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It's tomato time

Ten days ago, I had my first BLT of the season, with Owen Family Farms bacon, Full Circle Bakery ciabatta bread, Armstrong Valley Farm butter lettuce and Black Prince tomatoes from the Peach Farm in Winters. The mayonnaise was Best Foods.

This is remarkably early, especially compared to the last several years, when I've often waited for my first bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich until late July and, one year, early August. Admittedly, it was a bit of a cheat, as I usually hold off until the first summer tomatoes ripen locally, but when I saw some at the Sebastopol Farmers Market and thought of the heat wave that had just passed, I felt it was time for my favorite summer ritual.

The next day, I learned that Tusque Farms had harvested its first Early Girl tomatoes so, really, the timing was perfect. Oh, glorious tomatoes! The season is on.

It is time for Insalata Caprese, Italy's inspired combination of sliced tomatoes, mozzarella fresca, garlic, fresh basil and olive oil; Spanish pan de tomate, which is simply toasted bread rubbed first with fresh garlic and then with half a tomato, so that the tomato's flesh and juices are absorbed by the bread; gazpachos; fresh salsas and, of course, the world's greatest sandwich, the BLT.

It is also time for tomato galettes, tomato tarts and fresh tomato pies, which are among my favorite ways to enjoy the delicious love apple, once thought to be both deadly and an aphrodisiac, hence the name "pomme d'amour," as the French dubbed it.

There's been a lot of talk about tomato pie recently, in part because it was a favorite of Gene Burns, the late radio broadcaster who passed away in late May. Another radio host, Pat Thurston, posted Burns' recipe on Facebook and it was almost identical to mine. Did he get it from "The Good Cook's Book of Tomatoes" (Addison-Wesley, 1994) when I was a guest on his show? I'll never know, but it makes me smile to think that he might have. Gene, this one is for you.

For more tomato recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives, including for tomato galettes and tomato-polenta tarts, visit "Eat This Now" at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

For the very best results, use dense-fleshed local tomatoes that are heavy for their size and drain off most of their juices, as described in the recipe. This well keep the biscuit-style pie crust from becoming mushy and will provide the most concentrated tomato flavor. Once you get the hang of it, this pie will likely become a summer staple; it is one of my most requested recipes ever.


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