Earlier this summer, I described the avalanche of produce that nearly overwhelmed the tiny congregation of St. John’s Presbyterian Church, where Fred serves as a parish associate for the arts and I now serve on the garden committee. God was blessing our efforts. He (or She) was returning me to my farming roots, though it would have been nice if He (or She) had not caused me to look quite so much like an ancient mountain woman in the process.
But now He (or She) has decided to bless us with weeks of bright sunny days without a rain cloud in sight. We were also blessed with an abundance of tomato plants along with a generous helping of ignorance. Thus, close planting, a failure to prune, and the lack of rain all combined to produce plants that eked out only green tomatoes, which brooded on the vines until, depressed by their own failure to ripen, they flung themselves to the ground and rotted in despair.
Next door, however, the peppers were having quite the merry fiesta. They lived in a flourishing village that basked in the sun and was clearly up to something in the evenings, judging by the abundance of baby peppers that popped up with alarming regularity. (The proximity to all this merriment probably contributed to the tomatoes’ demise.)
What were we to do? Earlier in the summer we’d dreamed of tomato sandwiches, of winter shelves lined with rows of home-canned summer tomatoes, of freezers packed with homemade tomato sauce. But our hopes were dashed along with those of the pitiful green tomatoes who could not bring themselves to turn red.
I found a solution recently in this salsa, just in time for the green tomatoes that other gardeners with happier plants will soon be harvesting. It’s roughly based on a tomatillo recipe from Rick Bayless’s Salsa That Cook. While I’m not sure about the wisdom of substituting tomatillos for green tomatoes regularly, it worked quite well here. The salsa packs quite a bit of heat, but you can adjust that by using fewer peppers.
After one day, the brightness and the heat of the salsa had mellowed and the roasted flavor came to the forefront. If you want the salsa hot, I recommend serving it the same day; if you’d prefer a more mellow version, wait 24 hours before serving.
The salsa is wonderful with fish or shrimp as well–a serving suggestion is below. I can only hope the little green tomatoes have found their purpose in life now.
Green Tomato Salsa
Makes about 4 cups
A dozen small green or partially red tomatoes
6 serrano or other hot green peppers (more or less to taste)
1 large yellow onion, halved and sliced
Sugar (about 1 tsp., or more to taste)
Cream, sour cream, or any kind of South American cream (Mexican, Honduran, Salvadoran) (optional)
Place oven rack about four inches below the broiler flame. (For me, this is the second slot from the top–do not place too close to the heat.) Set tomatoes on baking sheet. Roast with broiler on high about six minutes on one side, then turn and roast for an additional six minutes. The tomatoes will be dark brown to black. Set aside to cool, about 20 minutes.
While tomatoes are roasting, place a sturdy skillet on a medium high flame (no oil). Remove stems from the peppers. Place peppers in skillet and roast until blackened in spots, about 10 minutes.
Cut up onion while peppers are roasting and set aside. Once tomatoes are done, remove them to a bowl. Lower oven rack to the middle level. Set oven temperature to 425. (It should already be preheated from broiling the tomatoes.) Scatter the onions over the baking sheet (no need to wash it) and bake, stirring every few minutes, until translucent and blackened or dark brown in spots, 10 – 15 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes.
Place whole peppers and onions in food processor and pulse, scraping down sides of bowl regularly, until ingredients are minced. Add whole tomatoes (peels, cores, and all) and pulse until finely chopped. (Add water if it is too thick.) Add plenty of salt and sugar to taste. Serve immediately with chips for a very hot salsa or wait 24 hours for a more mellow version. Add cream if desired–it will mitigate the heat.
Shrimp Tortillas with Green Tomato Salsa
Serves 2 — a good way to use the extra salsa!
16 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tsp. olive oil
2 – 3 cups Green Tomato Salsa, above
3 – 6 tbps. half and half
Grated mild cheese to taste (we used plain old cheddar, but Mexican queso seco might be better)
6 small corn tortillas
Heat oven to 350. Place tortillas on baking sheet and set in oven to warm. (You will need to check on them frequently to make sure they don’t crisp up–once they are warm and soft, turn off oven and let them sit.) Heat olive oil on medium high heat for a few minutes. Add salsa and cream. Heat, stirring frequently, until mixture begins to bubble, about 5 minutes. (Add more cream if it looks like it might burn.) Add shrimp and cook just a few minutes, stirring frequently, until shrimp have just pinkened, adding more cream if necessary. Remove tortillas from oven. Spoon shrimp mix into tortillas, top with spinach and cheese, fold over, and serve.