In the summer, a vine-picked, perfectly ripe tomato can hold its own on a plate with a simple splash of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.
But it becomes even more interesting when it tangos with dance partners that know how to complement and underscore its rich, tangy flavor.
What grows together, goes together. Think tomatoes with corn, tomatoes with salmon, or tomatoes with watermelon - all foods that are harvested or caught in the same season - and you've got a few matches made in heaven.
For more inspiration, we turned to the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates culinary team, who are currently serving up tomatoes at the tasting room and on the menu of their new dining venture, Partake in Healdsburg.
The crew at Kendall-Jackson is getting ready to host the 17th annual Heirloom Tomato Festival on Sept. 28, when they will unveil the renovated tasting room, new kitchen and redesigned gardens at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Garden in Santa Rosa.
Using that garden as his inspiration, Kendall-Jackson Executive Chef Justin Wangler came up with four perfect tomato pairings, including a mambo with some meat, a foxtrot with fruit, a Viennese waltz with a vegetable and a cha cha with a sugary treat.
Some of these pairings are classics, while others are more adventurous. Either way, they bring out the best in this season's bounty of love apples.
When you think of steak and tomatoes, think of the yin-yang symbol, with opposites in texture (chewy, soft) and temperature (hot, cold) complementing each other perfectly.
"It's a classic pairing," Wangler said. "And I like the way the juices of the steak blend with the juices of the tomato."
Wangler prefers to grill a hanger steak, which is prized for its flavor. "For the price, the flatiron steak is really good," he said. "I like a big, beefsteak tomato with a thick cut."
At home, Wangler will slice up fingerling potatoes, sprinkle them with olive oil and herbs, then fold them up in tinfoil and throw them on the grill.
While searing the steak and cutting up the tomatoes, he whips up a piquant salsa verde to bring it all together.
In a more offbeat pairing, Wangler suggested blending tomatoes with his favorite fruit, peaches. Both offer crisp acidity balanced by sweetness.
"The peaches have been really good this year," he said.
As a summery entree, Wangler and his staff came up with a light pasta dish finished with spicy basil and fresh cheese.
"It's basically a fruit salad with pasta," he said.
To make the sauce, simply warm the olive oil, pour it over shallots and garlic, then blend in the vinegar and tarragon, fresh peaches and tomatoes.
The warm pasta is cooled by the sauce, and the sauce is warmed by the pasta, making it a delicious, room-temperature dish to serve on a hot night.
"It's actually very trendy," Wangler said. "Martha Stewart has been putting peaches and tomatoes together for a while."
At Partake in Healdsburg, chef/cheese specialist Tracey Shepos plays around with the classic caprese salad, adding summer squash and Castelvetrano olives to the usual tomatoes and mozzarella.
"This time of year, everybody wants mozzarella and tomatoes," she said. "That's because it's so good."
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