If you have even a small balcony garden you probably know the joy of picking those first summer tomatoes. Maybe you do what I do: nosh while watering the plants, savoring that bite that brings a rush of sweet warm flesh while juice dribbles down your chin.
There’s so much that we call the “essence of summer”—watermelon, corn, cucumbers, stone fruit. And they all fit the bill. But tomatoes. Oh, there’s no replacing their place in our summer feasting repertoire. For me, hot days point to making a big bowl of chunky gazpacho. I love making roasted tomato garlic soup; a simple fresh pasta dish with fresh chopped tomatoes, basil, goat cheese, and capers; heirloom tomato tarts; and skewered and grilled tomatoes to dunk in pesto or rub into a bruschetta. Most of all, I love slicing them in half, drizzling them with really good olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, then taking some big messy bites.
Since it looks like this is my last Local Bounty post and it’s high season for tomatoes, I wanted to take us out with this summer favorite. We have lots of wonderful tomato local growers. You may even be a grower yourself. But, for this I thought I’d see what Specialty Produce was carrying for retail customers (you should see their new retail space) and area chefs.
These varied beauties from Coastal Organics are miniatures of your favorite heirlooms. Some are as small as cherry tomatoes; others are about half the size of large heirlooms. They’re sweet and fleshy. Take advantage of the diversity of colors in a pasta salad or sliced and baked on a pizza. $4.50 a basket
I’m an annual Sweet 100 grower. They’re easy and so, well, sweet. It’s like growing candy. But, give me a basket of Tomai Family Farms varied cherry tomatoes, from standard red to black to sungolds, and I’m in tomato rapture. Chef Miguel Valdez of The Red Door Restaurant in Mission Hills offers a sweet slicing tip. Get two plastic container covers. Place tomatoes within the rim of one cover and top the tomatoes with the other. Then with a serrated knife—like a bread knife—slice the tomatoes horizontally. You’ll get half a dozen or more sliced in one cut, compared to doing them individually. Cherry tomatoes are, of course, great in salads, especially a caprese, but you can top pizza with them, make a compote, toss in pasta with gorgonzola cheese, or oven dry them with garlic and spread on bread. $5 a basket
These Tutti Fruitti Farm heirlooms are the gnarly ones we often see at the markets. Here we have Brandywines, which are a pinkish red and reminiscent of beefsteak tomatoes, and Cherokees, which are red with green shoulders. Brandywines are fleshy and terrific for sauces and salsa, for grilling, roasting with other vegetables like fennel or onions and served with shrimp. Cherokees lend themselves to slicing to show off their deep colors. Stack slices with burrata cheese, basil leaves, and red onion, then drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Slice and use in burgers or other sandwiches, make tomato jam. Both varieties are $4 a pound.
Ruby red with a rustic flavor, Early Girls are all about the flesh. Because they aren’t dripping with juice, they’re perfect for a smoked tomato sauce or panzanella salad. They’re French in origin, gown by Coastal Organics, and are $6 a pound.