It was a good summer for tomatoes in my neck of the woods—lots of hot, sunny weather brought them and peppers out in profusion (but please do not ask me about my cucumbers. Sigh.) This, of course, means that we have to figure out what the heck to do with them all…which, thank goodness, we have. The peppers are easy: fresh slivered jalapenos are delicious in grilled cheese sandwiches, and the surplus gets sliced and pickled; bell peppers get nommed on all summer, and poblanos get turned into chicken with poblano cream sauce. They never yield, though, quite as crazily as the tomatoes…but we know how to deal with that.
First use is always caprese salad. The basil was amazing this year, so we ate a lot of those. But even fresh caprese salads can pall after the fifth or sixth one in two weeks; fortunately, we have other Ways To Use Tomatoes Up. Here are our favorites:
Summer No-bake Casserole
All quantities are approximate; it’s more the combination of ingredients that matters, and you can vary them according to taste (we adore garlic and basil so go heavy on them, for example.) I always make a big pot of this as it reheats very nicely for lunches, but you can cut this in half easily. I imagine it also might be good with crumbled or sliced Italian sausage or ground turkey instead of ground beef, but we haven’t yet tried it because we like this version so much.
3 ½ lbs. ground beef (personal preference is 85% lean)
2 boxes mezze rigatoni (this size and shape works the best in this recipe—we’ve tried several others and this wins hands down)
3-4 tbsp. butter (or olive oil, if preferred)
4-5 medium to large ripe tomatoes
2 16 oz. tubs of pearl mozzarella
20+ fresh basil leaves (I use more, but we adore basil in my household)
2 tubs refrigerated alfredo sauce (my favorite brand is Rana)
Garlic, diced (either fresh or frozen—4-7 cloves) or dried/powder, to taste
2-4 jalapenos, cored and finely diced (optional—they do add a nice crunchy bite)
Salt and black pepper to taste
Cook the ground beef in a large sauté pan till browned, breaking apart into large crumbles. Drain off fat and set aside.
While the beef cooks, chop the tomatoes into 3/4-inch chunks, core and dice the jalapenos (optional), drain the liquid from the mozzarella, dice the basil into ribbons, and heat up the alfredo sauce (in the microwave is fine, or in a separate saucepan.)
Cook the rigatoni in a large pot according to package directions. Drain all water when cooked and add the butter, mixing it in well (don’t skip this step or the pasta will absorb too much of the alfredo sauce, leaving the casserole dry.) Add in the burger, garlic, tomatoes, and jalapenos and mix till thoroughly distributed. Stir in the warmed alfredo sauce. Lastly, stir in the basil and the mozzarella. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, and serve.
Pico de Gallo
Again, amounts are fuzzy here: start with the diced tomatoes, then start adding the other ingredients till it tastes good to you. The scallions add a lovely grassy note, so definitely use them rather than a boring old onion. The olive oil can help enhance the flavor, but can be left out if you’re going for as little fat as possible.
8-12 tomatoes, finely chopped
2-3 bunches scallions (both green and white parts), finely chopped
2-4 jalapeno peppers, cored and diced
4-5 cloves garlic, diced
Juice of 2-3 limes
1-2 tsp. olive oil (optional)
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Delicious on fajitas and other Mexican-inspired cooking, but best simply with a big old bag of tortilla chips.
What are your favorite ways to use up too many tomatoes?