Basil and Tomatoes-The Essence of Summer

Picture this. A vine-ripened tomato, juicy and sweet, paired with several leaves of basil and slices of real mozzarella cheese. Top this with a drizzle of olive oil or balsamic vinegar. Sounds like heaven, right? To many of us, tomatoes represent the essence of summer. The anticipation of the very first ripe tomato is a journey gardeners across the nation can relate to.

Have you ever thought about the hundreds of varieties of tomatoes that are available? Did you know that most die-hard gardeners will plant the same (tried and true) varieties year after year? Several years ago, I sold plants out of my greenhouse to the public and was amazed at the loyalty given to Big Boy tomatoes. Hands down, they appeared to be the favorite for farmers in this area. Big Boy tomatoes are reliable, but there are so many more varieties available to flavor your favorite dishes. Yellow tomatoes (like Golden Girl, Peach, Kelloggs Breakfast, etc.) are quickly becoming my own personal favorite. They seem to have less acid and a milder, sweet flavor. Of course, Roma tomatoes are the mainstay for those gardeners who enjoy salsa. These little wonders have fewer seeds and thus more ‘meat’ inside of the skin. Perfect for making salsa or sun-drying.

What about the basil varieties available? Basil plants and seeds are now available in a multitude of flavors, colors and sizes. Sweet basil reigns for my summertime dishes, but cinnamon basil comes in a close second. All varieties of bail are great for making pesto or for seasoning a favorite salad or other tomato dish. Basil is also a summertime pleasure that can be dried and savored once again in the cold, winter months.

Tomatoes and basil. Together or apart, they are truly one of life’s simple pleasures!  See for yourself. Here is a favorite recipe to get you started. I found this recipe in Celebrate with Woman’s World magazine. And it is fabulous!

No Bake Veggie Lasagna

2 eggs               2 c. Italian-seasoned dry breadcrumbs

2 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese               3/4 c. oil

1 1/2 lbs. red and/or yellow tomatoes, cut into 1/8 ” slices

2 lbs. zucchini and or yellow squash, cut crosswise into1/4 ” slices

Veggie Tomato and Basil Lasagna.
Veggie Tomato and Basil Lasagna.

Fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped + additional for garnish

1 c. bottled Caesar-style vinaigrette salad dressing                                                          1 lb. fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced

Line baking sheet with paper towels. In shallow bowl, beat eggs with 1 Tbs. water. In another bowl, combine breadcrumbs and Parmesan. In large skillet, heat 1/4 c. oil over medium high heat. Coat squash slices in egg, then breadcrumbs mixture. Carefully place in hot oil; cook, turning once, until browned, about 3 minutes per side, adding remaining oil as needed. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels.

In 2 1/2 qt. baking dish, arrange one-third of squash in single layer. Top with one-third of tomato slices and 1/3 c. basil; drizzle with 1/3 c. vinaigrette. Repeat with half of remaining squash, tomato, basil, and vinaigrette. Top with half of mozzarella and basil. Drizzle with remaining vinaigrette.  Cover with plastic wrap; let stand at room temperature at least 1 hour or refrigerate until serving time. Bring to room temperature before serving. Garnish with basil. Makes 8 servings.

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