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Tomato classes offer some new recipes

Tomato classes offer some new recipes

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In July our cooking classes, we focused on tomatoes. This popular topic was requested by several members. It's hard to turn down. It's the right time of year and such a great idea to pursue.

Right up-front, people asked if I would show them how to make the tomato relish we served at Jimmy's. My answer was a quick yes. Selfish perhaps. I like it and haven't made any in a long time. It's so good with fresh vegetables, and they're all around us.

In this class, we used canned and fresh tomatoes. The reasoning was to explore how to use each so that we could have dishes all year long. At Jimmy’s, we made the relish using canned tomatoes. It was so popular it could not be just a seasonal thing.

It's important to use good tomatoes.

It's time to mention something, and we talk about this in class. Whatever dish you're making is no better than the worst ingredient. Don't skimp on something just because it's easy or to save time or money. It's not worth it. The quality of your dish will suffer significantly. Just don't do it.

Pick Italian canned plum tomatoes. San Marzano if you can get them. And buy whole ones. They are the best quality and what you need for this recipe.

The prepared tomatoes are simmered in sugar and vinegar until the liquid is reduced by half. A key in making the relish work is to cook the fresh ingredients only 15 minutes. Jalapenos, garlic, salt and pepper round out the additions. It seems simple, and it is. You'll make it all year long.

After our relish experience, it was on to preparing a salad from peaches and tomatoes. This is another simple dish that is amazingly good.

We used fresh peaches and tomatoes sliced about the same size. Seasoned with salt, red pepper flakes, chives, lemon juice and olive oil. That's it. It is so delicious and looks mouth-watering. I got notes from people saying they made it the same week – even at the beach.

There was another salad next. This one was more substantial and is easy to serve as a main course. Tomatoes were a key player along with prosciutto and canned beans. We used the white cannellini. You can also substitute Great Northerns instead.

Again, garlic was an ingredient. A new one was Kalamata olives. Smoked paprika was an important seasoning. Olive oil and Sherry vinegar were in there too. This was one of those salads that's called composed. It's arranged on the plate for service.

This is a filling dish. We served ours with the Indian bread naan. Put it all together and it was a meal. A mighty good one.

Now it was time for a baked dish – a tomato gratin. My friend Camille Wright immediately mentioned scalloped tomatoes. This again is simple using canned tomatoes.

Croutons made from a crusty baguette are critical. The usual suspects – garlic, Parm, basil and olive oil – are part of the deal. The result is pure lusciousness. It’s a delight served hot, warm or room temperature.

The last tomato variation was unusual. We made tomato pancakes.

We made our traditional pancakes and used seeded chopped tomatoes as an addition. For a spread, it was cream cheese mixed with finely chopped basil.

Then we made tomato syrup. Wow what a surprise. It was so good drizzled over a stack of pancakes filled with the spread.

We sure had fun with five new tomato recipes and even more ways to serve them. Don’t miss the chance to give some a try.

Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident; a food, wine and restaurant consultant; and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.

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