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Cherry tomatoes are simply delicious in simple dishes

A cherry tomato plant is a gift that keeps on giving. At this time of year, it produces so many tomatoes that it’s easy to take them for granted. But the plant is quite remarkable: One tiny little seed, nurtured at the right time and in the right way, produces buckets full of nutritious deliciousness.

I’m a fan of simple cooking, of enjoying foods in their own true time and supporting them with other ingredients so they blossom into their full selves. Good home cooking, with a few basic skills and a commitment to the seasons, is a simple source of pleasure and not of stress.

I mention this because we seem to be flooded with messages that cooking for ourselves is difficult, a chore we’d be better off without. “Never cook again” advertisements for food subscriptions announce constantly.

But what if you are a gardener? What if you like growing things to eat? It is important to know your way around home-grown foods, and cherry tomatoes are a great place to start. And if you have too many cherry tomatoes, remember you can freeze them whole, to enjoy this winter.

This very simple dish is remarkably satisfying, especially if you can walk outside and snag cherry tomatoes from your garden. If you don’t finish it all, it’s also quite good the next day, chilled.

Hot Rice with Cool Tomatoes

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 cup Italian or Spanish rice

Kosher salt

1 pint cherry tomatoes, rinsed, dried and quartered

1 garlic clove, minced

1 lemon, halved

3 tablespoons minced fresh herbs of choice, such as basil, Italian parsley, chives, cilantro, thyme and tarragon

Best-quality extra virgin olive oil

Black pepper in a mill

Put the rice in a medium saucepan and add a few generous pinches of salt and enough water to cover it by a good 3 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium and cook until the rice is just done but still has some resistance at its center; it will take about 14 to 15 minutes.

While the rice cooks, put the tomatoes in a bowl, add the garlic and lemon juice, season to taste with salt, add the herbs and set aside.

When the rice is ready, drain off any water that remains and divide the rice among soup plates or pasta bowls. Top with the tomato mixture, drizzle with olive oil and season with several generous turns of black pepper. Enjoy right away.

Variations:

For a spicy version, mince 1 serrano and add it to the tomatoes. Use just basil and cilantro for the herbs.

For a more substantial meal, cook two sausages of choice until just done. Allow them to cool slightly, cut the sausages in half lengthwise and slice into ¼-inch thick half moons. Add to the rice after draining it.

It might be impossible to find an easier recipe than this one, unless you stand in your garden and simply nibble dinner from a tomato vine. If you have a lot of cherry tomatoes, you can double or even triple this recipe and freeze part of it. Or, for a delicious sauce to enjoy immediately or freeze for later, pass all or part of it through a food mill.

Oven-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes with Four Variations

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 quart cherry tomatoes

8 to 10 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

3 tablespoons snipped chives or chopped fresh Italian parsley

⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

Kosher salt

Black pepper in a mill

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put the tomatoes in a wide baking dish, add the garlic and chives or parsley and toss. Pour the olive oil and lemon juice over the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and set on the middle rack of the oven. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until the tomatoes have burst open.

Remove from the oven. Serve hot or let cool, chill and serve cold.

Serving suggestions:

Grill or toast sourdough hearth bread, top with a slice of mozzarella fresca and spoon the hot tomatoes on top.

Serve over creamy polenta.

Toss with pasta and finish with grated cheese.

Use as a bed for grilled chicken, sautéed fish or sliced and sautéed eggplant.

Variations:

Before serving hot, stir in 3 tablespoons of freshly made pesto.

Stir in 3 tablespoons chermoula or chimichurri and serve with grilled or roasted beef.

Set a log of chèvre (about 8 to 9 ounces) in a shallow serving dish, spoon the tomatoes and juices over the cheese and top with a generous spoonful of tapenade. Serve hot, with croutons.

Put 4 or 5 anchovies in a small bowl, top with about 3 tablespoons of best-quality red wine vinegar and let sit 30 minutes. Stir into the tomatoes before toasting them.

Farro salad keeps well. Just be sure to let it sit at room temperature a bit before enjoying it.

Summer Farro Salad with Beans, Avocado, Tomato, Feta and Sorrel

Makes about 6 servings

4 ounces dried beans, such as flageolet or cannellini, soaked in water overnight

Kosher salt

6 ounces semi-pearled farro, soaked in water overnight

Kosher salt

Juice of 2 to 3 lemons

Black pepper in a mill

1 firm-ripe avocado, peeled and cubed or kernels from 2 ears of corn

½ pint (1 cup) cherry tomatoes, quartered

1 small red onion, cut into small dice

½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

1 cup shredded fresh sorrel or small arugula

¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Drain the beans, cover with fresh water by 2 inches and bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat and simmer until tender, about 35 to 45 minutes. When the beans are nearly tender and beginning to give off a beanlike aroma, season them with salt. Drain the cooked beans and transfer to a wide bowl to cool.

While the beans cook, drain the farro, cover it with fresh water by 2 inches, add a generous teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain the farro and tip it into the bowl with the beans. While the farro is still hot, drizzle with the juice of 1 lemon and several turns of black pepper and toss.

When the beans and farro have cooled to room temperature, add the avocado or corn, tomato and onion. Add half the remaining lemon juice and the ½ cup of olive oil and toss gently. Taste for acid balance, adding more lemon juice and more olive oil as needed.

Season with several generous turns of black pepper; add the feta cheese, sorrel or arugula and parsley and toss again. Taste and correct for salt.

Enjoy at room temperature.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The Good Cook’s Book of Tomatoes.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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