tomato and Pesto Bread Pudding.
the bruschetta phase of summer for Ariel Pressman, which
makes him a happy farmer. He stands in his field with row
upon row of tomato plants, like a backyard gardener who got
carried away. Fifteen rows of tomato plants, in fact, each
300 feet long. By the end of the season, he expects to
harvest 1,000 pounds per bed, if the weather cooperates.
two-thirds of an acre of summerís favorite vegetable, only
part of his 40-some crops on the Clear Lake, Wis., leased
property he calls Seed to Seed Farm. Youíll find him
talking tomato and more on Saturdays at his booth on the
plaza at the Mill City Farmers Market in Minneapolis.
28, is in his third year of farming on his own. His story
ó city kid becomes farmer ó has, surprisingly, become
familiar in the past decade. His version: Grew up in
Philadelphia, went to college in Massachusetts where he
studied social cognition, and then landed an office job that
didnít make him happy. Maybe it was his motherís big
garden that nudged him into farming. He doesnít know for
sure, but two internships tilling the soil (in Vermont and
Osceola, Wis.) convinced him that he wanted to work the
of the organic vegetables he grows ó a little bit of
almost everything, from peppers to beets and radishes,
celery and herbs to kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts and fava
beans ó are divvied up among members of his CSA
(community-supported agriculture) who get weekly allotments.
("I like doing some random interesting stuff for the
CSA," he said.) Cabbages go to the Minneapolis public
schoolsí lunch program. Other produce lands in the kitchen
of Twin Cities restaurants and, of course, customers at the
farmers market who canít help but be charmed by his straw
hat and friendliness.
it helps that he likes tomatoes. "I have to admit that
itís harder to grow crops I donít like to eat,"
Pressman said. Then again, he didnít like asparagus until
he grew it. Same for Brussels sprouts. Now heís a fan of
harvest season gets rolling, he and his interns walk the
rows of tomato plants three times a week, looking for whatís
ready to pick. His preference is to reach for those not
fully ripe so they land on the dinner table in better
condition. Picked any later and they may become bruised or
mushy by the time they are served. In a kitchen, perched on
a window sill, they should ripen in three to five days.
with grapes, tomatoes do better with less rain, when their
flavor is more concentrated, which has made this an
interesting summer. Too much water and they taste of it,
much as supermarket tomatoes do. "Itís why people
like cherry tomatoes. Thereís so much punch in them,"
the heirloom and unusual varieties in all their unexpected
colors, shapes and sizes that get him excited, though these
are the most unpredictable to grow. Brandywines ó plump
and juicy ó await their role in BLTs.
a lot of people in the know say itís the best
tomato," said Pressman.
thereís the Green Zebra, much smaller and wearing its
name. Japanese Black Trifle, Nebraska Wedding (supposedly so
good it was a traditional wedding gift) and Cherokee Purple
all have a spot in his field, as does Cosmonaut Volkov.
"A lot of the darker heirlooms originally are from the
Russian area. If it can survive in the Ukraine, it can
survive here," he said.
thing about heirloom tomatoes ó and many homegrown ones
ó is that they are not perfect in appearance. They have
funny shapes and scars. Customers may balk at a mark on a
tomato, but chefs donít. "They know a little scar
doesnít matter," said Pressman.
days, the Midwest feels like home for him. "For local
food, there is no better place to be than here for a
farmer," he said. Thatís 75 minutes from the Twin
Cities, where cooks are familiar with CSAs and food co-ops
ó and there are plenty of restaurants. "I can
cold-call a chef and find interest in my produce."
donít ask him for recipes. "A farmer is not
necessarily a cook," he said with a laugh.
information on the farm, go to www.seedtoseedfarm.com.
Ariel Pressman offers these suggestions for making the most
of the fleeting season of homegrown tomatoes.
Buy or harvest them before they are fully ripe.
buying, get them at different stages of ripeness so they
arenít all at their peak at one time.
Keep them in a single layer ó on a window sill or counter
ó or they will ripen too fast from the ethylene gas they
Store them upside down. They start to ripen from the other
end (the blossom end) and this will help prevent them from
getting squishy as the remainder of the tomato ripens.
not refrigerate. Keep at room temperature or slightly
TOMATO AND PESTO BREAD PUDDING
6 to 8.
From "A Mouthful of Stars," by Kim Sunťe.
tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
large yellow or white onion, halved and thinly sliced
dry white wine
chicken or vegetable broth
tablespoon dried herbes de Provence or thyme leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
(1-pound) round loaf day-old hearty bread, sliced 1/2 inch
pounds large ripe tomatoes, such as beefsteak, sliced 1/2
cups pesto (recipe below or substitute another)
shredded Comte or Gruyere cheese
cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
oil in large pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook,
stirring occasionally, until softened and golden, about 10
minutes. Add wine and simmer over medium-high heat until
liquid is reduced to 1/4 cup, about 5 minutes. Add broth and
herbes de Provence, and season with salt and pepper; stir
and let simmer about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and
oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter bottom of 10-inch round
or 9- by 13-inch baking dish thatís at least 2?1/2 inches
deep. Line baking dish with half of the bread slices,
overlapping slices slightly and cutting to fit as needed.
Top with half of tomato slices; lightly season with salt and
pepper. Spread half of pesto over tomatoes, then sprinkle
with half of shredded cheese, pressing down on the layers.
the remaining layer of tomatoes, pesto and shredded cheese.
Pour the reserved onion and broth mixture over the cheese.
Cut the remaining bread slices into quarters and place over
the onion. Gently press down on the bread with back of
spatula or large spoon so that liquid is evenly distributed.
Top with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Cover with lightly greased
aluminum foil and bake in upper third of oven for 1 hour.
Uncover and bake for 10 minutes more, or until top is
browned and crisp and insides are bubbling. Let rest for at
least 10 minutes before serving.
1 1/2 cups.
This is a spicier than usual pesto. From "A Mouthful of
Stars" by Kim Sunee.
tightly packed fresh basil leaves
cup tightly packed fresh mint leaves or flat-leaf parsley
whole walnuts or raw almonds
garlic cloves, peeled
medium fresh jalapeno, stemmed (and seeded, if desired)
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice or white wine
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
arugula, basil, mint, walnuts, garlic, jalapeno,
Parmigiano-Reggiano, lemon juice and salt in bowl of food
processor and pulse to combine. Slowly drizzle in olive oil
until well blended. Taste and add more olive oil, lemon
juice or salt as needed.