Even if Coastal Organics isn't a vendor at your local farmers market, you've likely had their veggies at an L.A. restaurant. That Lucques heirloom tomato salad is often built from their beautiful Cherokee and green zebras, the Patina Restaurant Group uses their baby squash and Swiss chard for their ever-growing restaurant kitchen empire -- even Bon Appétit Management, the mega food corporation behind hundreds of restaurants and cafés, is a fan.
And so, much as we love chef recipes, we wondered what Coastal Farms' co-owner Maryann Carpenter and her son, Mark, the folks behind those cheruby grins at their Santa Monica market stand, do with the inevitable leftover tomato bushel or two. If anyone knows how to maximize tomato value when dealing with a bumper crop, the farmers who grow them surely must.
"Oh yes, I cook with them almost every night," said Mrs. Carpenter when we asked what she does with all of those not-quite-perfect tomatoes. "But Susana is the one who changed my salsa life."
That salsa revolutionary is Susana Leyva. She's usually manning the market stall with the Carpenters, politely weighing your Early Girls all morning. "Oh it's really easy," says Leyva. "And it's great on so many things -- tacos, or simmered with pork, with chicken. Sometimes I even use it as a salad dressing... you just need to add a little oil."
Carpenter notes Leyva's recipe modesty, then runs down her list of preferred salsa uses. "It truly is the best salsa," she says. "This time of year I make it three times a week. It's so good just to eat on its own, that's what we do the most."
The secret, both women say, is in grilling or roasting the tomatoes and peppers. It also happens to be a handy way to use up those tomatoes that didn't get quite as sweet in this summer's lingering haze, as cooking enhances their sweetness.
Leyva says she likes to shake things up every time by playing around with whatever tomatoes and peppers she has on hand. Carpenter is loyal to those Early Girls and a more precise mix of pasilla (two) and jalapeños (six) whenever possible.
Carpenter also admits that she cheats a bit on Leyva's recipe, which calls for grilling the vegetables until charred. Instead, she simply pops them in the oven to roast them. Either way, it sounds like an easy end-of-summer fix to us.
From: Susana Leyva and Maryann Carpenter of Coastal Organics farm.
Note: If you prefer to oven-roast the tomatoes, Carpenter suggests lining a baking pan with foil and placing all of the ingredients under the broiler, turning the vegetable so they char on all sides. Add the garlic at the last minute to avoid burning it. If you want a milder heat, remove the seeds from the chili peppers.
Makes: About 2 cups
8 small tomatoes, such as Early Girls
8 chiles, a mix of pasillas, jalapeños or whatever you prefer
1/4 of a large onion
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
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1. Grill all of the vegetables except the garlic until very dark, almost charred. Add the garlic towards the end of grilling and cook until soft but not burned. Remove the garlic from their skins.
2. Blend the ingredients together in a food processor until smooth. If you prefer a chunkier salsa, pulse them together to the desired consistency. Add salt to taste.
3. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.