Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tomato Basil Butter: Summer Taste Year Round

This is the third summer I have grown tomato plants in front of my house. It began by accident one year when my husband and I pulled up the Yew bushes the house came with. We were planting perennial flowers from a friends garden when our neighbor said the space really needed tomatoes, and it just so happens he had 4 starts that he did not know what to do with. Well the tomato plants were so productive in the front of my house that I quickly decided to do it every year. Last year we were able to eat tomatoes year round from those plants. This year my plants are bigger then ever, more like trees then bushes. They are impressive enough that people have stopped their cars to ask me for advice on growing tomatoes. The only thing I can tell them is compost, Gardener's Supply Tomato Fertilizer, and Southern exposure.

I have been fearful of late tomato blight all summer but still optimistic, until this weekend. On Sunday another neighbor warned me that his tomatoes had late tomato blight. The very next day I went to pick tomatoes and found signs of blight. So I had to decide, what is the most important item to make with my tomatoes for the winter. What would leave the largest culinary hole if it was missing?

While I can crushed tomatoes and tomatoes in their own juice for year round consumption, that is less about the flavor impact of using home grown tomatoes and more about using local food as much as I can. However every year I make at least a quadruple batch of Tomato Basil Butter using a recipe by Ruthanna at Garden Web's cooking forum and recipe exchange. Tomato basil butter is a year round staple in my kitchen that can produce gourmet meals easily and quickly. Most often I use this butter when preparing fish. I have however been known to put some on top of rice or vegetables. I am sure that you could prepare tofu or chicken in a similar way to the fish and have wonderful results.

The balance of flavors in this butter is wonderful, the lemon provides a high flavor note while there is the familiar sweetness of the tomatoes, the bite of the garlic and the earthy sweet flavor of the fresh basil. Of course the butter does not hurt either...

Ruthanna's Tomato Basil Butter

1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes (about 1 lb. if you must you can substitute canned tomatoes but do not use supermarket fresh tomatoes. Vine ripened summer tomatoes are really the best choice)
2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup unsalted butter softened
2 tsp grated lemon zest (I always take the lemon after, squeeze it into a small plastic container and freeze it for the next time I have a recipe that calls for the juice of 1 lemon without the zest)
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh basil

Heat the oil in a small skillet (when making a double batch I use my large non stick saute pan). Add the tomatoes and garlic and cook over medium to high heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes form a puree that will mound, about 10 minutes. Let cool before putting the softened butter in a bowl and then adding the tomato puree and all the remaining ingredients. Place the butter on to a sheet of wax paper or parchment and roll into a log. Wrap the log in aluminum foil and refrigerate or freeze (personally I always freeze it, I have been able to store it in the freezer for 1 year or even longer).

Fish with Tomato Basil Butter

4 fish fillets, or 1 for each person (works with salmon, flounder, tilapia, bluefish...)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil (the measurement here is a guesstimate, I add enough to coat the bottom of the pan)
1 cup white wine (use a wine you enjoying drinking with fish, or if you don't drink use stock or water)
1 1/4 inch thick slice tomato basil butter per fish fillet

Season the fish with kosher salt and black pepper on both sides. Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick saute pan. Brown the fish on both sides over high heat, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Add the wine and bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Place a piece of tomato basil butter on each fillet and cook the fish for 4 to 5 minutes per side until it flakes easily when you press it with a finger or fork. Serve at once. (alternatively you can put the butter on the fish after turning it.)


  1. Robin, what a beautiful photo. And thanks for the reminder. I haven't made that tomato basil butter in a while. It is perfect for so many things. I even used it once as a filling for Chicken Kiev.

  2. Thank you for the compliment on the photo, to be honest I was thinking all the shots of that meal were awful. maybe it is just because I remember feeling like I should be getting dinner on the table fast and didn't have the time to spend on the photo.

    In Chicken Kiev sounds wonderful, I have been known to drag a piece of bred through what remains in the bowl. I bet it will taste even better this year because you can make it with tomatoes from your garden.