Every summer I plant zucchini and tomatoes. And every summer I'm disappointed. We're supposed to be able to grow everything in southern California, but my backyard has not gotten that message. Some combination of poor soil despite constant amendments, foggy coastal summers, and parental neglect (oops) dooms my summer garden every year.
My tomatoes - heirlooms and hybrids alike - get wilt, or a fungus, or powdery mildew, or some other ailment that causes them to shrivel up and die. The zucchini, those dependable producers every other gardener is sick of and trying to pawn off by the end of July, suffer the same fate. Last year, thinking it was a problem in the soil, I planted tomatoes and zucchini in pots, with potting soil that went straight from bags to brand-new huge pots. Guess what? Same problem. Something in the air, maybe. Only the cherry tomato plants produced at all; the plants looked like hell, but each plant did give a few pounds of fruit before it rolled over for good.
This year I gave my garden the cold shoulder. I ignored it for many months out of spite. But last weekend I relented and planted, a little. No tomatoes, no zucchini. No longer will I play the masochist. I stuck to weeds: basil, tarragon, chives, lettuce, arugula, chard. Leafy plants won't likely succumb to the same fungus (if that's what it is) that loves the tomatoes and zucchini so. They should be okay.
The only downside to skipping the tomatoes is not having home-grown tomatoes to make this tomato cobbler, one of the most popular recipes I created last summer. The cherry tomatoes that did grow last year ripened all at once, and coincidentally I'd gotten some fennel pollen from Golden Gourmet Pollen to play with. This cobbler was one of those happy experiments where you taste it and wonder where it's been all your life. Guess this year I'll have to beg some cherry tomatoes from my green-thumb friends (yes, Hilary, that means you).
Tomato cobbler with garden herbs, cheese and fennel pollen
- 6 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 cups plus 2 Tbsp flour, divided
- 2 Tbsp chopped garlic
- 2 tsp salt, divided
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup shredded hard cheese (try Gruyere, aged Monterey jack or mild cheddar)
- 1/2 cup minced fresh herbs, any sort (e.g. parsley, chives, oregano, basil, tarragon)
- 1 tsp fennel pollen
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2/3 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
Mix the tomatoes with 2 Tbsp of flour, the garlic, and 1 tsp of salt. Pour into a greased 9x13 baking dish. Bake 15 minutes to soften the tomatoes and start their juices flowing.
While the tomatoes are baking, make the biscuit topping: Whisk together remaining flour, remaining salt, baking powder, baking soda, shredded cheese, herbs, fennel pollen spice and pepper in a large bowl. In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil and yogurt or buttermilk; add to the flour mixture. Stir with a fork until a dough forms. If it's too dry, add a little more oil. With one hand, knead the dough 5-6 times by turning it over on itself in the bowl.
Remove the tomatoes from the oven after 15 minutes and drop the biscuit dough in clumps on top of the tomatoes. Return the pan to the oven and bake about 20 minutes, or until the biscuits are cooked through and golden on top, and the tomatoes are bubbling. Serve at room temperature for best flavor.