February 26, 2020

In Honor of the New Month, Tomatoes Take Center Stage

There is a Jerry Seinfeld stand-up routine in which he portrays himself as a child. “Get candy get candy get candy” is his be-all and end-all. As much as I hate to say it, I’ve been there. Candy is sweet, candy has texture, candy is oh-so-attractively packaged. Candy is everywhere. Candy is one of the only prepared kosher foods you can grab and eat right off the shelf of any 7-Eleven or gas station, or from a vending machine in any hospital, courthouse, school, or DMV. It will fill you up until you get home and, relatively speaking, candy is just so cheap. 

With all the after-holiday sales, specials and promotions, sometimes stores are practically giving it away. And that’s where I draw the line. If I’m going to eat 300 calories, I’m going to make them count.

The word “kosher” means “suitable for use” but there is only so much sugar my body can use. 

Around the beginning of every month on the Hebrew calendar, I plan to present great kosher recipes using what’s fresh and plentiful. I need something that can stand up to Big Sugar and its big corporate and governmental proponents … and give me something worth eating.

The Tomato
The end of August is the beginning of Elul, the month that says, “Warning: Holidays Approaching.” But before the new year, let’s scoop up those high-summer tomatoes and make them count. Beefsteak, cherry, Roma or canned tomatoes, you are all beautiful and you all deserve a place at the table. Stand up and take a bow.

Tomato, Pesto and Ricotta Cheese Tarts

Four 5-inch sheets puff pastry
Egg wash (1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water)
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, plus 2 ounces shaved with a vegetable peeler
4 ounces whole-milk ricotta cheese, drained of excess liquid
4 ounces pesto
4 quarter-inch slices large yellow pepper
4 quarter-inch slices large ripe but firm tomato
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground coarse black pepper
4 basil or thyme sprigs

Using a 5-inch wide saucer or other round object as a guide, cut a circle from each sheet of puff pastry, discarding the scraps.

Place pastry rounds on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and refrigerate until ready to use. 

Preheat oven to 425 F, or convection oven to 360 F.

Using a sharp paring knife, score a 1/4 inch-wide border around each pastry circle. Paint borders with egg wash.

Mix ricotta cheese with 3 tablespoons pesto. Reserve. 

Prick pastry with the tines of a fork inside the score lines. Spread with 1 teaspoon of pesto, and sprinkle 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan over pesto on each round, staying inside the scored border. 

Place slice of yellow pepper in the center of each round. Inside the pepper slice, place 1 tablespoon of ricotta cheese-pesto mixture and smooth the surface.

Place slice of tomato over ricotta cheese-pesto mixture; drizzle tomato slice lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. 

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. Cool on rack until just warm.

Scatter 4 or 5 shards of Parmesan on each tart. Garnish with basil or thyme sprigs. Serve warm.

Makes 4 servings.

Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette
This is an oven-roasted tomato vinaigrette, a creamy dressing with no cream, a naturally sweet condiment with no sugar. All you need is a bunch of slow-roasted cherry tomatoes and a blender or food processor. Summer in a jar.

Olive oil
1 pint cherry tomatoes, washed and halved
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper or cayenne pepper
1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil*

Preheat oven to 250 F.

Grease a cookie sheet with olive oil and place the tomatoes, cut sides down, in a single layer. Place the garlic cloves under a couple of the larger tomatoes (so they can roast without burning).

Bake for an hour or until the tomatoes soften and wrinkle. Let them cool.

Scoop tomatoes, juices and garlic into a blender or food processor.

Add vinegar and oil and puree until smooth and creamy. Taste and gently correct the seasonings to taste. 

Makes about 2 cups.

* I prefer Kalamata olive oil from Trader Joe’s over extra virgin olive oil.

Cowboy Caviar
Cowboy Caviar is delicious, colorful and healthful, great for filling an omelet, tossing on a bed of greens, or as a side dish with barbecue.  

Note: Mince the green onions and cilantro in advance. The moment you pull the Caviar out of the oven, stir in the herbs; the heat of the just-broiled vegetables will cook them.

Non-stick cooking spray

1 16-ounce bag frozen white corn kernels, thawed
1 16-ounce bag frozen yellow corn kernels, thawed
1 16-ounce can black beans or black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
2 bell peppers, cored and cut into 1/4-inch pieces, or half a 16-ounce bag frozen peppers, thawed and cut into 1/2 -inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle chili powder
3 green onions, minced
1 15-ounce can petite diced tomatoes, drained
2 or more tablespoons minced cilantro
1/2 cup salsa
Juice of 1 lime, to taste
1 avocado, peeled and cubed

Preheat the oven or convection oven to broil.

Coat a large glass baking dish with cooking spray. Combine corn, beans and bell peppers, and drizzle with oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic and onion powders and toss to coat.

Broil in the top third of the preheated oven until the kernels just begin to color, about 10-15 minutes.

Remove the dish from the oven and stir. Return to oven to allow the mixture to begin to brown again, about 10 minutes.

Remove the dish from the oven and stir again. Return the dish to allow the mixture to cook about 5 minutes more.

Remove the dish from the oven and quickly stir in the green onions, tomatoes, cilantro, salsa and lime juice.

Refrigerate until 20 minutes before serving. Add the avocado just before serving. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 16 as a relish.


Debby Segura lives in Los Angeles. She designs dinnerware and textiles, and teaches cooking classes.