Summer's bountiful tomatoes add zip to hearty dishes

August 14, 1994|By Jesse Ziff Cool | Jesse Ziff Cool,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

The exact origin of tomatoes is a mystery, but there is reason to believe that the original tomato came from Peru. Under the name of "tomatl," seeds were taken to Mexico by migrating Peruvians, then found their way to Europe and when the early settlers came to the New World, they brought tomato seeds.

It wasn't until Henry J. Heinz bottled tomato catsup in 1876 that this vegetable gained widespread acceptance. Today, tomatoes, along with potatoes and lettuce, are the top-grossing vegetables in the United States.

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Ratatouille is the recipe of choice when your neighbor brings you one more basketful of vegetables from her prolific summer garden. Slow oven roasting deepens the flavors.

Double the recipe if you want leftovers. Toss ratatouille with pasta, serve as a bed under grilled fish fillets or as an appetizer with plenty of bread, salty olives, aioli and glasses of red wine.

Oven-Roasted Ratatouille

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 to 3 medium tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces

1 medium eggplant (globe, rosa bianca or Japanese), peeled, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces

1 medium sweet red pepper, seeded and cut into l-inch squares

1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1-inch chunks

2 medium golden summer squash, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

10 cloves garlic, whole, optional

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 to 5 fresh oregano or sage sprigs

1/3 cup fruity red wine

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil

salt, freshly ground black pepper

Place tomatoes, eggplant, sweet red pepper, onions and squash in heavy, 3-quart baking dish. Add garlic, oil, oregano and wine and toss with vegetables. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees 30 minutes. Remove from oven and baste vegetables with pan juices. Cover again and bake until vegetables are very soft, 15 to 30 minutes longer. (In this dish, vegetables should not be al dente.) Mix in basil and salt and pepper to taste. Let ratatouille cool slightly before serving.

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Tomatoes, pears, chiles and potatoes are all in season at the same time. Bring them together on one plate to create this earthy dinner that is hearty and soul-satisfying.

Grilled Lamb Chops With Tomato-Pear Chutney and Chile Mashed Potatoes

Makes 4 servings

TOMATO-PEAR CHUTNEY:

2 cups peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped tomatoes

2 cups peeled, cored and coarsely chopped pears

1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped

1 cup raisins

2 cups light brown sugar, packed

1 cup cider vinegar

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh ginger root

2 tablespoons mustard seeds

2 cinnamon sticks

2 spicy green chile peppers, seeded and chopped

2 teaspoons salt

LAMB:

1 cup virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons red wine

2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

4 lamb loin chops (about 5 ounces each)

finely chopped fresh mint, for garnish

CHILE MASHED POTATOES:

2 pounds boiling potatoes, preferably new potatoes, peeled, cut into chunks if large

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons finely chopped Anaheim or serrano chile peppers

1/4 to 1/2 cup milk (for mashing)

salt

To prepare Tomato-Pear Chutney, combine tomatoes, pears, onions, raisins, sugar, vinegar, ginger root, mustard seeds, cinnamon sticks, chile peppers and salt in 2-quart nonreactive -- pan. Simmer over low heat, mixing occasionally, until all fruit is soft and chutney begins to thicken, about 1 hour. Remove cinnamon sticks. Reserve as much chutney as desired for this meal. Spoon remaining mixture into sterilized jars. Place lids on top and store in refrigerator up to 6 weeks or in cool, dark place. Makes 5 to 6 pints.

To prepare lamb, combine oil, wine, garlic, rosemary, pepper and salt in large bowl. Add lamb chops, turning to coat thoroughly on both sides. Marinate 2 hours or more at room temperature, turning occasionally.

Meanwhile, prepare Chile Mashed Potatoes. Bring large pan of water to boil. Add potatoes and boil until soft. Drain. While potatoes are still hot, mash in butter, sour cream and chile peppers, adding milk gradually until potatoes are light and fluffy. Add salt to taste.

Remove lamb chops from marinade and pan-fry or grill until done.

To serve, place about 3/4 cup mashed potatoes on each dinner plate. Arrange lamb chop on side of potatoes. Garnish with 2 generous tablespoons chutney. Sprinkle lamb chop with mint.

Jesse Ziff Cool is the author of "Tomatoes: A Country Garden Cookbook," Collins Publishers San Francisco, from which this article is excerpted.

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