Our tomato plants are getting bigger. We’re enjoying that iconic taste of summer more often now with a bit of salt, on sandwiches, salads, in any old place they fit. The glut of them is coming on, I can sense it.
They started as images and descriptions in a seed catalogue that we would flip through on grey winter days, something to look forward to, images of sunshine and ripeness. The seeds arrived, they were planted in March under a careful lighting rig. Little sprouts shooting up beside popsicle sticks bearing their names. They got bigger. The pots would be taken outside for a day of sunshine and lovingly brought into the garage for the still cool early spring nights. Regular mildness found these plants in the ground quickly. Watering, staking, weeding, care, diligence and waiting. Now baskets of little blushing tomatoes sit on the counter every day.
This image of slow and careful gardening is sunny and idyllic, I know. The purpose and message of this post is a touch more harsh though, it is less about the recipe and the life story and more about awareness and action.
It is certainly true that not all tomatoes arrive to the table by the same chain of transit. Shocking abuses of human rights and repeat incidents of outright slavery are prevalent in the supply chain of American supermarket tomatoes (and many other crops to be sure). “The sweat shops of the soil” is a comparison that has been made since the 1960’s. Men, women and children who harvest crops for the best-fed nation on earth earn barely enough to feed themselves and are forced to work, in some cases against their will. From seed to plate, over several years, these conditions endure in order to supply major supermarkets.
This CBS special titled “Harvest of Shame,” a revisitation of a revolutionary documentary from 1960, is particularly illuminating in terms of the struggle of migrant workers in the United States. When Nicole of The Giving Table/Eat This Poem contacted me about offering a post to raise awareness on the plight of agricultural workers in America, I couldn’t refuse the opportunity. There are so many positive and simple courses of action to follow this up with.
I always say this with food and purchases in general, but in terms of whatever ideology you want to see prevail, you must vote with your dollars. That is a course of action that is tangible and real, your purchase is your voice. A farmer’s market or CSA (or garden-grown) tomato should be your first choice, if accessible. It is a direct link to a responsible grower in your community. There are no questions or mystery in terms of that product’s fairness. If you can, choose these options above all for your tomato purchases.
Are major supermarkets your only source for fresh produce? Are you unsure on the source of their tomatoes? There’s a simple way to find out. Ask them. Don’t get the answer you want? Ask the CEO of that supermarket chain to join the Fair Food Program by clicking here (it’s so easy). Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have already done this (buy your tomatoes there if there’s one in your area). By asking them to agree to a 1.5 cents increase per pound for fair tomatoes, you can support the abolishment of slavery, child labor and sexual harassment on Florida’s tomato farms. For more information on how you can get involved, check this page from the International Justice Mission’s Recipe For Change Summer 2012 campaign. Pressure from consumers, their dollars and cents, can sway this in a positive direction. The call to action here is so simple for a result that could be truly great.
There’s plenty of bloggers joining in the fight. For a thorough list and more fantastic tomato recipes, check The Giving Table’s page.
grilled vegetables with roasted tomato & chili vinaigrette
dressing adapted from The Candle Cafe Cookbook by Joy Pierson and Bart Potenza
serves: makes 3ish cups of dressing
notes: I add chilies and smoked paprika here to make it lively, but feel free to go in whatever direction you like. Maybe extra garlic or different herbs? Up to you. Also, chopping up all of the grilled vegetables and mixing them up with the dressing, herbs and pine nuts makes a fantastic chopped salad.
1.5 cups grape/cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small chili, seeded and halved (I used a cherry hot pepper)
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
handful of basil leaves
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
salt and pepper
vegetables (what I used):
3 stalks of kale
1 bunch green onions
2 bell peppers, stems and seeds removed
1 zucchini, cut into wedges
2 ears of corn, husks removed
1 skewer full of grape tomatoes
grapeseed oil for drizzling
salt and pepper
2 sprigs of basil, leaves finely sliced
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted if you like
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
On a large baking sheet, combine the halved tomatoes, chili and garlic cloves. Drizzle 2 tbsp of the oil on top and sprinkle with chopped thyme, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Toss everything together until vegetables all have a thin coating of oil.
Roast until vegetables are tender and slightly darkened, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Place cooled roasted vegetables in the pitcher of a blender. To this, add the red wine vinegar and a bit more salt and pepper. Blend on medium-high speed until liquified. With the motor on low, remove the little top opening on the blender lid and slowly drizzle in the oil as the blender continues to mix. Once you’ve added all the oil and you have a smooth homogenous mixture, turn the motor off and remove the pitcher from the base. Taste the vinaigrette for seasoning, adjust, and set aside.
Preheat your grill to high. Drizzle the vegetables with the grapeseed oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss them around to make sure most surfaces are coated in the oil.
Place vegetables on the grill, starting with the peppers, zucchini and corn cobs. Grill until char marks appear and the vegetables become slightly tender. In the last minute of grilling these vegetables, place the kale, green onions and tomato skewer on the grill, flipping often to promote quick and even browning. Remove when kale is slightly wilted and charred. The skin on the tomatoes should blister and peel back.
To serve: place grilled vegetables on a serving dish. Drizzle with the roasted tomato vinaigrette and top with the basil and pine nuts.
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