Making the most of fresh tomatoes Produce: Got lots of fresh tomatoes on your hands? Then the time is ripe to try these fast, easy recipes.

August 19, 1998|By Janet Hazen | Janet Hazen,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Plump, sweet, juice-giving tomatoes are abundant this time of year. It's hard to know what to do with all of them. Gazing at your garden can be an awesome experience. Equally overwhelming is shopping at a well-stocked produce market, where dozens of locally grown tomato varieties are featured at low prices.

Fear not. We've provided five fast and easy ways to use up that unending supply of fresh tomatoes. Add these recipes to your repertoire, or, better yet, share them and a basket of vine-ripened tomatoes with a friend or neighbor. I think the recipient will get the hint, especially when you provide a few empty plastic containers.

Be sure to use the best ingredients for Tomato-Fig Salad With Sheep's Milk Cheese. For this elegant salad, that means sweet tomatoes, ripe figs, robust olive oil and a good sheep's milk cheese. All cheese shops, and some upscale gourmet markets, carry a variety of sheep's milk cheese. If you can't find one of the suggested cheeses, substitute a well-aged Gouda or Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Serve the Fresh Tomato Napoleon, adapted from a recipe of chef Robert Bagli at Cafe Botanica in New York, with grilled beef or chicken.

Smothered Mexican-Style Corn With Cherry Tomatoes is a tasty and healthful vegetable dish and a perfect way to use all those cherry tomatoes bursting on the vine. If you want to impart a rich flavor and texture, add a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter. Without the butter, however, it's still a wonderful tasting, nonfat dish.

Thick flour tortillas are a good and quick alternative to making pizza dough from scratch. With the recipe for Tortilla Pizzas With Sweet 100s and Feta Cheese, you can create instant, individual pizzas in 10 minutes or less. If you can't find Sweet 100 tomatoes, substitute halved cherry tomatoes.

Mix the Classic Tomato-Garlic-Olive Sauce into cooked pasta or serve it as a sauce with baked polenta. This classic Mediterranean tomato sauce also makes an excellent topping for sliced and toasted bread rounds, or pizza.

Tomato-Fig Salad With Sheep's Milk Cheese

Makes 4 servings

1 large bunch rocket (arugula), stemmed

6 vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into wedges

10 ripe Black Mission figs, halved

1/4 pound sheep's milk cheese, such as Petit Basque, Yolo, Manchego or (Greek) Manouri, shaved

4 to 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

salt, freshly ground black pepper

Arrange rocket on 1 large platter or 4 individual plates. Evenly distribute tomato wedges and figs. Garnish with cheese. Drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Fresh Tomato Napoleon

Makes 4 servings

4 medium tomatoes

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon powdered mustard

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 cups mixture of torn baby lettuces or other bite-sized salad greens

1/2 cup crumbled goat or feta cheese or shredded mozzarella cheese (about 2 ounces)

Cut thin slice from bottom of each tomato and discard. Cut remaining tomatoes into 4 slices each and set aside.

In small bowl, mix oil, lemon juice, mustard, salt, sugar and pepper until well blended.

In medium bowl, toss greens with about 1 tablespoon dressing. On each of 4 plates, place 1 bottom tomato slice and sprinkle lightly with cheese and greens. Repeat layering 3 more times, ending with top tomato slice. Drizzle with remaining dressing.

Smothered Mexican-Style Corn With Cherry Tomatoes

Makes 4 servings

1 red bell pepper, finely diced

1 green bell pepper, finely diced

3 jalapeno chilies, minced

3 small ears corn, shaved

1 pint cherry tomatoes (about 2] cups)

3/4 cup water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional

salt, pepper

3 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro

In large saute pan, cook red and green bell peppers, jalapeno chilies, corn, tomatoes and water over high heat 7 or 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until water evaporates and vegetables are cooked. Add butter and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add cilantro just before serving.

Tortilla Pizzas With Sweet 100s and Feta Cheese

Makes 8 servings

8 (8-inch) flour tortillas

8 ounces good-quality Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

1 basket Sweet 100 tomatoes

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme

To make 1 pizza, in small saucepan, heat 1 tortilla on 1 side over moderate heat 5 minutes until crisp and light golden brown. Flip tortilla.

Evenly distribute 1 ounce Monterey Jack and feta cheese, about 9 tomatoes and 1 scant teaspoon thyme. Cook 5 to 6 minutes until cheese is melted and bottom of tortilla is crisp and light golden brown.

Using spatula, remove from pan and cut into quarters or sixths. Serve immediately. Either make remaining tortillas assembly-line style or all at once.

Classic Tomato-Garlic-Olive Sauce

Makes about 5 cups

8 large vine-ripened tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup pitted and coarsely chopped kalamata olives

1/2 cup pitted and coarsely chopped oil-cured olives

8 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tablespoons capers

1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme

black pepper

In large plastic bowl with tight-fitting top, combine tomatoes, olives, garlic, capers, thyme and black pepper to taste and mix well. Cover tightly and refrigerate up to 4 days. You can freeze this sauce up to 3 months, but some of the fresh taste and texture will be lost.

Pub Date: 8/19/98

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