I spent the better part of the weekend standing in front of a boiling pot of water. It may have taken two days, but I have canned enough peaches and beets and tomatoes to last through the winter that—even though I don’t want to think about it—is inevitably on its way.
Last winter was a real doozy, and the brighter moments (not that many) often contained a preserved jar of sunshine in the form of August’s canned tomatoes. Those moments of respite in my winter kitchen are part of what keeps me maintaining this laborious tradition year after year.
I puree my tomatoes when they are ripe and boil them until I like the flavor, then I add a little salt and seal them. They sit on the shelf of my pantry until I am ready to add them to sauces or soups in the cooler weather.
There are lots of reasons to preserve foods in the summer. It saves money. It extends the harvest and provides food when there are no local fresh options available. But the real reason I do it is that the flavor of ripe fruits and vegetables is better in August than it is any other time of year. I can capture those flavors in jars and use them later.
Sometime in the midafternoon on Saturday, I realized that I had been working with fresh food for hours and had eaten nothing. I fished through the bowl of tomato chunks that hadn't made the canning cut and found a few slices of day-old bread. I fried the bread in olive oil until it became crisp croutons and then tossed them with the tomatoes and their juices along with a little lettuce. The result was a heartier version of the classic Italian panzanella salad—a rustic, country-style lunch that must have been invented by Italian nonnas taking a break from the midsummer toil of preserving tomatoes.
Midsummer Panzanella With Frisée
Serves 4 to 6
1 cup olive oil
3 cups cubed day-old rustic bread
3 pounds ripe tomatoes
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, sliced
1 head frisée, torn into pieces
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
2 tablespoons torn fresh basil leaves
Heat the oil in a small skillet until hot, then fry the bread cubes in batches until golden, 4 to 6 minutes per batch. Transfer the croutons to paper towels to drain and cool.
Cut the tomatoes into bite-size pieces, and place them in a large bowl. Stir in the vinegar, oil, onion, frisée, chives, basil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/3 teaspoon pepper. Toss and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.