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Bloody Marys garnished with pickled green beans

Bloody Marys garnished with pickled green beans
Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

The best way to enjoy a ripe red (or yellow or orange or purple or green) tomato is to stand next to a vine overflowing with sun-warmed fruit, find one that almost falls into your hand, and savor it right then and there. Close your eyes to get the full tomato-ness of it all.

But at this time of year, if you're like most gardeners, you'd be standing there all day before you even made a dent in the abundant crop. And if you've been tempted at the farmers market, you're facing the annual dilemma: What to do with too many tomatoes?

The answer's obvious: Make something that's all about tomatoes, something that you can cook on a weekend and serve later in the week, say spaghetti sauce, tomato soup or Bloody Mary mix. But don't go rooting around for old farmhouse recipes -- these classics are ripe for updating.

First, mix it up with the tomatoes. Use several different kinds together in each recipe, and in the sauce, roast the plum tomatoes before incorporating.

The most flavorful tomato dishes hit a perfect note of acid balanced with sweet, and a good way to achieve this balance is to use more than one variety. Brandywine, Early Girl or Stupice are good for rich, tangy flavor. Many yellow or Japanese pink or even cherry tomato varieties add a hit of sweetness.

Roasting meaty plum tomatoes intensifies their flavor and adding a puree of roasted tomatoes to a chunky fresh tomato sauce also thickens it.

Fresh tomato soup using several different varieties might be deep orange or purply red in color. The flavor is complex, too, thanks to a hint of juniper-scented gin and aromatic fennel. And happily, this soup also works as a starting point for endless appetizing variations. Add cumin, oregano and lime juice, then finish with cotija cheese and diced avocado to serve as a starter to a meal of fish tacos. Garnish with cooked rice, chopped mint and yogurt and serve with hummus and pita for a Middle Eastern lunch.

And for a Labor Day brunch, offer each of your guests a glassful of liquid summer. Blend up the best tomatoes you can find, then mix in some seasonings and a shot of chilly vodka.

But make sure you set out the bagels and fruit first. With the best Bloody Mary you've ever tasted in your glass, and more tomatoes to look forward to, you won't be in a hurry to do anything else.

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Total time: 35 minutes, plus 24 hours marinating time | Serves 6

Spicy pickled green beans

  • 1 pound green beans, trimmed
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 8 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 8 fresh dill sprigs, chopped
  • 4 bay leaves

Step 1Cook the beans in a large saucepan of boiling water until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and cool in a bowl of ice water. Strain and set aside in a shallow baking dish.

Step 2In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegars, mustard seeds, peppercorns, salt, sugar, fennel seeds, pepper flakes, garlic, dill and bay leaves over high heat. Bring to a boil, and cook for 1 minute to dissolve the sugar and salt.

Step 3Pour the vinegar solution over the beans to cover completely. Marinate, refrigerated for at least 24 hours. The beans will keep refrigerated for 3 to 4 weeks.

Bloody Mary mix

  • 6 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced (juices reserved)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 teaspoons hot sauce, such as Crystal
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh horseradish
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Step 1Blend the tomatoes, lemon and lime juice, Worcestershire, garlic, hot sauce, horseradish, salt, Old Bay, celery seed and pepper until smooth. Cover and chill until needed. This recipe makes 6 to 7 cups, depending on the size of the tomatoes; the mix will keep for 1 week.

Bloody Mary assembly

  • 6 cups Bloody Mary mix
  • 6 ounces good-quality vodka
  • Coarse salt for rimming the glasses, optional
  • 6 pickled green beans, or 6 stalks celery with leaves, for garnish (See related recipe)

Step 1In a pitcher, combine the mix and vodka.

Step 2If desired, dampen the rims of 6 old-fashioned glasses and dip them in coarse salt. Fill each glass halfway with ice, then divide the Bloody Marys among them.

Step 3Garnish each with a pickled bean or celery stalk, and serve.

Each of 6 servings:
112 calories; 2 grams protein; 11 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 1 gram fat; 0 saturated fat; 2 mg. cholesterol; 564 mg. sodium.
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