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The tomato glut is upon us

Tomato bread pudding

Tomato bread pudding

So the tomato plants in the back yard are starting to look weedy and droopy, but the tomatoes are ripening faster than you can say Hellmann’s.

What to do?

Every season, it seems, I try and come up with new ways to capitalize on the salient characteristic of homegrown tomatoes — their juiciness — in new recipes.

This year it has been this simple tomato bread pudding that takes advantage of two ingredients we always have around the house:

  1. Odd ends of cheese — mostly cheddar and gruyère, with occasional blobs of goat.
  2. Stale bread — usually half baguettes or “artisan” rounds that have turned into rocks.

Here’s how I made this one:

  • I chopped up the tomatoes until I had about 4 cups, placed them in a bowl and covered them with a teaspoon of salt
  • I carved the stale bread into chunks with a stonemason’s chisel. Okay, I sliced them up with a large knife and then tossed them with the tomato.
  • I looked for any scraps in the fridge, which yielded a quarter cup or so of thin-sliced pancetta (cured but not smoked pork belly), a half of a green pepper and a small onion. I fried all this up and added it to the tomato-bread mush.
  • Once the bread seemed like sponge rather than rock (about 45 minutes later), I tossed the mixture with three beaten eggs and about  1 1/2 cups of cubed cheese. A little torn basil found its way into the glop, as well.
  • I baked the whole business in a 9-by-13 casserole dish in a 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes tented with foil, then 30 minutes uncovered. The cheese had mostly found its way to the surface and had turned an appetizing shade of gratin. I wasn’t complaining.
  • A little chopped parsley over the top, and it was tomato bake for dinner.

The verdict? Very good, with that inimitable garden tomato flavor ringing through the squishy, cheesy, custardy richness. A green salad and bottle of cold riesling completed the meal.

By the way, here I a recipe I published a couple of years ago with a wholly different solution to using up those good tomato juices. I’d be curious to hear what you do with your tomato glut.

A sublime use for tomatoes, but be patient, recipe is balky

As much as I love the recipe I’m about to share, I have to first warn you: It doesn’t always work. And then there’s the slight issue that it could break a tooth. Other than that, it’s brilliant.

It begins with a garden tomato. Like many home gardeners and farmers market shoppers, I find myself suddenly awash in juicy summer tomatoes. At this point in the season I am too greedy to share, yet unwilling to let any go to waste. So we are having tomatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I am even loath to let the tomato juices go to waste and have been known to collect them from platters and salad bowls for impromptu beverages.

Here’s where serendipity steps in. As I was cleaning out the pantry one afternoon, I came across a container of bulgur that needed using up. Aha. Bulgur is cracked wheat that has been parboiled and dried. To prepare it, you can toast it and stir it into broth to make a pilaf. Or you can simply cover it with warm liquid and let it sit for half an hour or so. I prefer the latter method because, in addition to being greedy, I am also lazy. Yet I also like the chewier texture of simply reconstituted bulgur.

So what if the tomato juices did all the work? I cut up a garden tomato and a cucumber and tossed them with bulgur, olive oil, lemon juice and a few seasonings. I packed it in a container, brought it to work and enjoyed a rather crunchy lunch. Much of the bulgur was tender (and so bright tasting!), but there were a few tooth-breakers. Not bad, but …

What if I left the bulgur on the bottom of the container and let all the juices drip down? Lunch No. 2 was better, much better, until I unearthed a patch of hard grain. But it was so delicious I ate every bit and just assumed that it would continue to expand benignly in the stomach.

For lunch No. 3, I had one last idea. I rinsed the bulgur in warm tap water and then layered it under the tomatoes. It was uniformly tender-chewy and alive with the flavor of summer. I think it’s more or less a successful recipe by this point, but that’ll be up to you to decide.

Summer Tomato and Bulgur Salad

1 serving

Hands on: 2 minutes

Total time: At least 1 1/2 hours

You can easily prepare this salad for a family in a large serving bowl. Sliced fresh peppers and feta cheese would make it a main course.

  • 1/4 cup bulgur
  • 1 very juicy tomato (about 1 pound)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon minced shallot
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried mint (or a bit more if you like mint)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 small cucumber

Rinse the bulgur under warm tap water in a colander, then spread in the bottom of a food storage container that is large enough to toss the ingredients in. Quarter and slice the tomato and layer it on top. Sprinkle the oil, lemon juice, mint, oregano, salt and pepper over the tomato. Peel and slice the cucumber and place the slices over the top. Snap a lid on the container and leave it at room temperature for at least 1 1/2 hours. Before eating, toss the ingredients.

Per serving: 386 calories (percent of calories from fat, 33), 10 grams protein, 60 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams fiber, 16 grams fat (2 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 51 milligrams sodium.

10 comments Add your comment

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ajcdinecritic, John Kessler. John Kessler said: The tomato glut is upon us [...]

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jürgen Zastrow, Container Plant. Container Plant said: The tomato glut is upon us – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog): How to use up your juicy garden tomatoes … So … [...]


July 15th, 2010
4:35 pm

You got a way to keep the damn rodents from eating them?

John Kessler

July 15th, 2010
4:51 pm

I have a great anti-squirrel device: my yellow lab.


July 16th, 2010
12:01 pm

$45 at Walmart (maybe a little more for some extra BBs) will do the trick…


July 16th, 2010
2:18 pm

So, how do you handle the squirrels in your backyard. They have invaded my yard, they outsmarted the traps,urine powder, moth balls and blood meal, any thoughts?


July 16th, 2010
2:22 pm

Last year, after all the tomato pie, salad, soup, etc. we could handle, I made this fabulous tomato jam with a little basil from our garden, some sugar (but not a lot) & a pack of lemon jello instead of pectin. We ate all through the fall, winter, spring, with goat & parmesan cheese, made bruscetta, and it was glorious on a burger, sandwich or grilled chicken.


July 17th, 2010
7:20 am

A real good pelet gun has worked for years in our family. My twins used to have a contest with squirrels, they loved my Brunswick Stew. with squirrel meat. I stopped planting tomatoes 3 years ago when the girls went off to college.

Monica Ricci

July 17th, 2010
11:39 am

Oh how I DREAM of being awash in garden tomatoes, as was the case in my youth when my mom forced me to work the garden. Youth truly is wasted on the young isn’t it? The memory of pulling a warm, sun-ripened tomato off the vine, brushing off the dirt and eating it like an apple makes both my mouth and eyes water…


July 21st, 2010
7:12 pm

Thanks for the timely recipe for tomatoes baked with bread. It was delicious, and nicely retained the freshness of summer tomatoes but with a little richness from the cheese and eggs to make a satisfying meal.