This, my friends, is the tomato moment. All the staking and watering and sucker pinching has come to this. Say the names with me: Big Boy. Better Boy. Rutgers. Early Girl. Ramapo. Roma. Sungold. Celebrity. Lemon Boy. Brandywine.
I am the daughter of a woman whose idea of bliss is a sliced tomato sandwich on toast with mayonnaise. Yet I confess, I did not eat uncooked tomatoes until I was an adult. Now I am making up for the foolishness of my youth and finding as many reasons as possible to enjoy fresh vine ripe tomatoes.
This summer's best tomato moments have included a Sunday salad of yellow, red, cherry and green tomatoes, lightly dressed in olive oil and sprinkled with torn fresh basil leaves was a wonder. Then, in Richmond I had a cold soup of pureed tomatoes and watermelon, dressed a swirl of basil oil and sprinkled with feta cheese that was summer in a bowl. I'm trying like mad to recreate the recipe. I may just have to write to the restaurant and beg.
The NY Times had a great piece about Jersey tomatoes last week. In part it was a reaction to the glorification of so-called heirloom tomatoes. One grower in the story had this to say about heirlooms:
“Everyone was going gaga over them. My farmers were trying to grow them, and we’d walk out in the field and just see horticultural garbage,” said Mr. Rabin, a longtime agricultural extension agent with Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. who works with about 800 growers around the state. “Every time it rained, they would crack open or turn into water bags. They burned in the sun or developed fungus you could taste,” he said. “It was painful to watch, and the yields were a nightmare.”
My feeling about heirloom tomatoes is mixed. My friend Fran and I sashayed over to the Peachtree Road Farmer's Market at the Cathedral of St. Phillip the other weekend and were enchanted by the funny shaped and multi-colored heirloom varieties. But whoa, they were selling for $6.00 a pound! Fran bought one gigundo tomato which became the centerpiece of her dinner. She said it was luscious, but I'm not sure she has recovered from the idea of a $6 tomato. I bought a half dozen green zebras, about $5 worth and thought they were great. But I don't think they're heirlooms, just a green tomato variety you don't see in the store.
Uncooked tomato sauce is how I celebrate the tomato moment. What you want are 3-5 big vine ripened, plump tomatoes of any variety you like. The more colors the better. Rough chop into 1/2" pieces with a serrated knife and dump into a big bowl. Leave on the skins, leave in the seeds. Add 2-3 large cloves of raw minced garlic. DO NOT USE THE STUFF FROM THE JAR! Use real cloves of garlic. Add at least a 1/2 cup of really good olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and many hearty twists of ground pepper. Add in some torn fresh basil leaves if you have them. No fresh basil? No matter. Now cook up a pound of pasta -- any shape you like (whole wheat is actually a good choice for this) and drain. While still hot, dump the pasta into the big bowl with the uncooked tomatoes and garlic. Toss gently and serve immediately.
Eat slowly with plenty
of parmesan cheese and a big glass of wine. It does not get any better than this.