You think you know what a tomato tastes like, but you really don’t.
That’s especially true if you only eat supermarket greenhouse tomatoes, as most of us do much of the year. I know I didn’t fully understand until I was a judge a few years back at a Boulder homegrown tomato tasting. The array of complex aromas and flavors from sweet to tart and musky to winey among dozens of varieties was simply stunning. The red, purple, white, pink and green fruit were sometimes misshapen and cracked but all the tastier for their ripened-in-the-field imperfection.
Some heirloom tomatoes have names so cool you want to try them, such as the Green Doctors, Japanese Black Trifele, Chadwick, Black Krim, Extra Eros, Abraham Lincoln, Zapotec Pleated and Rose de Berne.
It’s hard not to gush about ripe field tomatoes. In his poem “Ode To Tomatoes,” the great author Pablo Neruda lauds the fruit as a “recurrent and fertile star” with “no pit, no husk, no leaves or thorns, the tomato offers its gift of fiery color and cool completeness.”
Have this experience yourself at the annual Tomato Festival, 8 a.m.-1 p.m. on Aug. 12 at the Boulder County Farmers Market in Longmont. This is your best opportunity to sample dozens of varieties of tomatoes grown by local farmers and taste fresh tomato dishes. There will be games and activities for the kids but the most important thing is to have the youngest foodies taste as many kinds of tomatoes as possible and take home the variety they like the best. It will imprint in their taste memory for life.
Some people become tomato gardeners only after tasting a variety of tomato they can no longer live without. For instance, I have a Lycopersicon esculentum plant on my patio right now that is starting to produce the smallest, sweetest little tomato berries I’ve ever tasted. However, it is finicky and slow to flower. It has been growing for a year now, having started from one seed that popped up in a pepper plant pot. It will probably move back inside at the first sign of frost.
For some folks the only way to eat a sun-warmed garden tomato is simply dipped in salt or served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Personally, my summer isn’t complete without a few tomato sandwiches, as in slices of artisan non-grainy bread, mayonnaise or aioli, one thick layer of tomato slices, and possibly bacon and lettuce.
I like to take firm tomato slices, dip them in egg and coat them in cornbread mix before frying until crisp in a little oil or butter. They are great served on a bun with a slice of cheese or used to make tomato Parmesan. I buy ugly tomato “seconds.” When I get a bunch that are overripe I puree them and use it to simmer macaroni.
How to Make a Fresh Tomato Pie
When too much of something I love is in season, I tend to encase it in pastry. There are two main tomato pie varieties. If you ask for “tomato pie” in certain Italian neighborhoods in the Northeast they will bring you a pizza variation. Make or buy some pizza dough, brush it with olive oil, top it with thin, drained slices of ripe tomato, chopped basil leaves, salt and fresh mozzarella cheese.
The numerous other tomato pie variations include some that are quiche-like and others that can involve pie crust, bread stuffing, salad dressing, sugar or pimento cheese spread. Google “tomato pie” and you’ll find recipes substituting green tomato slices for Granny Smiths in a traditional sweet apple pie. After all, the French called tomatoes “pommes d’amour.”
My recipe lands somewhere in the middle. When you have great tomatoes you don’t need to add a lot of extraneous flavors but somehow I always do.
Fresh Tomato Pie
1 pie crust, your recipe or refrigerated
3 pounds (approx.) meaty ripe tomatoes, 1/2-inch slices
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper (and/or red chile flakes)
1 sweet yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or extra sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup (approx.) basil leaves, minced
Optional: Other fresh herbs, chopped bacon, roasted green chilies, fresh mozzarella slices, sautéed wild mushrooms
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a deep glass pie plate with one crust and top with one layer of tomato slices. Use ripe tomatoes but let them drain 20 minutes after slicing so you don’t end up with tomato soup. You can use the reserved juice in a sauce. Combine bread crumbs, salt, pepper, onions, cheese and olive oil and sprinkle it lightly over each tomato layer and then add basil. Repeat the layering process at least twice. Optional ingredients can be added to the layers. Top layer should be tomato slices drizzled with olive oil. Bake on top shelf in oven for about 40 minutes or until top tomatoes start to brown. It will be hard to leave it alone but the pie needs to sit for an hour or two to reach perfection and become sliceable. This pie tastes even better the second day… if it lasts that long.
Local Food News
Bar Taco is open at 1048 Pearl St. … The former Walnut Brewery, 1123 Walnut St., has reopened as Boulder Beer. … The new expanded Waterloo restaurant has reopened at 817 Main St. in Louisville. … Shine Restaurant will close Sept. 17 at 2027 13th St. and the space will be filled by the fried-chicken-and-beer fun of The Post Brewing Co. Shine will reopen this fall in the former Volta Restaurant space at 2480 Canyon Blvd. in the Village Shopping Center. … Tour and taste Aug. 13 at Farm Around Boulder County, when farmers open their gates to the public in the peak of the season. Tickets — free for kids — available at: eventbrite.com/e/farm-around-boulder-county-farm-tours-tickets-35162430777
Words to Chew On
“What matters are tomatoes. There is an excellent crop this year, like the tomatoes of our youth that we ate right off the vine, juice running down our chins. There is nothing like this. … An awakening takes place, light shines in your soul. Anyone who bites into a good tomato and thinks about Trump is seriously delusional.” — Garrison Keillor
John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU, 88.5 FM. Podcasts: news.kgnu.org/category/radio-nibbles.