Cookbooks do fruit justice |

Cookbooks do fruit justice

Associated Press Tomato-Orange Cocktail is a refreshing drink from 'The Tomato Festival Cookbook' by Lawrence Davis-Hollander. For a total tomato experience, enjoy the juice with his salad of fresh and sun-dried tomatoes with Parmesan cheese.

CONCORD, N.H. – Only my father would pay hundreds of dollars for a few pounds of beefsteak tomatoes.

Actually, let me back up. Only my father would hermetically seal our basement in reflective fabric, rig up lighting powerful enough to approximate the sun and grow tomatoes in our cellar. In January.

It was only later that we realized each tomato cost about $50.

My father’s pricey tomato habit began when I was about 5. We lived in the city at the time, so a community garden plot was his best chance at playing Farmer Ron.

He did fine for a few seasons, but the electrical engineer in him was certain there was a better system.

Enter hydroponics, a space-age growing technique that involves no dirt.

Though hydroponics can be done a variety of ways, it generally entails growing vegetables without soil. The plants instead are hung in the air and sprayed with a nutrient solution or set into a foam growing medium and bathed in the solution.

So fascinated was my father with this process – and so sure he could adapt it with great success – that our family flew to Florida to see the hydroponics display at Disney’s then newly opened Epcot Center.

The trip so inspired my father that it wasn’t long after our return that the metallic sheeting was up and lights with 1-foot-wide bulbs were hung in the basement. Plastic rain gutters set on sawhorses became the pots.

The lights were set on timers to blast the seedlings with “sun” all night, when the power rates were less. A complex system of gravity-driven tanks supplied the plants’ nutrients. Before long our basement enjoyed the humidity and heat of a tropical rain forest.

Yet much to our surprise, the plants grew. In fact, they grew enormous. As for producing fruit? Not so impressive.

By harvest sometime in April we had a handful of tomatoes, a few heads of lettuce and a cucumber or so. They were good.

Actually, they were quite good. Were they $50 good (supplies plus electric power equals overpriced tomatoes)?

Mom never thought so.

Thankfully, some people take a somewhat more sane approach to their tomatoes.

“In Praise of Tomatoes” by Ronni Lundy (Lark Books, 2004, $19.95) is a gorgeous assembly of recipes and photographs celebrating everything tomato, including a history of its cultivation and use.

Most appealing are the unusual recipes Lundy has gathered, including spicy red tomato cake and green tomato pie. She also offers a wealth of information on growing, storing and cooking tomatoes.

Though less visually appealing, the equally comprehensive “The Tomato Festival Cookbook” (Storey Publishing, 2004, $16.95) by Lawrence Davis-Hollander offers an appealing collection of recipes drawn from a cadre of notable chefs, including Alice Waters, Rick Bayless and Nora Pouillon.

For a refreshing drink, try Davis-Hollander’s tomato-orange cocktail. For a total tomato experience, enjoy the juice with his salad of fresh and sun-dried tomatoes with Parmesan cheese, based on a recipe by Diana Kennedy.

And as tomato season winds down, use your spare produce in Lundy’s green tomato end-of-harvest soup.

Tomato-Orange Cocktail

(Preparation 5 minutes)

3 stems of mint, plus 4 to 6 sprigs for garnish

3 cups tomato juice

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice



Bruise the mint by rolling it with a rolling pin or bottle to release the flavors. Place the mint stems in a tall pitcher and add the juices. Stir, then season lightly with salt and sugar to taste.

Serve over ice, or chill for 1 hour before serving. Garnish glasses or the pitcher with the mint leaves.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

(Recipe from Lawrence Davis-Hollander’s “The Tomato Festival Cookbook,” Storey Publishing, 2004, $16.95.)

Fresh and Sun-Dried Tomato Salad With Parmesan

(Preparation 10 minutes)

6 to 8 large ripe tomatoes (various colors for best appearance), thinly sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2Ú3 cup of 1Ú2-inch strips of oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes

1 T. oil from the jar of sun-dried tomatoes

1 T. balsamic vinegar

4 ounces Parmesan cheese

Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer on 4 salad plates. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Scatter the sun-dried tomatoes over the fresh tomato slices. Drizzle with oil and vinegar.

Use a vegetable peeler to shave the cheese over the salad.

Makes 4 servings.

(Recipe from Lawrence Davis-Hollander’s “The Tomato Festival Cookbook,” Storey Publishing, 2004, $16.95.)

Green Tomato

End-of-Harvest Soup

(Preparation 50 minutes)

4 carrots, cut into thin rounds

4 celery stalks, sliced

2 large onions, diced

2 T. olive oil

2 zucchini, cut into 1Ú4-inch rounds

2 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into small chunks

2 cups cooked (or canned) beans, any variety

3 ears of corn, kernels cut from the cobs (about 3 cups)

4 green tomatoes, cored and diced

3 cups chopped greens (such as kale, beets, turnip or collard)

3 potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

3 T. minced scallions

6 cups vegetable stock or water

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large stockpot over a medium flame, saute the carrots, celery and onions in the olive oil until just tender, about 6 minutes. Add the zucchini, butternut squash and beans. Cook until the mixture begins to brown, about 5 minutes.

Add the corn, green tomatoes, greens, potatoes, thyme and scallion and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the vegetable stock or water and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Makes 12 servings.

(Recipe from Ronni Lundy’s “In Praise of Tomatoes,” Lark Books, 2004, $19.95.)