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Ahh, tomatoes. The 2013 season came early and there's already an easy abundance. This year, instead of seemingly endless waiting followed by near-panic indulgence — if fall rains come early, the season could end suddenly — we can enjoy the love apple languidly, as if we'll have them forever. We won't, of course, but this year it sort of feels that way. I had my first BLT in early June, an all-time record.

The tomato is native to the New World, with the first brave vine most likely rising from the fertile soil of a river valley in what is now Peru and Bolivia. The fruit of this vine was tiny and green, with a persistent and unpleasant taste.

The tomato languished in obscurity for centuries before it was introduced to western Europe soon after Hern? Cortes the explorer conquered Mexico City in 1519. In 1544, Petrus Andreas Matthiolus of Italy wrote that "the tomato is eaten in Italy with oil, salt and pepper."

In 1692, the first Spanish recipe for tomatoes appears in "Lo Scalco Alla Moderna," a cookbook by Antonio Latini.

"Take half a dozen tomatoes that are ripe," Latini writes, "and put them to roast in the embers, and when they are scorched, remove the skin diligently, and mince them finely with a knife. Add onions, minced finely, to discretion, hot chili peppers, also minced finely, and thyme in a small amount. After mixing everything together, adjust it with a little salt, oil and vinegar. It is a very tasty sauce, both for boiled dishes or anything else."

Tomatoes with oil, salt and pepper; tomato sauce with onions, chiles and thyme. Things haven't changed much, have they?

For other delicious tomato recipes, visit "Eat This Now" at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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Although you can make this classic Spanish dish with any tomato, the Early Girls from The Patch of Sonoma are the perfect size and texture. Served with a big green salad, this can be dinner on a hot night when you don't have much appetite. It's also an excellent first course when entertaining.

<strong>Pan Con Tomate (Catalan Tomato Bread)</strong>

<i>Makes 4 servings</i>

8 slices of rustic hearth bread, toasted

4 garlic cloves, cut in half crosswise

4 Early Girl tomatoes, cut in half crosswise

— Best-quality extra virgin olive oil

— Kosher salt or Maldon salt flakes

Divide the bread, garlic and tomatoes among individual plates. Set the olive oil and salt on the table.

Each guest rubs their toast with a piece of garlic, squeezing the garlic and gently pressing it into the bread. Next, rub tomato into the bread, pushing gently to release the tomato's flesh and juices. Drizzle with olive oil, top with salt and enjoy.

Variations:

Serve thinly sliced jamon serrano or Spanish chorizo alongside.

Serve with thin wedges of Manchego cheese.

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This soup is simple yet rich and flavorful. In the main recipe, I recommend chilling it because that is my preference. It is also quite good hot.

<strong>A Simple Tomato Yogurt Soup</strong>

<i>Makes 4 to 6 servings</i>

2 pounds ripe red tomatoes, peeled, cored and seeded (see Note below)

— Kosher salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, cut into small dice

3 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

2 cups homemade chicken broth or stock or vegetable broth

2 cups plain whole milk yogurt, such as Bellwether Farms or Straus Family Creamery

— Black pepper in a mill

1/3 cup best-quality extra virgin olive oil

— Small lemon wedge

? cup lightly packed cilantro leaves, chopped

Use a sharp knife to chop the tomatoes as finely as possible.

Line a strainer with cheesecloth, set it over a deep bowl and add the chopped tomatoes. Stir in about a teaspoon of kosher salt and let rest for about 20 minutes, stirring gently now and then. Set aside.

Put the olive oil into a large saucepan, set over medium-low heat, add the onion and saute gently, until very soft, tender and fragrant, about 15 to 20 minutes. Do not let the onion brown. Add the garlic and saute 2 minutes more.

Stir in the chicken broth or stock, increase the heat to medium and simmer gently for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the yogurt. Add the chopped and drained tomatoes, stir well, taste, correct for salt and season generously with black pepper. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, about 2 to 3 hours. (To serve hot, return the soup to medium heat, stir and heat through. Do not let the soup boil.)

Meanwhile, pour one-third cup of the juice that dripped from the tomatoes into a small bowl; reserve what remains for another use. Add the extra virgin olive oil and squeeze in the juice of the lemon wedge. Season to taste with salt and pepper and pour into a squeeze bottle. Set aside.

To serve, ladle the chilled soup into soup plates. Add several swirls of the tomato oil, scatter cilantro leaves on top and serve immediately.

Note: To peel tomatoes, spear them, one at a time, on the tines of a fork and then turn the speared tomato over a hot flame, burner or coals. You'll hear the skin pop and begin to blister. Set the seared tomatoes aside to cool and then use your fingers to peel off the skin. Use a sharp paring knife to remove the stem core and then cut the tomatoes in half crosswise (through their equators). Set a strainer over a bowl and squeeze each tomato half, cut side down, to release its gel and seeds. Use a finger to coax out stubborn seeds. Stir the gel, discard the seeds and save the drippings for a vinaigrette or simply to drink.

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Enjoy these delicious tomatoes with roasted chicken or serve atop creamy polenta.

<strong>Fried Tomatoes with Herbs and Cream</strong>

<i>Makes 4 to 6 servings</i>

4 to 6 large ripe tomatoes, cored

— Kosher salt

3 tablespoons snipped chives

3 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 serrano peppers, minced

3 tablespoons butter

? cup dry white wine

? cup heavy cream

— Black pepper in a mill

— Italian parsley sprigs, for garnish

— Chive flowers, for garnish

— Rustic sourdough bread, hot

Cut the tomatoes in 3/8-inch thick rounds and arrange them in a single layer on a large platter. Season lightly with salt.

Put the chives, parsley, garlic and serranos into a small bowl and mix with your fingers. Scatter the mixture over the tomatoes, cover with a clean tea towel and let rest for 2 to 3 hours.

To finish, preheat the oven to 200 degrees and put the butter into a large heavy skillet, add tomatoes in a single layer and saute over medium heat for 3 minutes; turn over and saute for 3 minutes more. Transfer the sauteed tomatoes to a warmed serving plate and continue until all have been cooked. Set the platter in the oven.

Working quickly, pour the juices, herbs and garlic that collected on the platter while the tomatoes rested into the saute pan, increase the heat to high, add the white wine and deglaze the pan. When the wine is nearly completely reduced, add the cream, swirl a time or two and reduce the cream by one-third. Remove from the heat, taste, correct for salt and season generously with black pepper.

Remove the tomatoes from the oven, pour the sauce over them, garnish with parsley sprigs and chive flowers and serve immediately, with hot bread alongside.

<i>Michele Anna Jordan hosts "Mouthful" each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. Email Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com. You'll find her blog, "Eat This Now," at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.</i>