Fresh Summer Recipes: Cooking With Basil, Green Beans and Tomatoes

It’s the time all gardeners look forward to: High summer, when many crops are in their glory. Here’s a guide to growing and cooking with basil, green beans and tomatoes.


| August/September 2014



Basket of Beans, Tomatoes and Basil

Basil, beans and tomatoes are the jewels of the summer garden.


Photo by Barbara Damrosch

For the summer gardener-cook, every day brings an armload of beautiful vegetables, and the happy challenge is to make the most of them, especially those that thrive only in the warm season. Of these, tomatoes win the prize, and I could cheerfully put a platter of sliced, just-picked, ripe tomatoes on the table at every meal, but we must also make room for tomato soups, pasta with fresh tomato sauces, and BLTs. High summer is a busy time. Even a basic ripe-tomato sandwich with mayo and a few basil leaves tucked in makes a satisfying summer meal, so the simplest fresh summer recipes work best.

Tomatoes may be the nation’s most popular garden vegetable, but in some regions, they’re a little tricky to grow (for an essential playbook, see All About Growing Tomatoes and check out Growing Tomatoes: A Collection of Expert Advice). Beginners often plant more than they need — remember, a single cherry tomato plant will keep a couple well supplied for snacking and for scattering over salads. But you’ll want a few of the indeterminate (vining) type with larger fruits for summer-long harvests. If you’d also like to dry, freeze or can tomatoes, grow a half-dozen determinate (bush-type) tomatoes as well. These ripen over a shorter stretch of time, which is just right for a few weeks of processing. Of these, dense, meaty, plum-shaped paste tomatoes make the quickest sauce with the deepest flavor.

Kitchen Tips for Top Tomato Treats

Ideally, you’ll harvest tomatoes when they have fully colored up and softened. Sometimes picking them before that perfect day is necessary, to avoid some anticipated ill fate — an intractable pest, a disease, or the cracking that can happen with certain heirloom varieties. In fall, a frost might take you by surprise before you’ve had a chance to can or freeze your bounty. Fortunately, tomatoes ripen off the vine. If that hard green ball has even the slightest pink blush, it will eventually turn red on your kitchen counter.

After they’re picked, ripe or not, tomatoes should not be refrigerated. Cold is the enemy of their flavor — another reason not to let tomatoes hang on the vine very far into fall, even if frost holds off.

In many cases, such as in sandwiches and salads, tomatoes can be used just as is. Other times, as in sauces, peeling is called for because the skin doesn’t soften and shriveled bits of it can interfere with a dish’s texture. The best way to peel a tomato is to pour boiling water over it, count to 10, and then slip off the skin with your fingers. You can skin tomatoes that have been frozen whole by just holding them under running water for a few seconds.

Removing the pulp and seeds is sometimes necessary, too, either for texture or to decrease the water content. This can be done by cutting each fruit into quarters and scooping the pulp out of its cavities with your finger. For making a smooth sauce or purée, remove the skin and seeds by straining them out so you retain more of the nutrients in the pulp. If using a small food mill, cooking the tomatoes first makes the job easier. A more heavy-duty strainer can handle them raw.





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