It’s Tomato Season at Monticello!
It’s a delicious time of year here at Monticello and we decided to check in with our resident gardening experts to see how they like to eat their tomatoes or “love apples” as they were often referred to in Thomas Jefferson’s era.
The Purple Calabash Tomato was a clear favorite with our staff. Pat Brodowski, Monticello Vegetable Gardener, favors a fresh preparation, “I love Purple Calabash still warm from the garden. I cut them into scalloped circles that look like a mahogany-colored flower. The deep spicy flavor was rated first at this year’s Monticello Tomato Tasting.”
Brian Hartsock, Operations Manager of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s Center for Historic Plants (CHP), doesn’t even bother with a knife, “I like Purple Calabash right off the vine like an apple!”
Lily Fox-Bruguiere, Garden & Outreach Coordinator for the CHP, has two delicious and easy go-to sauce recipes that she says work well with any of the tomatoes available at the Shop at Monticello. “For a fresh, no-cook sauce, I marinate fresh tomatoes with olive oil, garlic, and fresh basil for at least two hours and then toss with pasta and fresh mozzarella,” says Fox-Bruguiere, “and for a quick-cook fresh sauce, I start by blanching the tomatoes to remove the skins. Then, I sauté garlic and olive oil in a pan and add the tomatoes. Once the tomatoes have cooked down I add fresh basil and serve over pasta with parmesan cheese.”
According to Gabriele Rausse, Monticello’s Director of Garden and Grounds, the secret to a great sauce is wine and the right tomato, “My favorite tomato is the Costoluto Genovese. It makes the best tomato sauce for pasta. It has a high amount of Lycopene, an antioxidant compound that gives the tomato its color. Lycopene is also highly soluble in fat and it combines very well with olive oil that I use for the tomato sauce.”
Gabriele Rausse’s Recipe
1) Slice a medium size onion thinly and fry it in olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat until it begins to brown. Add a glass of white wine to the onions.
2) Slice 1 lb. of Costoluto Genovese tomatoes, removing the petiole attachment and then adding to the browned onion in the pan. ( note: you can also use a blender rather than slice the tomatoes).
3) Add an half a vegetable bouillon cube or an equivalent amount of salt to the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer and then turn the heat down to low. The sauce should cook slowly for about an hour before serving with the pasta of your dreams.
While there are many myths surrounding Jefferson and tomatoes, it is true that he and his relatives frequently ate, enjoyed, and helped popularize the vegetable. “Tomatas,” as Jefferson spelled the name, were widely used in the Monticello kitchen and several varieties were planted in the Monticello garden. Jefferson’s granddaughters left records of numerous recipes that utilized the tomato, including gumbo soup, tomato pickles, preserves, and omelets. Virginia House-wife, a cookbook by Jefferson’s cousin Mary Randolf, was one of the first appearances of tomatoes in an American cookbook. It contained 17 recipes featuring tomatoes including catsup, gazpacho, and stewed tomatoes.
If you are a fan of this American heritage food, check out The Heirloom Tomato by Amy Goldman and Tomatoes by Miriam Rubin. Both cookbooks offer delicious tomato recipes and history. Along with the recipes and photos in The Heirloom Tomato, there are profiles of the tomatoes filled with fascinating facts on their history and provenance, and a master gardener’s guide to growing your own. More than just a loving look at one of the world’s great edibles, this is a philosophy of eating and conservation between covers – an irresistible book for anyone who loves to cook or to garden.
Tomatoes includes recipes that celebrate the down-home, inventive, and contemporary, such as Stand-over-the-Sink Tomato Sandwiches, Spiced Green Tomato Crumb Cake, Green Tomato and Pork Tenderloin Biscuit Pie, and Tomato and Golden Raisin Chutney. Rubin also offers useful cooking tips, lively lessons on history, cultivation, and preserving, and variations for year-round enjoyment of the tomato. With our seeds and cookbooks, you can’t grow wrong!
Need more recipes and food history to pair with those tomatoes? Check out our Jefferson and Pasta blog for Jefferson’s very own noodle recipe and the Shop’s latest pasta products.