Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Making Use of The Tomato

It all started with the Little Old Italian Man who lives in my building.

You know the type. I think every neighborhood has one (at least every neighborhood in NY does and I'd wager they have them in NJ too). He's a short dude, retired from his day job, has an Italian accent, works tirelessly in his garden - no matter how small - until the day he dies. He hangs with his goombas at a particular spot in the neighborhood chatting in Italian colloquialisms and has a family connection everywhere for everything he needs. He's always very sweet and he can help you with just about anything because he has relatives in every business.

The day I came home from the nursery this spring with my supply of herbs and flowers for my balcony "garden" Little Old Italian Man spotted me hauling it all upstairs in the elevator via shopping cart. He asked me where I bought my plants. I said Tony's Nursery. He scolded me for spending all of that money at the fancy nursery. He could have gotten me cheaper plants (Don't ask me from where). Then he offered me tomatoes. He could get me tomatoes. I questioned whether or not our balconies really had space for tomato plants. He assured me it would not be a problem. After a brief visit where he inspected the space I still had left, he brought me two plants.

I put the plants out and waited.

And waited.

Then I waited some more.

It rained all through June. In July I saw a few flowers. Then I saw some tiny little orbs.

Finally, last week, I got this. *

This was one of three tomatoes that managed to make it to maturity. One of them looks just like this. One of them is still in the process of turning red.

It pained me to pluck my two ripe tomatoes. What would I do with them? They were so small and once I plucked them, there wasn't likely to be more.

I can't take them with me, so I had to eat them eventually before they just rotted away. I decided to make a nice, light summer chicken dish that would incorporate my two precious little tomatoes, along with some other plum tomatoes from the farmer's market.

Here is a photo of both my tomatoes and the market ones for scale. I told you my little 'maters were small.
My dish was nothing particularly fancy. I spiced up some chicken breasts and then created a nice, cooling salad to go on the side of them. I used tomatoes, black beans, cilantro, lime, and a green pepper that I also bought at the farmer's market.

A light refreshing meal for the summer. We needed it because we had been eating like gluttons all weekend.

*My husband took this great photo. I really should make him take all of the photos for this blog. He's much better at it than I am and he has a nicer camera.

Spiced Chicken Breasts with Tomato-Black Bean Compote

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • 1 Tbl chipotle powder
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 Plum tomatoes, diced
  • 2-3 Tbl chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • Juice of two limes
  • 1 tsp salt
Combine last five ingredients and set aside while you work on the chicken so that the flavors have a chance to meld.

Combine chipotle, cocoa, cumin and the 1/2 tsp salt. Rub liberally all over the chicken breasts. Heat olive oil and saute chicken breasts until cooked through. You can also grill them if that's what floats your boat.

Slice chicken breasts and serve alongside the compote. Or serve them on top of the compote. Or serve them underneath the compote. Whatever you like.


Bunny said...

It's just amazing to eat something that you've grown, I love being able to walk out my back door and pick a tomato when I need it. I'm gonna miss my little garden when the summer is over.

Donna-FFW said...

You made a gorgeous dinner. Id love it, so my style, yum. Goomba,hahahahaha

Adam said...

I always find tomato plants are so hit and miss, some years they do phenomenal, and others... blah. I seriously don't know what's up with them. I will admit I've heard old NY got some ridiculous rain this year, so maybe that's the culprit.

You still did real good with what you have. When life gives you tomatoes, make compote :)

Bellini Valli said...

I planted some on my balcony this year and hoped for the best. Nothing like a sun-ripened tomato to bring the taste of summer to the table.

Emily said...

This looks so healthy and delicious. That's a great way to incorporated your beautiful tomatoes.

All right Kevin! Good job!

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Bunny - I'm envious. I remember living in an apartment in the basement of a private house and my landlady let me have access to her tomatoes. Heaven!

Donn - Thanks. I'm sure you know plenty of Little Old Italian Men.

Adam - I'm sure the rain was a big factor in my lack of 'maters. I know there was some kind of fungus that was playing havoc with tomatoes in the area and the rain really helped it along.

Val - Hope your tomatoes are blossoming. Did you get any yet?

Em - Thanks.

Sue said...

Everything about that dish is wonderful. I love that you used your own tomatoes and that you mixed chipotle and cocoa powder. That sounds so mole-like. (Accent on the le).


Proud Italian Cook said...

Great story about the old man, I can relate! I love spicy sausage too, my favorite.