Seeing red: Time for tomatoes to make their summer appearance

July 29, 2013 

By Suzanne Boyle News-Democrat

Summer is the only time to think about eating fresh tomatoes, or using them in dishes. Any other time of year and they disappoint. Seriously.

Admittedly, canning and freezing helps preserve them for later in the year, and even though this is a good substitute, it's not the same as slicing into a tomato you picked from your garden or bought at a local market or stand.

Roasting is a delicious way to use tomatoes, too, condensing down the flavors. It's easy to do. Try using your tomatoes that way and adding them to sauce or soup.

A great way to use summer tomatoes is to substitute them for canned diced or stewed tomatoes.

The recipes here are a collection of fairly classic Italian-inspired dishes that use fresh tomatoes, from a Roasted Tomato Basil Soup to a baked tomato pie. Of course, if you feel the desire, you can used canned, but it won't taste the same!

Seeding tomatoes

It's usually not necessary to remove the seeds from tomatoes before using. But for some recipes, seeding the tomatoes can improve the dish's appearance or eliminate excess moisture.

For example, it's not important to seed tomatoes when preparing a tossed salad. But it's nice to remove the seeds when making creamy tomato soup to ensure a smooth texture.

Using seeded tomatoes when assembling a casserole can prevent it from becoming watery, too.

To remove the seeds from a tomato, cut it in half horizontally and remove the stem. Holding a tomato half over a bowl or sink, scrape out seeds with a small spoon or squeeze the tomato to force out the seeds. Then slice or dice as directed in the recipe.

This recipe was inspired by a similar one in the "Barefoot Contessa Cookbook." The soup is easy to prepare and it freezes very well.


21/2 pounds Roma tomatoes cut in half lengthwise

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Salt and pepper, to taste, for seasoning tomatoes

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

Dash of red pepper flakes

1 cup freshly chopped basil

1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes

4 cups vegetable or chicken broth

Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread the tomatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and roast for about 45 minutes.

In a large stockpot, heat the other 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes, fresh basil and broth. Stir in the oven-roasted tomatoes. Cook for about 30 minutes over medium-low heat.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the stockpot, or transfer soup to a food processor or blender to blend. The soup should be smooth, with a few tomato chunks. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve warm. Makes 4-6 servings.

Note: Be careful when transferring the soup to a blender or food processor. You may want to wait until it is at room temperature to blend.

Baked Ziti with Fresh Tomatoes

1 pound ziti or penne pasta

Olive oil

1 pound Italian sausage

4 tablespoons tomato paste

Red pepper flakes

3 pounds plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (about 15 tomatoes)

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

16 ounces ricotta

11/2 cups shredded Parmesan cheese

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, shredded

Italian seasoning

Fresh basil, chiffonade

Salt and pepper

1. Boil the pasta until quite al dente. Drain and set aside. (Baking the pasta later will ensure it is done.)

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

3. In a large saute pan or Dutch oven, heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the Italian sausage and cook until browned. Drain off fat if needed.

4. Add tomato paste and red pepper flakes and cook for one minute.

5. Add the tomato sauce and chopped tomatoes, stir to combine. Season with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning to taste. Turn the heat to low. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally.

6. Mix the cream cheese, ricotta cheese and half of the Parmesan together until well combined. Salt and pepper to taste.

7. To assemble the ziti, coat the bottom of two medium baking dishes or one really large baking dish with a scant layer of the tomato and sausage sauce.

If using two dishes, follow up with 1/4 of the cooked pasta, then 1/4 of the ricotta mixture. Sprinkle 1/4 of the fresh mozzarella and 1/4 of the basil. Repeat with another layer of tomato sauce, then the pasta, ricotta and basil. Sprinkle with mozzarella. Repeat in the second dish. If using a large pan, do by halves.

8. Cover the dishes and bake 30 minutes. Then, uncover and cook 10 to 15 minutes longer, or until brown and bubbly. Let stand about 10 minutes before dishing up. Makes about 12 servings.

Adapted from a recipe from


2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 pounds ground veal

2 pounds ground lamb


2 (16-ounce) packages manicotti pasta

1 pound prosciutto, cut into 1/4-inch dice

2 large eggs

1 cup plus 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

2 cups fresh ricotta, drained

2 cups fresh breadcrumbs

Freshly ground black pepper

3 cups tomato cream sauce (see recipe below)*

Bring 8 quarts of water to a boil in a large pasta pot. Set up an ice bath nearby.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush the sides and bottom of a 9-by-13-inch lasagna pan with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.

In a 14-inch saute pan, heat the remaining 1/4 cup oil over medium heat. Add the veal and lamb, and cook until lightly browned, carefully separating the meat with a wood spoon so it crumbles evenly. Remove the pan from the heat, drain off the fat, and allow the meat to cool.

Add 2 tablespoons salt to the boiling water. Carefully add the manicotti tubes to the water and cook for 2 minutes less than the package instructions indicate. Drain and submerge the pasta in the ice bath. When it has cooled, drain again and set aside.

Place the cooled meat mixture in a large mixing bowl, and add the prosciutto, eggs, 1 cup of grated cheese, the parsley, ricotta and breadcrumbs. Mix gently but thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Using a piping bag or a small spoon, carefully stuff the filling into the pasta tubes.

Place half of the stuffed pasta tubes in the oiled lasagna pan, arranging them in an even layer across the bottom.

Spread 11/2 cups of the tomato cream sauce over the tubes, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup of the remaining grated cheese. Place the remaining stuffed pasta tubes over the first layer, like a pile of logs, and spread the remaining sauce over them. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese.

Bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown and crispy on top. Remove, and allow the manicotti to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 as a main.

Adapted from a recipe by Chef Mario Batali

Tomato Cream Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, chopped

1-2 tablespoons minced garlic

28-ounce can plus 8 -ounce can tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Dash of sugar

1 cup heavy cream

Grated parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons dried basil (2 tablespoons fresh if you have it)

Heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until onion is tender. Pour in the tomato sauce and add salt, pepper, sugar and basil if using dried basil. Stir and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes stirring occasionally. Stir in the cream and add desired amount of cheese and basil if using fresh basil and heat through.

Add to any pasta. Serve immediately.

Homemade or canned pureed tomatoes are a good substitute in this recipe. Serve this sauce over spaghetti or polenta or a baked potato, or with grilled vegetables.

The onions, carrots and celery can be diced up to 24 hours in advance. The completed sauce can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

Sweet Sausage Spaghetti Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound fresh sweet Italian sausage links, casings discarded

2 medium onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice (2 cups)

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)

2 medium ribs celery (leaves removed), cut into 1/4-inch dice

Kosher salt

2/3 cup dry red wine

3 cups strained tomatoes; may substitute tomato puree

1 cup water, plus more if needed

2 teaspoons mixed dried Italian herbs (any one or a combination of oregano, basil, marjoram and/or crushed rosemary)

2 teaspoons sugar

Freshly ground black pepper

Line a large plate with several layers of paper towels. Heat the oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add half of the sausage, breaking it into small pieces. Cook, stirring every minute or so, for 3 to 4 minutes, until the sausage loses its raw look and starts to brown. Transfer it to the paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining sausage.

Pour off and discard all but a film of fat from the saucepan. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions, carrots, celery and a pinch of salt. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring every minute or so and adjusting the heat so the vegetables soften but do not brown.

Return all of the sausage to the saucepan. Add the wine and stir to combine. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the strained tomatoes. Use the water to rinse off any puree clinging to the inside of the box or can, then add it to the saucepan. Add the dried herbs and sugar. Season with salt and pepper to taste, stirring to combine. Once the mixture starts to bubble, reduce the heat to medium-low so it is barely bubbling at the edges. Partially cover with a lid and cook for 25 minutes, stirring a few times and adding a little water if it becomes too thick. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Serve immediately, or cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Makes 7 cups (14 servings), each 1/2-cup serving with 90 calories, 6 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 220 mg sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 4 grams sugar.

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick for The Washington Post

Nonnie's Tomato Pie

Refrigerator pie crust or your own homemade crust

4-5 large, ripe tomatoes, sliced and blotted dry

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup shredded, sharp Cheddar cheese

1/2 large, sweet onion, sauteed

1/2 pound thick-cut bacon, cut into strips, and cooked till crisp

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1. To form your crust, take dough from the fridge, and place it on a lightly floured surface, roll to about 1/8-inch thick, rotating the dough every few passes with the rolling pin to assure even thickness.

Transfer the dough to a tart pan or pie plate and finish the edge as desired. Chill the shell in the fridge for at least 1/2 hour before baking.

3. To blind bake the shell: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line the pastry shell with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake 20-25 minutes, until the surface under the paper looks light brown. Remove the paper and weights and return the shell to the oven for another 5 minutes or so, until drier and a more golden brown. Remove the shell to a rack, and let cool completely before proceeding with baking your pie.

4. Slice the tomatoes and place them on a large cooling rack covered with paper towels. Very lightly sprinkle the slices with kosher salt to help pull moisture from them, and cover them with another layer of paper towels. Let them sit like this for at least an hour.

5. Finely mince the onion and saute till golden brown in a little olive oil and butter if desired.

Cook bacon pieces until just crisp, and let drain on a paper towel.

Mix mayonnaise, grated cheese and oregano in a bowl and set aside.

6. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Assemble the pie by roughly chopping the tomato slices and spreading the pieces evenly into the pie shell.

Generously cover the top with freshly ground black pepper, sprinkle with the onions and bacon and top with the mayo-cheese mix.

Place the pie in the oven and bake for about 1/2 hour, or until the top is nicely browned and the pie is bubbling. Remove from the oven and set on a rack to cool for at least 1/2 hour before cutting and serving.

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