immediate sear you are looking for. Throw the little tomatoes into the hot pan and wait about 15 seconds. Don’t move them just yet.
Then start rolling them around in the pan and watch their skins blister. About a minute later, move the pan away from the flame if you are using a spirit and pour it in. Carefully return the pan to the burner. If the flame catches a vapor of the alcohol, it will flare in the pan. That’s not a bad thing. As the flame dies down, you know the alcohol has burned off. Just watch that you don’t set yourself on fire in the process.
Fresh lime juice or any other citrus will work fine, without the fear of fire.
Finish the tomatoes with a pinch of salt and the chopped mint.
Variations: other spirits will work fine here as well as your choice of herbs. Play around with infinite combinations. Another favorite of mine: bourbon finished with honey, fresh orange juice and fresh basil.
Pushing past June beetles and prickly stems, berry picking is done of love, a tedious process. One in the mouth, one for the basket. As it should be. Just like that, no washing.
It’s a crime to eat fresh berries any other way but unaffected, straight out of the garden.
But should an abundance of summer berries become your windfall, a sorbet is a preparation that will render a juicy, tongue stained pardon from the judge.
Any combination of the four radiant jewels – raspberries, blueberries, blackberries or strawberries – will work here. The beauty of this method is that it leaves the berries in their raw state, conserving their glow bestowing nutrients in a fun, chilly way.
The presentation can be altered to please you: a classic sorbet scooped into beautiful glass dishes or frozen in any size and shape of Popsicle mold. And truth be told, the base for the sorbet could be shaken with ice and your favorite spirit and then strained into a martini glass. It’s summer. All things are possible.
Any discussion of a berry recipe brings up the issue of seeds, which inspires all kinds of reactions. Yes, the seeds are such an important part of the nutritious profile of berries. Especially the ones with hardier seeds: the blackberry and raspberry. Some feel strongly that it is wasteful and irresponsible to strain them out. But others aren’t able to get past the granulated mouth feel the seeds contribute to an otherwise smooth experience. This recipe suggests a compromise. But please skip the straining step if you feel it best.
If you are missing one or more type of berry, substitute more of another. Any single variety can stand alone in this recipe as well. And don’t get too caught up with the measurements. More or less of this or that berry is okay.
The seeds are going to be strained from the blackberries and raspberries, so start by blending them together. In a blender process the blackberries and raspberries until they are a smooth puree. If your blender stalls and won’t process the fibrous berries, add one tablespoon of cold water at a time until the blades get moving.
Pass the puree through a fine mesh strainer into a mixing bowl, pushing out all of the fruit liquid and leaving the seeds behind. Discard the seeds and set the puree aside while you move on to the other berries.
Give your blender a quick rinse and put in the strawberries and blueberries. At this point, add the ginger as well. Again, process until smooth. Without straining these berries, add them to the blackberry – raspberry mixture.
Whisk in the lemon zest and lemon juice, the vanilla and seeds, if using and then on to the sweetener. Agave is recommended, but honey would be fine too.
The sweetness of a berry is unpredictable. That’s part of its charm. Something that looks so juicy can fool. So begin with the least amount of agave. Then taste. Add more sweetener to your satisfaction. With high citrus and warm vanilla, this sorbet can stand without being overly sweet. Follow your palate.
Choose your medium: a commercial ice cream maker to process the berries into a sorbet or Popsicle molds. Or, with spiced rum…..
2 cups each of strawberries (capped and quartered), blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. If you are missing any of the four, add more of the others
One quarter inch of fresh ginger, peeled
One quarter to half a cup raw, organic agave
One whole lemon, zested and then cut in half
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
One quarter inch vanilla pod scraped of seeds, optional
Process all of the ingredients, except the vanilla seeds and lemon zest, together in a blender. Strain out the seeds, if you desire. Then add in the vanilla seeds and lemon zest. Taste and add more agave if you like.
Freeze in a commercial ice cream machine per the manufacturer’s directions or pour into popsicle molds.
prana is the common thread running through everything i love....the sun on my face...the sunlight through my camera.... breathing the ocean air... the sound of my breath...laughing with family + friends.