Thursday, September 11, 2008
My tomato plants are going off, and I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve still got tons frozen from last year. I don’t want to ditch the old ones, especially after putting so much into processing. But I don’t feel like messing around with them when I have so many freshies. Can I just leave them in the freezer and eat them this winter, instead of freezing more?– Too Many Maters
A: First of all, TMT, the effort you put into those tomatoes last year means absolutely nothing. Run forward into the future. If your frozen tomatoes remain in good shape, then use them– and use them soon. If they’re already freezer-burned or otherwise disgusting, feed them to the chickens or the compost pile.
Assuming they are still in good shape, use your frozen tomatoes liberally, in most anything. When making breakfast, for example, add some frozen tomatoes to the pan soon after the bacon starts to sizzle (don’t bother thawing them first). Cook over medium heat. Tomatoes hold lots of water; when that water’s almost gone, add some onions and garlic and some form of hot spice, like pickled peppers. Add some beaten eggs a few minutes later. Scramble the eggs, eat ’em and love it.
Or add those frozen ’toes to a stew, or a to lamb leg that’s braising, or to a pot of green chile. Or make pasta sauce. Frozen tomatoes will disappear into just about anything.Dear Flash,
I’m rarely impressed with my stir-fry prowess, even now when there are so many veggies. Can you recommend a seasonal stir-fry recipe– and how to make it taste authentic?– Fry Baby
A: I’ve sampled plenty of stir-fries that are too busy for their own good, as if the very word “stir-fry” were an invitation to clean out whatever’s in the veggie drawer.
But a good stir-fry, like any good seasonal dish, should offer more than fresh ingredients– it should place them on a pedestal. Before I present a variation on the classic beef with broccoli and oyster sauce, let me note that there are lots of different oyster sauces out there. Avoid the cheap stuff, as the difference in price per meal is minimal, and the difference in quality can be big.
Start with chopped bacon or oil in a pan, and add some red meat, cut into small pieces. When the meat browns, add cloves of new garlic. New garlic, harvested in the last month or two, is extra-fiery when raw, but it quickly mellows and sweetens when cooked. Cook on low heat until the garlic turns translucent, then add rounds from the broccoli stem, which take longer to cook, and chopped onions. If at any point the pan dries out and starts to burn, deglaze with mirin (Japanese cooking wine) or sherry. When the stems are tender, add the florets. As soon as they start to cook, stir in some oyster sauce, chopped fresh garlic and another pour of mirin. Put a lid on the pan and let it fry/steam for a moment. Serve when the broccoli is neon-green.Dear Flash,
I’ve been raiding the apricot tree behind a house that’s vacant. The apricots are big, gorgeous and they taste great. So I was over there when I decided to try one that was on the ground, figuring it would be even more ripe. My God, that was a tasty apricot, so I decided to come back when they’re all that ripe.
Here are my questions: Is it wrong to pillage this tree? Do the apricots have less nutritional value when not ripe? What’s the best method to preserve them?– Secret Picker
A: It’s illegal to pick those without permission, because somebody owns the land and the fruit. But that matters only if you get caught. So go for it– just don’t get hurt, and don’t tell anyone I told you to.
Nutritionally speaking, unripe fruit generally has a nutritional profile similar to its ripe counterpart, though there are some differences: unripe fruit has been shown to have less iron, but more calcium, while overripe fruit can contain higher levels of disease-fighting antioxidants called nonfluorescing chlorophyll catabolites, according to a study from the University of Innsbruck in Austria.
The best way to preserve them, hands down, is to cut them in half and dehydrate them. It’s really quick and easy, and dried apricots are an awesome product.
And by the way, pretty much everything I said here can apply equally to peaches, plums, nectarines, apples, pears, etc. So go get your dehydration on!