Loving Local Tomatoes for Mass Farmer’s Market Blogathon: Pasta-less Lasagna

*This post is in support of the Mass Farmer’s Market Blogathon, sponsored by In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens. In support of the local food we love, please consider donating to Mass Farmers Markets.

This has been the summer of the tomato. Ripened early because of the weather, we have been enjoying caprese (my favorite summer meal – or perhaps favorite meal of all time) often, and this year it was often served with my homemade mozz. The beautiful red and yellow tomatoes I bought at last week’s market made for some gorgeous jars of preserves that will be certain to cheer me up come January. But what else to do with the tomatoes? Especially now the cooler weather has made firing up the oven a bit less of a chore?

Last Saturday’s haul from the Union Square Farmer’s Market was an inadvertent inspiration. I had bought a bunch of eggplant and zucchini (in addition to the tomatoes) to grill for what was going to be a fabulous BBQ blow-out on Sunday afternoon when the weather intervened. Thus to use up an even larger-than-usual store of produce I decided to concoct a pasta-less lasagna.

First I needed to make the sauce, and using up the tomatoes that were too bruised to can (and were starting to attract fruit flies) was an easy decision. I simply saute-ed some chopped garlic in olive oil, added chopped tomatoes a few minutes later and then let it simmer to thicken up, eventually adding chopped fresh basil, salt, pepper and a dash of balsamic.

In the mean time I sliced my eggplant, zucchini, beets (which I parboiled) and tomato very thin (1/2 inch or so), aiming for long pieces, rather than rounds, when possible.

Next I assembled like a lasagna: a splash of sauce on the bottom of a square baking dish, layers of veg, then fresh mozz, then ricotta or marscapone, browned ground sausage (if you’d like – I did), more sauce, then repeat. I ended my dish with a final layer of mozzarella and then cooked in it a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until  the harder veggies were cooked through.

Served with a glass of wine and some crusty bread to soak up the liquid (and because the tomatoes are fresh off the vine, they produce a thinner and juicier sauce than one you’d get from an industrial can or jar) I didn’t even miss the pasta.

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Homemade Mozzarella

I often buy balls of mozzarella from Fiore at the local farmer’s market. For $5 I get a sandwich bag of deliciousness, almost always made that morning. Which got me thinking – if this small cheese company can make countless balls of mozz before 9am, it can’t be too hard for me to make a few of my own! I did a bit of research and discovered that besides milk, I would need rennet and citric acid, both of which can be bought from any number of cheese making sources. Luckily, New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, one of the best known and respected sources, is located barely more than an hour away (thus supporting a local business as well).  Online, I ordered the beginner mozarella and ricotta kit – promising 30 minute mozz – all I needed to add was the milk.

A few days later when my kit was delivered, I made a quick trip to Sherman’s for a gallon of milk. I buy all of my dairy from Sherman’s anyway, but in particular fresh cheese must be made from milk that isn’t “ultra-pasteurized” – which is about the only kind that most large grocery stores sell. Thus proper sourcing of the key ingredient is important. Procuring the milk was almost the hardest part – once home there were only a few steps of heating the milk, adding the citric acid and rennet, stirring and stretching. NE Cheesemaking Supply Co was right! – I had four balls of mozz ($20 worth by farmer’s market prices) less than 30 minutes later – ready to be sampled. So easy – and delicious!

Tomatoes 1: Completely Local Salsa and Caprese

Fresh tomatoes are back. These jewels are the only thing that cheers me up about the approachment of summer’s inevitable conclusion. Especially with the first half of summer’s continual deluge of rain. However sitting down with a fresh caprese salad last night – even inside, since it was, no surprise, raining – at least helped me feel like I am participating in summer in some way. Alongside last night’s caprese (argula instead of basil and fresh local mozz, both from the farmer’s market), I also made some completely local salsa by chopping up corn, green onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. For the heat and a touch of acid I added two spoonfuls of the hot pepper relish I canned last summer from farm share habaneros and jalapenos. I used corn that was steamed and leftover from lunch, but fresh and uncooked would have worked as well. It was everything summer should taste like. And, aside from the vinegar in the relish and the salt, completely local.