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Thursday, March 22, 2018


Grow them and I will come.

As we leave winter behind and slowly segue into spring, I dream of tomato-land. With my token seedlings planted and tucked away, I dream of  the endless sea of sun-kissed heirlooms that will flood our markets during midsummer's high season. Even now, knowing they're still months and months away, I close my eyes and can taste the warm sweet acidity  that only just picked vine-ripened summer tomatoes can bring to the table.

Last season was spectacular. Almost like no other. Almost overkill. Almost. Before I sensed my crazy, I'd already morphed into an obsessed tomato addict. Peeled. Unpeeled. Sliced. Chunked. Salted. Marinated. Roasted. Broiled. Sandwiched. Any way and every way possible to get my fix. I almost maxed out when popping tiny sweet sun golds like candy replaced gummies as my go to snack. I was in it to win it from the very first moment tomatoes arrived.
Because of the rains and weather, tomatoes were prolific. They kept coming and coming and coming. By late summer into early fall, the jewels of summer started to wane. Fewer in number with lesser intensity (but no less gorgeous), the late season tomatoes played second fiddle to the stalwarts of autumn. Even then, I wasn't quite ready to let them go. I needed to preserve the bounty.


Never much of a canning pro, I gave up it a while back. Even though I watched and helped my grandmother put up hundreds of jars of canned tomato during my summers on the farm, I found that through years of trial and error I lacked the stamina, fortitude, and dimly lit cobweb-swathed cellar to live out her legacy. Canning simply didn't work out for for me and in lieu of the homespun sentimentality of mason jars, I turned to the freezer.

All Varieties. All sizes. All shapes.
A mishmash of late season tomatoes.
Sliced. Salted. Peppered. Herbed. Roasted. Bagged.

To capture a hint of summer and thwart the early spring chill, I pulled my stash from the freezer for an ode to tomato-land.

Braised Fennel With Roasted Tomatoes.
A simple braise.

After pulling my frozen roasted tomatoes from the freezer to thaw, I trimmed the stalks from 2 large fennel bulbs (fronds reserved) before quartering and coring the bulbs while being mindful to leave the root ends intact. After heating 2 tablespoon vegetable oil in a medium sized skillet until smoking hot, I sauteed the fennel quarters on all sides, seasoning them with salt and pepper after every turn. Just a hair before the fennel started to caramelize, I removed it to a side plate and tumbled 3 thinly sliced garlic cloves and 1 thinly sliced purple onion into the sizzling oil. When the garlic teetered on the brink of browning, I deglazed the skillet with 1 cup white wine, reduced it by half, and added 3 cups roasted tomatoes.

I brought the tomatoes to a gentle simmer, tossed a few fennel seeds into the mix to up the anise factor, and seasoned them with salt and cracked black pepper before nestling the reserve sauteed fennel quarters into the sauce. After raising the heat for a brisk simmer, I pulled the skillet from the heat and slid it into a preheated 350 oven.

Without fussing with the fennel, I let the quarters stew in the bubbling tomatoes for roughly 1 hour until they softened, caramelized around the edges, and melted into the sauce.

With the kitchen windows fogged over with the sweet scent of candied fennel, I pulled the braise from the oven and let it rest before finishing with a splash of fresh lemon juice, crunchy flaked sea salt, crumbled feta, and the reserved feathery fennel fronds.

Dolled up with the perky tang of  feta, the slight acidity of lemon, and the mellow sultry braised fennel, the roasted summer tomatoes poked through the glam to blow a wistful kiss to tomato-land.

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