Thursday, September 22, 2011

Summer Tomato

When the cold weather hits and stays, the only way I'll crave tomatoes is from a jar. I'll pull out a mason of the puree I canned and use it with wine for a nice slow beef braise. Or a chili. Or a long-simmered sauce. If I'm tempted to buy tomatoes at the grocery, I'll roast them till the sugars caramelize.

But right now, we're still in summer tomato season, and there are endless ways to enjoy these beauties. My biggest craving this year was for gazpacho. Mixing tomatoes with cucumbers, peppers, and acid seems like the only appropriate meal on a 90-degree summer afternoon. I added chopped raw fennel to mine this year, and the sharp-yet-subtle anise flavor sung through.

Those who love a ripe, red tomato may scoff at my next act, but I start to crave green tomatoes before the red end product even enters my mind. I love their sour crispness. Done right, a fried green tomato will retain part of this crisp texture while softening slightly, enough for the juices to flow throughout the slice. I fry my tomatoes in cornmeal, and have begun adding some uncooked grits to the mixture for extra crunch.

When my mom gifted me with beautiful lavender fairy-tale eggplant this summer, a fried green tomato seemed the perfect counterpoint to the soft, almost mushy grilled rounds. Topped with a sweet, red tomato jam, the combination was divine.

And of course, there is also a time to enjoy a tomato in its pure essence, sliced, with little adornment. After a long morning this past Saturday, I wanted a quick, leisurely lunch. A plate with kalamata olives, ricotta salata, and sliced heirloom tomato, all drizzled with garlic-coriander olive oil is a lunch you never want to end.