How It All Started

Bob Phillips

The title of this blog was inspired by one of my Spanish professor's at Miami University of Ohio, Dr. Robert Phillips, who died in the e...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tomatillos -- Muy Local

Photo from What's Cooking America
In her post on sammiches, Pam mentioned our front-yard tomatillo patch and suggested that I write about the salsa I made a few weeks ago. There may be a technical difference between salsa and pico de gallo ("chicken beak"), but in my mind the former has liquid and the latter is just finely-diced solids, more like a relish.

We got our tomatoes planted a bit late this year, it seemed, late enough to realize that groundhogs would be a serious issue, so I created the San Quentin of tomato pens in front of our house. I watched the plants grow, even as various flowers outside the "compound" were chomped to the ground as soon as they sprouted. I knew we had a variety of plants -- as Rob always provides for Pam's late-May birthday, but I was surprised when I realized that they were mostly tomatillos. We eventually concluded that some clever ground hog may have gotten to one of the regular tomatoes.

Although we lived in the Southwest for seven years and ate plenty of tomatillo salsas and picos, I had never actually worked with them before this summer, and had certainly never seen them on the vine. Nor had I given much thought to how the parchment layer gets formed. I had always assumed it was just a layer that grew with the fruit and eventually got pushed off. I was therefore fascinated to see that it was more like a little scrotum (I guess Chinese lantern would be a more polite analogy, but take a look some time and tell me I'm wrong) that emerges overnight and gets filled over the next week or so. When it is full, the fruit is ready.

I harvested a handful, perhaps a bit shy of fully ripe, sharpened a knife and chopped them into fine dice. I added a bit of whatever hot pepper was at hand (could have used a bit more), along with finely-chopped onion. I think that was all. It was amazing! Fresh, local, organic, simple, and delicious! It was a bit tart and so flavorful that I found myself just shoveling it in, sometimes using a spoon so I would not fill up on chips. It is that good.

It also puts me in mind of the pico at a small restaurant I visited last January in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. We went on two consecutive days. The first time, several of us took the pico as a topping. The next day the buffet line ran out of it quickly, as several of us treated it more like an entree. Mine was not nearly as sweet as that one, which was based on sweet, red tomatoes, but until I can return, it was a nice substitute.

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