Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hungry For Tomatoes

You’ve got to love this time of year. My last visit to the market brought me to tears and it’s all because of the visuals. Those plentiful bushels of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants make me want to swim in them—with my swimming trunks' on of course.
The earth has offered up her bounty; it’s time to taste the food the way it was meant to be tasted. I found these small, Jingle Bell peppers over at Birri Brothers in the Jean-Talon Market that would satisfy any sweet tooth. And the tomatoes, what can I say about my beloved red fruit that hasn’t already been said before except to say this year’s tomato crop isn’t really up to par. The weather this summer has produced tomatoes with blandness in flavour and graininess in texture. Even the tomatoes from my own garden have let me down; most of them bearing little black spots indicative of too much rain.
This doesn’t mean we should give up on tomatoes this year; I do very much like the local hothouse cherry tomatoes. The controlled environments in some of the greenhouses produce wonderful tasting tomatoes. Some of these tomatoes are available by the bushel and are worth preserving as tomato sauce.
Another fantastic tomato revelation made at the Jean Talon Market came in the form of heirloom tomatoes. I found these rare tomatoes at Le Potager Mont-Rouge. Heirlooms are grown with flavour in mind and not for appearance. I implore all of you to try these tomatoes; the taste and flavour are a revelation.

Fig.1. Heirloom tomatoes. From the top: Red Pepper, Green Zebra, Yellow Brandywine, orange pineapple.

Preserved Tomatoes

Fig.2. These beautiful preserved tomatoes make a wonderful addition to any cantina.

The following recipe is for diced plum tomatoes, but you can preserve any variety of tomato you wish, as long as it’s fresh, ripe, and local.

-Sterilize your Mason jars and lids (I put them in the dishwasher). Once completely dry, place 3 or 4 basil leaves at the bottom of each jar.
-Remove stems and wash tomatoes.
-Make an incision in the shape of an X on top of the tomatoes with a sharp knife.
-Immerse the tomatoes in a large pot of boiling water for about 2 minutes. (The time can vary depending on the ripeness of the tomato. After a minute test one of the tomatoes, if the skin comes off easily, it’s done.)
-With a colander, scoop out the tomatoes and drop them in a bucket of cold water. This temperature shocking helps separate the tomato’s skin from the pulp.
-Peel the tomatoes discarding the skins. Over a wide canning funnel inserted into a jar, cut the tomatoes in pieces and drop them in the jar until full.
-I like to top each jar with some pureed tomatoes to ensure that no air pockets remain in the jar. Simply puree some of the peeled tomatoes in a blender and then add the tomato puree to each jar. Tap the jar gently on your work surface to release any trapped bubbles.
-When the jar is full, seal with the lids making sure not to over tighten.
-Once the tomatoes are all jarred, seal in a water bath and let them cool gently overnight.

I also started preserving tomatoes with the skins on. Tomato skins contain lycopene, a powerful, proven antioxidant. Follow the same procedure omitting the removal of the skins. If you don’t like seeing curled up tomato skins in your sauce, just puree the sauce in a blender before cooking it. The pureed seeds and skin add a different dimension to the finished sauce.

Tomato facts.

-Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin C, beta carotene, folate, and potassium.
-The skin of the tomato contains lycopene- a powerful antioxidant.
-A medium tomato contains only 26 calories.
-Unlike picked tomatoes, vine-tomatoes continue to ripen naturally

Friday, September 5, 2008

Little Blue Candy

Fig. 1. Spread the blueberries out on a cookie sheet, use a piece of brown paper to help prevent sticking.

It’s come to my attention that some readers feel my articles are too long; well I’m listening, so in keeping with the diminutive let’s talk about blueberries.
The plump blueberries, which are found in and around Montreal, are cultivated. The small, sweet berries, which hail from Lac St-Jean and Abitibi, grow wild, and, in my opinion, taste better.

Blueberries freeze very well (just look at the wide variety of Europe’s Best berries in supermarket freezers.) Spread the blueberries on a cookie sheet lined with brown paper and place in the freezer. Store in ziplock bags removing as much air as you can.
Although there are countless ways to use blueberries, what I propose is that you try them “au naturel”. The small wild blues are like candy. (I know the article is a bit late for blueberries but you can still find some at the Jean Talon Market.) And they’re excellent frozen; just add them to your cereal, yogurt or ice cream.
But for those of you who love the recipes, here’s my favourite blueberry pancake recipe from Canadian Living magazine.

Fig. 2. These flapjacks are thick and fluffy.

Flip-Over Blueberry Pancakes

Makes 14 pancakes


-1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
-1 tbsp granulated sugar
-1 tbsp baking powder
-1/2 tsp salt
-1 ½ cups milk
-1 egg
-1 cup frozen blueberries
-1/4 cup vegetable oil


-In large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In separate bowl, beat together milk, egg and 3 tbsp of the oil. Pour over dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Once the batter comes together, fold in the frozen blueberries.
-Lightly brush non-stick pan with some of the remaining oil; heat over medium heat. Using ¼ cup per pancake, pour in batter. Cook until bottom is golden and bubbles break on top, 1 ½ to 2 ½ minutes. Turn and cook until bottom is golden.