Aside from citrus, tomatoes are my favorite fruit to grow. And, despite that I’ve propagated dozens of varieties over the years, I’ve neither popped a cherry tomato into my mouth, nor have I indulged with a fresh slice of this nightshade family member. Strange, I know. (Hey, I warned you about people like me!)
Because of construction around Casa de Holland, I’m growing a couple of new (for me) varieties in pots. First, I’m giving a go at the most popular tomato variety along the I-95 corridor — the ‘Jersey’ tomato. Except that there’s really no such variety as the ‘Jersey.’ Avid gardeners and commercial producers know it as the ‘Rutgers’ or ‘Rutgers Hybrid,’ developed in the early 20th century at Rutgers University. Many people will insist that the ‘Jersey’ is a beefsteak variety, but it’s actually an all-purpose tomato bred originally for processing and fresh market. Still, a ‘Jersey’ tomato by any other name… This variety is particularly popular along the East Coast because it flourishes in the shorter growing season. We’ll see how it performs in hot Texas summers.
Did you know? Next time someone corrects you about the tomato’s status as a fruit, be sure to let them know that — botanically — it is (a berry, in fact). But not according to the U.S. Supreme Court or New Jersey legislators. The high court decided in 1893 to classify the tomato as a vegetable for the purpose of collecting tariffs on imports. And Garden State lawmakers just a few years ago designated the ‘Jersey’ tomato as the official state vegetable.
Meanwhile in the garden, the ‘A Grappoli D’Inverno’ (Italian ‘winter’ grape tomato) is putting out clusters right and left. This old Italian heirloom variety is akin to the ‘Roma,’ except the fruit are about one-third the size. This little gem gets its name for the fruit’s ability to stay good into the winter months. They’re excellent for snacking, drying and even fresh salsa. I tried them as the main ingredient in a fresh velvety sauce that I’ve made a time (or 12) with other tomato varieties and — delizioso! No worries if you aren’t growing this variety. Really, any tomato works with this recipe — particularly cherry or grape varieties because of their inherent sweetness.
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Shrimp & Pasta w/ Fresh Tomato Basil Cream
- ½ lb - Pasta, cooked al dente
- ¾ lb - Jumbo (21-25 ct.) shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 3 cups - Chopped fresh tomatoes
- 1 cup - Artichoke hearts (canned)
- ⅓ cup - Heavy cream
- 2 cloves - Garlic, minced
- 2 TB - Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 TB - Kosher salt
- 4-5 - Fresh Basil leaves, torn
- 2 tsp - Freshly ground black pepper
- Feta or Parmesan (for garnish)
- In a large skillet, warm olive oil to medium high and add garlic.
- Cook until fragrant, about 30-45 seconds, then add tomatoes.
- Cook garlic and tomatoes, mashing occasionally, for about 2-3 minutes.
- Add shrimp; cook until pink on all sides, about 4-5 minutes.
- Add artichoke hearts, cream, salt, basil, pepper and cooked pasta; Cook until warmed through, about 2-3 minutes, stirring regularly to combine ingredients.
- Top with Feta (pictured) or Parmesan and more basil, if desired.