Tasty Tomatoes

As much as I love tomato-based sauces, I have never really enjoyed the raw fruit. It’s a texture thing; I’m just not a fan of the squishy insides. And let’s face it- most tomatoes are tasteless and mealy, having “ripened” on their long journey in refrigerator trucks.

(Farm to Fork BBT Sandwich; Photo: Tracey Eckersley)

The exception is at the height of summer when fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes are available. At this time of year I overcome my textural bias and enjoy the overwhelming sweetness that these gorgeous globes provide. Case in point: the awesome bacon, basil, and tomato sandwich prepared by Farm to Fork Catering at my local farmers market two weeks ago. See that large slice of golden yellow tomato? It was the sweetest, most delicious tomato I have ever eaten, contrasting perfectly with the salty bacon, the bright basil, and a creamy herb-laced mayonnaise.

(Hazelfield Farm Tomatoes; Photo: Tracey Eckersley)

I couldn’t get that sandwich out of my head. I posted a picture on my Facebook page, I dreamt about it and, this past weekend, I ordered another one. It was just as good as the first.  Inspired, I hunted down some tomatoes to take home and enjoy. I came across these baby heirloom varieties grown by Hazelfield Farm and I knew exactly what I wanted to make.

(Jamie Oliver; Photo: Daily Mail via Grace in Full Measure)

Several years ago, I watched Jamie Oliver prepare a simple dish of sausages roasted with cherry tomatoes in his wood burning oven. It was so easy and looked so scrumptious that my husband and I recreated it at the cottage, substituting our barbecue for his fancy oven. It was the perfect meal and our guests raved about it. I really don’t know why I haven’t made it since.

(Photo: Tracey Eckersley)

But, with my pint of tomatoes in hand, I knew that it was time to recreate this delightful dish. Recipe junkies can see his printed version here, but I prefer the simplified, slap-dash version from Oliver’s live demonstration:

1-2 Italian sausages per person (hot, mild, or a mix)

1 large handful of cherry tomatoes per person (I really like a mixture of heirloom varieties)

Fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, oregano, and basil work well)

Fresh garlic cloves

Olive oil

Balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper

(Photo: Tracey Eckersley)

Because this is such a simple recipe, use the best and freshest ingredients you can find. Bust out the expensive oil and vinegar if you have them. I grabbed some thyme and basil from Hazelfield Farm and plump Italian sausage from Brooks Meats.

(Photo: Tracey Eckersley)

Because I wanted the sausages to cook through, I browned them for a few minutes on each side while I pre-heated the oven to 400 degrees. Then I simply tossed the tomatoes and sausage with enough oil to coat, added a splash of balsamic vinegar (go easy on this if your fruit is really sweet), and liberally seasoned everything with salt and pepper. I spread the mixture in a cast iron skillet (pick a pan that your ingredients will cover the bottom completely in one single layer) and topped with sprigs of fresh thyme. In my haste, I totally forgot the garlic cloves but these would be peeled and tossed in here as well.

(Photo: Tracey Eckersley)

Cook for 30 minutes, turning the sausage and pressing gently on the tomatoes (watch out for the hot juice) half-way through. I like to top it with a chiffonade of fresh basil and serve it with a simple salad and lots of fresh, crusty bread to mop up the sauce. This recipe works equally well in an oven, barbecue, or even a campfire. If there are leftovers (and that’s a big if), they make a great sandwich filling or pasta sauce. Enjoy!

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