Today: Throw one last summer dinner party, grill and all, with a smoky tomato sauce and bright, pepperonata-dressed tuna steaks.
Our farm is located in the town of Chilmark on the island of Martha’s Vineyard; we grow vegetables on the 5-acre property. Just down the road we have a restaurant, the Beach Plum, where we cook food that celebrates the beautiful products from our community of farmers and fishermen. We draw almost exclusively from what is available from the island and the surrounding waters, always attempting to find the simplest preparations that honor each ingredient.
In the high summer months, our small Island’s population balloons, welcoming thousands of visitors. We work from sunup to picture-perfect sundown in order to meet the demand. The much-anticipated arrival of tomatoes begins with a speckling of sungolds and cherry tomatoes showing up in greenhouses. Our first tomatoes at the restaurant were not listed on the menu, but sent out to a few surprised diners; quartered with a healthy pour of Tuscan olive oil and a sprinkling of flaky salt. When September hits, the crowds disperse and islanders take a collective exhale; we finally have a moment to enjoy the last days of the summer’s harvest and light.
As the transition towards chillier days begins, farmers bring their last buckets of tomatoes to the market and pluck their last summer squash from the fields. Not quite ready to put aside our grill, we've taken these two traditional dishes -- tomato sauce and tuna with pepperonata -- and added a smokiness, just right on a brisk September night when memories of this Indian summer are still fresh.
While there’s still time, we can jar after jar of fresh tomato sauce, prolonging the season. Classic technique calls for blanching tomatoes in rigorously boiling water and removing the skins before processing them into sauce. In this recipe, we use the grill to blister and soften the taut skins before peeling and coring them. This sauce goes perfectly over pasta, or spread out over grilled bread, immediately after preparing it, or four months from now.
More: Use this recipe to practice your canning technique.
For a departure from the grilled or roasted squash you’ve made all season, try grilled tuna with mint oil and pepperonata. The traditional version of pepperonata is comprised of just sautéed peppers, but it turns out to be a great base for raw summer squash in need of a boost of flavor. The texture of the squash is a perfect counterpoint to the spoon-tender tuna, while the red wine vinegar in the dressing adds the right amount of acid needed to liven things up. While we keep the squash raw, we grill the peppers, removing their charred skins but retaining their smokiness.
Tuna cooks best quickly on the grill: Make a very hot bed of coals, brush and wipe your grill clean, then oil it before placing the tuna on. Depending on the size of the piece you are using, the cooking may take as little as 60 seconds total, so devote your attention only to this.
When you plate your tuna, tear it into pieces, draping the pepperonata around it to ensure the tuna is evenly coated and seasoned. You will have a fair amount of mint oil left over, which makes the perfect base for a lemony vinaigrette or a punchy aioli; you could also just drizzle it over those tomatoes that didn’t make their way into sauce.
Makes a healthy amount of sauce, about 3 pints
8 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes, grilled and peeled
1 cup olive oil
4 cups loosely packed basil leaves
4 garlic cloves
See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.
For the tuna and mint oil:
4 tuna steaks
Salt and pepper
1 cup good olive oil
3 mint sprigs, leaves picked
For the pepperonata:
2 bell or other sweet peppers, grilled and peeeled
2 small summer squash or zucchini
1 perfectly ripe tomato
4 bulbous green onions
1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves
1 cup loosely packed parsley leaves
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
2 cups mild olive oil
1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
Farm photo by Gabriela Herman; all other photos by Elana Carlson