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Seasonal Pantry: A tomato variety for every dish

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Here it is midsummer, and most of us have already had our first BLTS of the year, along with tomato salads, homemade salsa, pasta sauce and so much more. Our farmers markets are full of both hybrids and heirlooms, and they seem particularly good this year, — plump, sweet and juicy. In several recent years, we’ve waited until mid August for good local tomatoes.

The best way to find the varieties of tomatoes you prefer — if you don’t grow them yourself — is to talk to their farmers.

If, for example, you want to prepare homemade salsa, Lazaro Calderon of The Patch will recommend his favorites.

If you’re looking for tomatoes for a summer pasta sauce, ask Dan Magnuson of Healdsburg’s Soda Rock Farm which ones he prefers.

Ma & Pa’s Garden’s little tomatoes are ideal for filling with little mozzarella balls and chermoula, as are The Patch’s Early Girls.

There are dozens of farmers growing delicious tomatoes throughout Sonoma County, and it is always best to start with the farmers market nearest you.

In a few weeks, it will be time to start thinking about preserving the harvest to enjoy until the next season begins but, for now, indulge in one of summer’s most delicious offerings.

Essential tomato tips

When buying tomatoes, look for those that feel heavy for their size.

Do not store whole tomatoes in the refrigerator. Store them, blossom end down, on a platter or wire basket (so air can circulate). Below about 58 degrees, a tomato’s flesh turns mealy and their flavors decline. Keep them away from heat and sunlight.

To prolong a tomato’s life, chop it, toss it with a little olive oil and store it, covered, in the refrigerator for a day or two.

To cut a tomato into slices, cut parallel to its equator.

To cut a tomato into wedges, cut through its poles.

To peel a fresh tomato, pierce it through its blossom end with a dinner fork and turn it over a hot burner to scorch the skin. Set aside briefly to cool and use your fingers to peel off the skin. Do not plunge tomatoes into boiling water to peel them, as this cooks the outer quarter inch or so and dilutes the flavor.

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The most important element in chermoula, a traditional Moroccan condiment, is a balance of acid and spices so be sure to taste as your prepare it. Chermoula is excellent with sliced tomatoes with or without roasted sweet peppers, sausages, bread salad, soup, grilled and roasted seafood, poultry and meat and, simply, over plain yogurt. It is also delicious spooned over sliced avocado and sliced mozzarella fresca.

Red Chermoula

Makes about 1¼ cups

3 garlic cloves, crushed

— Kosher salt

1 teaspoon hot Spanish paprika

1 teaspoon sweet Spanish paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon piment d’Espelette or chipotle powder

— juice of 1 lemon, plus more to taste

— Kosher salt

½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

3 small red tomatoes, such as Early Girl or Shady Lady, cored and cut into small dice

— Black pepper in a mill

½ cup best-quality extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste

Put the garlic into a suribachi or large mortar, sprinkle with salt and use a wooden pestle to grind it into a paste. Add the paprikas, cumin and piment d’Espelette or chipotle powder and the lemon juice. Stir and season with several generous pinches of salt.

Add the parsley and cilantro and pound it just a little bit to incorporate it into the garlic and spices.

Use a rubber spatula to fold in the tomatoes. Taste, correct for salt and season with several turns of black pepper.

Add the olive oil and taste for acid balance, adding more lemon juice or more olive oil as needed.

Use right away or store in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 3 or 4 days. Remove from the refrigerator 15 minutes before using.

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Chimichurri is as ubiquitous in Argentina as ketchup is in America. In restaurants, it always accompanies steak and most other meats. There are many versions, some without tomatoes and others, like this one, with tomatoes.

Red Chimichurri

Makes about 1¼ cup

4-5 large garlic cloves, crushed

— Kosher salt

1 small shallot, chopped

½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon fresh oregano

1 medium ripe tomato, peeled, seeded, minced and drained

1 Gypsy pepper, seared, peeled, seeded and minced

1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika

— A few pinches of crushed red pepper, chipotle powder or piment d’Espelette

¼ cup red wine vinegar

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

— Black pepper in a mill

Put the garlic into a suribachi, sprinkle with salt and use a wooden pestle to grind to a paste. Add the shallot and pound and grind into the garlic.

Using a rubber spatula, fold the parsley, cilantro and oregano into the paste. Stir in the tomato and Gypsy pepper, add the paprika and hot pepper of choice and stir in the vinegar and olive oil.

Add several turns of black pepper, taste and correct for salt and acid.

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This tagine — a Moroccan stew — is not traditional, primarily because it replaces bell peppers with poblanos. If you do not have the cooking vessel known as a tagine, you can prepare this in a Dutch oven or a heavy skillet, preferably of cast iron.

Halibut Tagine with Tomatoes & Poblanos

Makes 4 serving

— Red Chermoula (recipe above)

1 pound wild Pacific halibut fillet

1 lemon, cut in half

— kosher salt

1 garlic clove, crushed

3 large beefsteak tomatoes, trimmed, cut into ¼-inch rounds

3-4 poblanos, roasted, peeled, and seeded

1-2 serranos, minced

— steamed couscous

— chopped cilantro, for garnish

Make the Chermoula up to a day before preparing the tagine.

A few hours before serving the tagine, set the halibut on a clean work surface, squeeze the juice of half the lemon over it, and sprinkle all over with salt. Let rest 10 to 15 minutes, rinse under cool water, and pat dry with a clean tea towel.

Cut the fish into four equal pieces and brush all over with some of the Chermoula. Set on a plate, cover, and refrigerate.

Remove the fish from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before cooking.

Set the bottom part of a clay tagine on a work surface and rub it all over with the garlic.

Arrange the tomatoes over the bottom of the tagine and spoon about 3 tablespoons of Chermoula over them. Cut or tear the poblanos into wide strips and arrange them on top of the tomatoes. Scatter the serranos over the poblanos.

Set a heat diffuser over a medium- low burner and set the bottom of the tagine on top; cook gently until the tomatoes begin to fall apart, about 20 minutes.

Set the halibut on top of the vegetables and spoon about 3 tablespoons of Chermoula on top. Add the top of the tagine and cook very gently until the halibut is just done, about 20 minutes for thick fillets.

While the tagine cooks, prepare the couscous and cut the remaining half lemon into wedges.

To serve, transfer the tagine to the table, setting it on a trivet or some other protective item. Set the couscous, remaining Chermoula, and lemon wedges alongside.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The Good Cook’s Book of Tomatoes.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com

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