Until last week, you could have gotten away with blaming the cool weather, rather than your potager skills, for your lifeless Beefsteaks and Green Zebras. This week, there's the heat wave to hold accountable for par-baking whatever produce manages to make it to the market.
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"It's been a pretty bad year for tomatoes overall," says Mark Carpenter of Coastal Farms. The good news with all this flavor-challenged fruit is that you can get some real bargains. Carpenter has been selling 3 pounds of an Italian variety for sauces and soup for $5 at the Wednesday and Saturday Santa Monica farmers markets.
Now, what to do with them all? Anne Willan recommends promptly turning any tomatoes suffering from heat exhaustion into soup. "No precise quantities are needed," she says.
Cut several pounds of tomatoes into chunks, "skins, cores and all." Add chicken or veal stock - whatever you have on hand - although "hopefully homemade." Toss in plenty of thyme, a bay leaf, a little rosemary, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and "simmer it forever, at least an hour, and when the tomatoes are very, very soft and fragrant, let the mixture cool." After that, toss them in the food mill, which will remove the skins and seeds (Willan notes that a food processor will not work here, as you'll simply grind everything up-- but you could press the mixture by hand through a strainer).
Taste, adjust the seasonings, and "freeze in handy quantities" for later. When you're ready to serve, thaw and add a little orange juice, a splash of cream, a handful of chopped fresh herbs, croutons-- whatever you like. Or as Willan also suggests, "think Bloody Mary and add shots of vodka and Tabasco." The La Varenne eye-opener.