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Savoring September's tomato bounty

MORNINGS in September are often crisp and clear, and carry with them the promise of the first frost. In many backyard gardens, unpicked end-of-the-season tomatoes are hanging heavy on the vines. The surplus harvest is piled up on windowsills and taking up more than its share of room in the refrigerator. So before the first frost bends the branches or the tomatoes rot on the vine, take advantage of some recipes that put fresh tomatoes to good uses.

According to the National Gardening Association, 94 percent of gardeners grow tomatoes. Perhaps this is not surprising when you consider that the average American eats five tomatoes a week. These work their way into our menus in innumerable ways -- in sauces, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, and the simple preparations that let the tomato stand on its own.

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Whether from your backyard or a farm stand, select firm, smooth tomatoes with a rich red color that feel heavy to the hand. Store at room temperature, unless they are extremely ripe in which case they may be refrigerated, uncovered, for three to four days at most. Chance of spoilage increases if tomatoes are washed before storing. Simply wipe them with a clean soft cloth until ready to use. Chilled Fresh Tomato Soup With Tarragon 1 tablespoon dried tarragon, crumbled 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 large onion, thinly sliced 4 large tomatoes, quartered 4 cups (or more) chicken broth, preferably homemade 1 tablespoon tomato paste 1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled 1/2 bay leaf Salt Cayenne pepper

Heat olive oil in large heavy saucepan over low heat. Add onion. Cover and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Stir in tomatoes. Blend in chicken broth, tomato paste, tarragon, thyme, bay leaf, salt, and cayenne. Increase heat to medium and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until soup thickens, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Pur'ee soup in blender or processor. Strain through fine sieve to eliminate seeds, if desired. (If soup is too thick, thin with more broth. If too thin, simmer to thicken.)

Refrigerate. Garnish with dollop of sour cream or yogurt.

Serves 4. Baked Tomatoes, Greek Style 4 small tomatoes 1/2 small onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings 1/3 cup sliced pitted Greek olives 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese Salad Dressing 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 1 teaspoon sugar 2 teaspoons snipped fresh basil or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil, crushed 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt

Cut tops from tomatoes. Remove centers, leaving shells. Turn upside down to drain.

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Divide onion and olives among tomatoes. Place tomatoes in a 10-by-6-by-2-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with feta. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.

In screw-top jar combine oil, vinegar, sugar, basil, and garlic salt. Shake to mix. Store at room temperature. Before serving, drizzle each tomato with 1 tablespoon olive oil mixture.

Bake, uncovered, in a 400 degrees F. oven about 15 minutes or until hot. Serves 4. Baked Tomatoes With Corn and Pepper Stuffing 6 tomatoes 1/4 cup chopped green pepper 3/4 cup cooked corn kernels 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 6 tablespoons dry bread crumbs 6 teaspoons butter or margarine

Cut tops from tomatoes and remove pulp, leaving a shell 1/4 inch thick. Cover green pepper with boiling water and let stand 5 minutes. Drain. Mix tomato pulp, green pepper, corn, and seasonings, and fill tomato shells. Cover each tomato with crumbs. Dot with butter and bake in 375 degrees F. oven 25 minutes. Serves 6. Ripe Tomato Pudding 5 cups peeled, sliced ripe tomatoes 9 whole cloves 6 whole peppercorns 1/8 teaspoon dried basil 1 bay leaf 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon dried oregano 3 slices bread, diced 3/4 cup brown sugar 1 teaspoon minced scallions 2 teaspoons butter or margarine

Place tomatoes in large kettle. Wrap cloves, peppercorns, basil, bay leaf, dried tarragon, and salt in a small square of cheesecloth. Tie with string. Add to tomatoes. Simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove cheesecloth bag. Stir bread, brown sugar, minced scallions, and butter into tomatoes. Pour into buttered 2-quart casserole.

Bake at 400 degrees F. for 45 to 55 minutes. Serves 6. Broiled Cheese-Topped Tomatoes 1/4 cup mayonnaise 1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Gruy`ere cheese 1/4 cup minced shallot or green onion, white part only 2 tablespoons minced parsley 2 large ripe tomatoes, sliced into thirds, or 3 smaller tomatoes, halved

Preheat broiler. Combine all ingredients except tomatoes in a small bowl and blend well. Gently spread mixture about 1/4 inch thick on tomato slices. Broil 4 inches from heat source 2 to 3 minutes, or until lightly browned, watching carefully to avoid burning topping. Serve at once.

Serves 6 as accompaniment to meat, poultry, or fish dishes. Escalloped Tomatoes 1/2 cup chopped onion 1/4 cup butter or margarine 3 slices bread, coarsely crumbled (about 2 1/4 cups) 6 medium tomatoes, peeled and sliced (about 3 1/2 cups) Salt and pepper Sugar

Cook onion in butter until tender but not brown. Stir in bread crumbs. In a 1-quart casserole, layer half the tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and sugar. Cover with half the crumb mixture. Repeat layers.

Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes. Serves 6. Saut'eed Breaded Tomato Slices 2 eggs, beaten 1 tablespoon milk 1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt 1/8 teaspoon pepper 4 firm fresh tomatoes 1 cup crushed saltines 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 1/2 cup shredded American cheese

Combine eggs, milk, salt, and pepper.

Cut tomatoes into 3/4-inch slices. Dip tomato slices in crumbs, then egg mixture, then crumbs again. In skillet, fry in oil until golden brown. Drain. Sprinkle slices with cheese and return to skillet. Cover and cook over low heat until cheese is melted.

Serves 4.

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