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Welcoming September and a new school year stirs fond memories that begin with me attending kindergarten at Lowell School on the corner of Atwood Avenue and Maple Avenue, grades 3 through 7 at St. Bernard’s a few blocks away, and East High from 8th through 12th grades, graduating in 1956.

My kindergarten desk was flat and low seating two students per side with my “address” being 201 Toy Street.

Attending St. Bernard’s began by attending Mass every morning and, if receiving Communion during Mass, breakfast found me buying a doughnut across the street at Kubicek’s Bakery to munch on before class began.

Experiences as a teen attending East High began by walking to school in all kinds of weather. Because wearing slacks was not allowed in school, winter temperatures often made my legs slightly purple before reaching the front doors on East Washington Avenue. Instead of staying indoors to have lunch in the school cafeteria, it was more fun to gather with friends in a booth at the Ice Cream Shop across the street.

Although traveling away from school on a city bus was a mere nickel, when East played football at Breese Stevens, we walked from our homes along the boulevards separating the avenue. Saturday nights for sophomores, juniors and seniors meant hanging out at the LOFT (Lots of Fun Times) up town on Doty Street where Ace Karp made sure everyone behaved while having good times.

It was there where John Laing and I won the city Jitterbug Contest in 1956 to interrupt an annual competitive achievement previously controlled by Central High students. Those were great times to remember for many other reasons.

If you wonder what any of that has to do with tomato recipes, it also reminds me of the beautiful red tomatoes my father use to grow from seeds shared by Sicilian friends whose gardens in the old Greenbush neighborhood were prolific beyond description. And it means even more today considering the huge Roma tomatoes my Lake Waubesa friend, Fritz, recently harvested and shared for me to enjoy in my own kitchen.

The first tomato recipe request happens to be from my husband asking for fresh tomato juice. Here is a simple recipe from “A Midwest Gardener’s Cookbook,” by Marian K. Towne, published in 1996.

Fresh tomato juice

Put cut-up ripe tomatoes in blender. (If the tomatoes are pulpy and not juicy, add a few tablespoons of water). Whirl until smooth and put through a strainer to remove seeds; season with salt. Freeze in plastic containers, allowing room for expansion. When serving juice that has been frozen, thaw in refrigerator overnight. The next morning add pepper, Worcestershire sauce, or herbs to taste. When serving tomato juice hot as an appetizer on a cold day, spice the juice while you heat it with a few whole cloves, a pinch of oregano, prepared horseradish or hot pepper sauce.

Irene Cash, author of “Savoring the Harvest: Sights and Flavors of the Farmers Market,” a spectacular cookbook with beautiful color photographs by Victor Marsh, acknowledges the impact the Dane County Farmers’ Market had on her book. Conversations with those responsible for providing the market’s bounty makes our market special and she also mentions that without the “small, local neighborhood farmers’ markets,” her book would not exist. Here is Cash’s fresh tomato sauce recipe.

Market fresh tomato sauce

10 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and halved

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Pinch of crushed red pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon butter

¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

8-10 fresh basil leaves, chopped

½ pound spaghetti

In large-bottomed saute pan, heat olive oil until hot. Add tomatoes, red pepper, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook on medium heat until tomatoes begin to soften, about 10 minutes. With potato masher, mash tomatoes until a chunky sauce consistency is reached. Continue to cook for 20 more minutes, stirring occasionally. In a large pasta pot, cook spaghetti in salted, boiling water until just al dente. Drain, but reserve some of the salted cooking water.

Add butter to the tomato mixture. Stir until incorporated. Add cooked pasta to tomato sauce. Toss with tongs to incorporate, and continue to cook over low heat to allow pasta to absorb some of the sauce, approximately 3 minutes. If more liquid is desired, add some of the reserved pasta water until desired consistency is reached.

Add cheese and basil and toss. Garnish with more cheese and basil. Serve immediately.

Serves 2

Cash’s cookbook is filled with excellent recipes including a casserole using a fennel bulb with other favorite vegetables from your garden.

Summer vegetable gratin

5-6 small baby potatoes, sliced evenly and thin

2 tablespoons prepared pesto sauce

1 cup shredded kale

1 fennel bulb, sliced

2 carrots, shredded

2 teaspoons garlic, chopped

1 tomato, peeled, seeded, diced

2 small yellow summer squash, sliced into rounds

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2 small zucchini, sliced into rounds

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup seasoned bread crumbs

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat casserole dish with cooking spray and layer potatoes on the bottom. Spread pesto on top of slices. Layer with part of the kale and add fennel, carrots, garlic and tomatoes on top. Sprinkle with some of the Parmesan cheese. Add another layer of kale with squash and zucchini on top, then season to taste and coat evenly with bread crumbs and cheese. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, until topping is brown and crispy and vegetables have begun to pull away from edges. Remove from oven and allow to rest 15 minutes before serving.

Serves 6

If you happen to have 6 large ripe tomatoes, here is a favorite from Reiman’s “Prize Winning Tomatoes” pamphlet.

Marinated tomatoes

6 large tomatoes

Marinade:

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried thyme

¼ cup thinly sliced green onions

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

¼ teaspoon vinegar

1/3 cup vegetable oil (See: Note)

Peel tomatoes and cut into ½-inch thick slices; place in a shallow dish. In a separate bowl, combine green onions, garlic, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. Sprinkle over tomatoes. Combine oil and vinegar in a jar with tight-fitting lid and shake well. Pour over tomatoes, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, spooning marinade over tomatoes occasionally.

Note: My own personal suggestion is substituting olive oil or extra virgin olive oil for “vegetable oil.”

Yield: 10 servings

Another exceptional recipe from Reiman’s is to stuff and bake whole tomatoes.

Baked stuffed tomatoes

6 medium tomatoes

1 cup garlic/cheese croutons, crushed

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons American or cheddar cheese

4 tablespoons butter, melted

½ teaspoon salt or to taste

¼ teaspoon pepper

Chopped fresh parsley

Hollow out a funnel-shaped hole in each tomato.

Combine croutons, cheeses, butter, salt and pepper; spoon into tomatoes. Sprinkle with parsley. Place tomatoes in a baking dish; cover with foil to prevent over-browning. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

6 servings

Recent requests: Favorite autumn recipes

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email at greenbush4@aol.com.

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