In these parts, everyone knows that August is the tomato showstopper. The curtain pulls back to reveal juicy, rich tomatoes at their peak of ripeness.
Despite one blistering inferno of a week in July, the summer temperatures were very moderate and enjoyable.
But the summer of ’13 proved very unlucky for growing tomatoes.
September was almost the new August – when it came to this year’s tomato harvest. The ripened sirens of summer.
Despite a tepid tomato harvest this year, few summer fruits enjoy such widespread passion as the tomato.
An enduring mealtime culinary riddle is to pose the question, “Is the tomato a vegetable or a fruit?” Most consider the tomato a vegetable.
It’s a fruit.
Just like most consider that a tomato has to be red. But there are green tomatoes, black ones, yellow and orange, too. The farmers markets look like a brilliant rainbow at the tomato tables.
See that’s just the thing. The tomato is seemingly omnipresent but it remains an enigma – a mystery and a riddle.
We think we know it but in fact we only know a small slice about this beauty. A former politico famously didn’t even know how to spell t-o-m-a-t-o!
The tomato is a vexing thing.
Recently, author and food writer Miriam Rubin talked about her Savor the South cookbook: Tomatoes at the Beard on Books talk at the James Beard House in New York. And claims the book is useful year-round because tomatoes are available. And well, let’s face it; we just love to eat them.
Rubin points out that tomatoes are so beloved there are plenty of songs dedicated to our plump summer beauty.
“Did anyone write a song about radishes or kales?” Rubin teases.
“Tomatoes are the “Sirens of summer,” she notes with glee.
She points out a tomato sauce Spanish style recipe from the 1600’s that can still be readily made today to underscore the tomatoes enduring allure.
And who can deny the way a tomato has permeated the English to deliciously describe a sassy woman.
The book is a mash up of tomato tales, history, lore, and simple, elegant recipes that give homage to this marquee star of the food world.
Not unlike a plump Jersey tomato, the cookbook profile is lipstick red with a crisp white jacket - a perfect backdrop for the just-picked, gem-like tomato.
What a cover girl!
Like a true character actor –but secretly the star of the show and everyone’s fav – the tomato is a shape shifter.
Tomatoes land key roles in recipes both sweet and savory.
The book boasts a full range of tomato recipes from exotic cocktails to Bloody Mary hangover cures -- to preserves and juices. The sheer variety of soups, appetizers, aspic, casseroles and cobblers, gazpacho, pizza, salsa, and salads – is enough to make any tomato lover weep.
Rubin includes “just” 50 recipes in her petite cookbook.
This Examiner is a sucker for a Classic BLT, enjoying them as hors d’ouevres served on small rounds of homemade bread toasted, with homemade garlic mayo and just-picked parsley, basil, arugula or lettuce – depending on what the garden is serving up, or big, two-handed sandwich dripping with tomato juices.
According to the author, the Southern BLT prefers not toast – just white bread!
Rubin includes her own joyful version of this harvest BLT treat with a recipe for
“Stand-over-the-Sink” Tomato Sandwiches -- Start dripping with this Recipe.
Stand-over-the-Sink Tomato Sandwiches
(Serves 2 Sandwiches)
2-3 large, ripe juicy heirloom tomatoes, such as Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, German Johnson, Mr. Stripey, or your favorite slicer (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled if you like coarse sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
About ¼ cup Homemade Mayonnaise –or store-bought mayonnaise
4 slices white bread, of your choice
Core the tomatoes and cut into thick or medium-thick slices, discarding (okay, eating) the ends. Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt and pepper to taste. Spread the mayonnaise on the bread, as thick as you dare. Place the tomato slices on two o the bread slices; place the other 2 bread slices on top. Cut the sandwiches into halves or quarters. Pick up one half or quarter, lean over the sink, and devour.
For more poised, neat-freaks, the next recipe in the Tomato cookbook features a traditional Vicksburg Tomato Sandwich one that Rubin says is served there at Junior League or ladies luncheons and wedding showers as a dainty, neat, finger food.
(makes about 1 ¼ cups)
Yolk from one large egg
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons water
l teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup canola oil or other neutral oil, such as safflower or grapeseed
¼ cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
Put the egg yolk, 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, the water, the mustard, and the salt in a food processor. Process just to blend (you may have to mix it a little with a spatula). With the machine running, pour the oils through the feed tube in a sow, steady stream, adding another tablespoon lemon juice (and maybe some warm water) about halfway through if it starts to get too thick.
When all the oil has been added, taste, adding more lemon juice or salt, if you like. Cover and refrigerate.
New Tomato Two-somes:
Included in Rubin’s Tomato cookbook are tomato pairings that might not readily come to mind, such as the now ubiquitous tomato and buffalo mozzarella that one hope’s will be confined to a seasonal sensation.
Expand the charm of tomato with watermelon and peach.
A beloved recipe from this Examiner’s The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook which features The Grey Horse Tavern’s Chef Meredith Machemer’s creation: Peach, Tomato, Catapano Goat Cheese, local honey, and lettuce.
Grey Horse Tavern/Chef Meredith Machemer
Local Peach and Organic Beefsteak Tomato Salad
4 medium beefsteak tomatoes
4 heads lollo rosso, rinsed and dried
6 leaves fresh basil, chiffonade
1.5 cups Catapano plain goat’s milk yogurt
1- 4.5 ounce package Catapano chevre, pulled apart into pieces
¼ cup local honey
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Whisk yogurt and honey together and season with salt and pepper. Adjust honey or yogurt as desired. Set aside.
Halve and pit the peaches and cut into thick wedges. Thickly slice tomatoes. Separate lettuce leaves.
On a large platter, lay tomato slices out along the edge of the dish. Season with salt and pepper. Layer
peach slices and lettuce over the tomatoes. Drizzle with yogurt dressing and top with goat cheese. Drizzle
the dressing over the top of the salad (you won’t use all of the dressing, serve on the side if extra is needed).
Distribute the basil leaves evenly over the top of the salad. Serve immediately.
A Tomato for all Seasons
Rubin was one of the first woman to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and was the first woman to cook in the iconic Four Seasons’ kitchen.
Rubin recalled some funny and poignant anecdotes for the Beard on Books audience about her interaction with Mr. Beard.
Right out of the CIA she worked at The Four Seasons restaurant, in charge of making Mr. Beard’s lunches.
“Mr. Beard couldn’t have any salt.” Rubin said. She was told it was “Strict doctor’s orders.” So Rubin’s recipes were aggressively salt free.
She meticulously prepared the lunch that would be taken to the hospital by a waiter in his finest tuxedo garb.
The salty payoff?
The waiter described how Mr. Beard would reach under his hospital bed to retrieve a sliver box – containing Mr. Beard’s private salt and pepper shakers!
Seeds of Tomato Book
The James Beard award-winning Crooks Corner restaurant in North Carolina – home of shrimp & grits – is where Rubin officially began the Tomato book two years ago.
The Chef didn’t know Rubin was there or who she was to become in the constellation of the world of world of star-studded tomatoes.
At then, chef’s famous tomato sandwiches landed in front of her: Harrie Teeter white bread, Hellman’s mayo, slightly crisp wonderfully ripe local tomatoes and salt.
Instantly, she was hooked.
“Here is where I began my book!” exclaimed Rubin.
At the Beard on Books talk, Rubin also shared some of her research on tomato history, noting early on, people thought the tomato was poisonous and this was the basis of folklore and legend.
The tomato is a member of Nightshade family and many also thought the tomato was an aphrodisiac.
Long an Italian and Spanish favorite that arrived in Europe from Peru, the tomato is believed to have been brought to America starting 1840 brought to the New World in pocket packets of Italian immigrants. Bricklayers and masons came up from the Carolinas and recipes influenced by West Indian culinary culture.
For more tomato legend, lore, and recipes, order the Tomato book by Miriam Rubin: http://amzn.to/1bq1HiA