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In the Spanish town of Bunol, tomato season is celebrated each year with a giant, tomato-throwing brawl known as La Tomatina.

On the last Wednesday of August, participants pull on goggles and gloves and throw crushed tomatoes, leaving behind a river of juice.

At Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate in Santa Rosa, the height of tomato season is greeted each September with an equally enthusiastic, if a bit more sedate, celebration.

The difference is that the tomatoes at Kendall-Jackson's 16th annual Heirloom Tomato Festival this Saturday have been carefully nurtured and picked for optimal flavor.

Instead of sacrificing the fruit of its labors to a frenzied food fight, the winery delivers crates of perfectly ripe tomatoes to dozens of local chefs and caterers, who turn them into all kinds of tasty bites to be sampled at the festival.

The winery also holds an Heirloom Tomato Competition each year at the festival. In all, organizers estimate they will serve more than 9,000 pounds of heirloom tomatoes this weekend.

"The best part of the festival is getting a chance to taste all the different dishes from the chefs," said Justin Wangler, executive chef of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate. "And tomato fanatics can taste the different varieties of tomatoes."

Every year, the winery saves the seeds from the competition's prize-winning tomatoes, then plants them in the garden. This year, there will be 75 varieties of tomatoes, from Aunt Ruby's German Green to Mortgage Lifter.

In an effort to expand the festival, the winery has added a Celebrity Chef Dinner on Friday, hosted by Sonoma County's own Guy Fieri along with guest chef Mario Batali of New York. Fieri's foundation, Cooking With Kids, will benefit from the weekend.

Saturday's day-long smorgasbord of activities includes garden tours and workshops, wine seminars and cheese pairings, plus live Latin music by the Carlos Herrera Band.

New this year is the Sommelier Central, a tent where guests can ask wine educators and sommeliers all kinds of questions about wine.

And to appeal to competitive cooks, the festival has once again picked sizzling national talent for its annual Chef's Challenge. Contestants include Eli Kirshtein of Atlanta, from "Top Chef: Season 6," who will go mano-a-mano with Wangler at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. At 1 p.m., Ryan Scott, chef/owner of Market & Rye in San Francisco and veteran of "Top Chef: Season 4," will face off with Casey Thompson of Dallas, a veteran of "Top Chef: Season 3." The final round at 2:30 p.m. will decide the top toque.

Meanwhile, the 52 chefs and caterers serving up tasty tomato fare will compete for the coveted Critic's Choice and People's Choice awards.

Last year, Josh Silvers of Jackson's and Petite Syrah in Santa Rosa won both awards for his Flatbread with Heirloom Tomatoes, Walnut-Basil Pesto and Provolone. This year, Silvers will tweak the dish a bit, serving up a Flatbread with Cheese, Summer Vegetables and Bacon.

Bacon will also play a cameo role in Wangler's dish from Kendall-Jackson: A Southern-style pizza made on a crust of gluten-free cornbread, topped with heirloom tomato sauce, mozzarella, charred okra, cherry tomatoes and bacon.

If bacon isn't your bag, there will be plenty of other choices. Tony Ounpamornchai, chef/owner of Sea Thai Bistro in Santa Rosa and Petaluma, will serve a Thai-style Baby Squid Ceviche with Heirloom Tomatoes in Garlic, Chili, Cilantro, Peanut and Lime Vinaigrette.

Lucy and Michael Tamayo of the Sonoma Latina Grill in Novato will honor the tomato's Latin American roots with a Fire-Roasted Heirloom Tomato Salsa on an Heirloom Corn Tortilla with Grilled Chicken.

Tomatoes play a key role in the Provence region of France, where brothers Marc and Alain Pisan of Chloe's French Cafe in Santa Rosa grew up. Their parents ran a patisserie in the resort town of Saint-Tropez.

This year, Chloe's will be playing up the sweeter side of the tomato by serving it in a streusel pastry with apricot jam, said chef Ren? Pisan, Alain's wife.

Right now, Chloe's is also serving a savory Tarte Rustique, made with heirloom tomatoes, piperade and goat cheese on its menu. You can also find a Market Salad made with heirloom tomatoes, fresh figs, St. George cheese and toasted pepitas.

Local tomato grower Dan Magnuson of Soda Rock Farms in Geyserville has won the winery's tomato contest so many times that he is only allowed to judge the contest now.

Magnuson, who grows six acres of heirloom and hybrid tomatoes, has been in full harvest swing since mid-August.

"We're having a good year," he said. "It was a really good spring, and there were no really high temperatures (to burn the plants)."

When his tomatoes get overripe, Magnuson delivers them to restaurant chefs around the county, who turn the sweet orbs into tomato soup.

One of those chefs is Richard Whipple of The Brasserie at the Santa Rosa Hyatt Hotel, who makes a simple Oven-Roasted Tomato Soup.

"I'll throw my overripe tomatoes into the freezer, and then I'll make a soup out of that later on," he said. "You still have that fresh, summer flavor."

The following recipes are from Renee and Alain Pisan of Chloe's French Cafe in Santa Rosa. Mezzo Secco is a Dry Jack cheese made by Vella Cheese Co. of Sonoma.

Heirloom Tomato Tarte Rustique

Makes 6 servings

1 recipe pate brise (see below)

1 recipe piperade (see below)

4 medium-sized heirloom tomatoes, sliced ?-inch

4 ounces crumbled goat cheese

4 ounces Mezzo Secco cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, chives or Italian parsley

Make pate brise and piperade (see recipes below).

For tart: Preheat oven to 425?F

Divide the cooled piperade mixture between the 6 tarts. Place a layer of heirloom tomatoes on top of the piperade mixture.

Sprinkle the tomato layer with fresh herbs, goat cheese and pieces of Mezzo Secco cheese, making sure to reserve enough for the top layer.

Add a second layer of tomatoes, cheeses & herbs. Heat approximately 5 to 6 minutes until cheese bubbles and is golden brown.

On the side: Toss baby arugula with fresh herbs, thinly sliced red onions and Basil Grain Mustard Vinaigrette.

Pate Brise

Makes 6 5-inch tart shells

1? cups all purpose flour

? teaspoon salt

— Pinch of sugar

1stick unsalted chilled butter, cut into ?-inch cubes

1 egg whisked with 3 tablespoons cold water

Sift flour, salt, and sugar in medium bowl. Add butter and shortening; rub between fingers or with a dough cutter until mixture resembles coarse meal.

Add 4 tablespoons cold water/egg mixture. Work mixture with fingertips until dough begins to form. Add cold water as needed. Form dough into ball and flatten. Cover and chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour or until firm.

Working quickly, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness on floured surface. Cut dough with a 6-inch round cookie cutter or cut approximately 1 inch over the diameter of your tart pan. Press dough onto bottom and all the way up sides of tart pan, pressing hard enough to adhere to sides. Let rest in refrigerator a minimum of 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove tart shells from the refrigerator and line with parchment paper. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake approximately 15 minutes or until the sides begin to turn golden brown. Remove the parchment paper and weights and bake for 5-8 minutes more or until the shell is uniform in color.

Remove from oven, cool and remove tarts from pans.


Makes filling for approximately 6, 5-inch tart shells

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 small yellow onion, small dice

2 sweet red peppers, seeded, julienne cut

3 sweet gypsy peppers, seeded, julienne cut

2 cloves garlic, minced

— Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Over medium-high heat, saut?onions in olive oil until slightly caramelized. Add peppers and continue cooking until softened. Add garlic and cook approximately 2 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Take off heat and cool down before assembling tart. May be made in advance.

Chloe's Arugula Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Figs

Makes 6 servings

8 cups fresh arugula

12 fresh Mission figs, quartered

4 heirloom tomatoes, medium dice

1 medium Armenian cucumber, $-inch bias cut

3 ounces St. George cheese, grated

3 ounces toasted or raw pepitas

Italian parsley, chopped fine

Divide arugula between six chilled salad plates or on one large plate for family-style service. Evenly divide and arrange layers of figs, heirloom tomatoes and cucumhbers over the arugula. Top with grated St. George cheese, pepitas and Italian parsley. Serve with Basil Grain Mustard Vinaigrette and crusty bread.

Basil Grain Mustard Vinaigrette

Makes 3 cups

1 cup canola oil

? cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cup white wine vinegar

1 cup fresh basil leaves

1/8 cup grain mustard

1 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon honey

4 cloves garlic

1cup fresh basil leaves

— Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth and slightly thick with an immersion blender. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, to taste.

The following recipes are from Richard Whipple, executive chef of the Brasserie Restaurant in Santa Rosa, who likes to serve this soup with a grilled cheese sandwich made with Costeaux French Country Bread and Vella's Mezzo Secco cheese.

Oven Roasted Tomato Soup

Makes 8 cups

4 pounds heirloom tomatoes, cut into 8 pieces

5 whole garlic cloves

? Spanish onion, cut into large dice

? cup extra virgin olive oil

? cup basil leaves

2 sprigs thyme

2 sprigs marjoram

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Using a roasting pan, add all the ingresients and mix well. Place into the oven and cook until the garlic becomes soft, 30 to 40 minutes, stirring the mixture a couple of times. The tomatoes will reduce, brown a little and intensify in flavor. Add 2 cups of water. In a blender, filled to three-quarters full, blend until smooth.

Garnish with basil and serve with a grilled cheese sandwich.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com