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La Belle Cuisine

The Tantalizing Tomato

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"The best way to eat [tomatoes] is in the garden, warm and
pungent from the vine, so that one can suck unashamedly,
and bend over if any of the juice escapes."
~ M.F.K. Fisher


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La Belle Cuisine

 


The Tantalizing Tomato

I remember three things about my great-uncle Arnel Delp, God rest his soul.
He played the accordion (not all that well) and loved to drag it out while
listening to “The Breakfast Club” on the radio. There was something called
“March Around the Breakfast Table”. Really fired him up. If we were visiting
and were stupid enough to be trying to sleep, rather than joining the family
for breakfast, we knew that Uncle Arnel would invade the guest bedroom and
march right straight across anything in his path.  Including the bed and all its contents. It did not take me long to figure out the exigency of punctuality in
the Delp household.
And then there were his African violets. I remember the breakfast nook in
that house as though I had eaten there yesterday. A curved seat underneath
a beautiful bay window overlooking the back lawn and garden. Very cozy and
inviting. And the window sill. The window sill was filled entirely with the most gorgeous assortment of African violets imaginable. It seemed they were
always in full bloom, year round.  Amazing man, Uncle Arnel.
His green thumb extended well beyond the breakfast nook. My best memories
of him are a direct result of what I considered his crowning achievement: He
grew the best darned tomatoes on the planet. You could have asked anyone. Tomatoes to die for, sweet, juicy, tangy. Tantalizing. I remember being told
(for the first time) one glorious summer morning that it was simply not possible
for a child to live on tomato sandwiches and popsicles. I grumbled something
about having done pretty well thus far. And was, of course, promptly sent to
my room to consider the error of my ways. My sassy mouth. Why are adults
so stupid, I wondered. Why would anyone even consider eating anything
else when they had access to all the fresh tomatoes their stomach could hold?
Life was indeed a mystery…
Quite a few years later, my best friend, Kay, and I set out to prove to anyone
who gave a damn that we could, indeed, live on tomato sandwiches and fresh
sugar cane.  It was, by far, one of the best summers of my life. The last truly
carefree summer I can recall. Kay and I hung out mostly at her house, as my backyard was not blessed with a bounteous garden. Tomato sandwiches,
morning, noon, and night.  And Kay’s mother understood completely. Soft
w
hite bread slathered with mayonnaise and loaded with as many slices of
tomato as we could manage. Salt and pepper. Sandwiches dripping with
tomato juice. Heaven. They had a fig tree too - just outside the kitchen
door. But that is another story…..


"It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts
while eating a home-grown tomato."

~ Lewis Grizzard

Pure Tomato Confit:
Oven-Roasted Tomatoes


Patricia Wells at
Home in Provence:
Recipes Inspired by
Her Farmhouse in France

by Patricia Wells, 1996, Scribner

“Nothing can match the pure, wholesome flavor of tomatoes, and no method amplifies tomato essence like a reduction. These are the sun-dried tomatoes
of the 1990s – fresh tomatoes that are baked for hours in a very slow oven
until much of their moisture evaporates, creating tomatoes with a dense,
haunting, rich, and pleasantly tangy flavor. Be sure to adjust the oven to
the lowest possible heat so that the tomatoes actually melt more than bake.
I use the tomatoes in soups, salads, on sandwiches, for pasta, or anywhere
I want a rich, pure tomato flavor. Although fresh herbs have a tendency to
burn when baked, both the liquid provided by the oil and the low oven
temperature prevent this from happening.”

2 pounds (1 kg) fresh plum tomatoes (Roma), peeled,
cored, seeded, and quartered lengthwise
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
A pinch of confectioner’s sugar
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, stemmed
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and slivered
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to the lowest possible setting, about 200 degrees F.
(90 degrees C., gas mark I)
Arrange the tomato quarters side by side on a baking sheet. Sprinkle each
side lightly with salt, pepper and confectioner’s sugar. Scatter the thyme leaves over the tomatoes and place a garlic sliver on top of each quarter. Drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven and cook until the tomatoes are
very soft, about 1 hour. Turn the tomatoes, baste with the juices, and
cook until meltingly tender and reduced to about half their size, about 2
hours total. Check the tomatoes from time to time. They should remain
moist and soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool thoroughly.
Transfer the tomatoes to a jar along with the cooking juices and oil.
Cover securely and refrigerate up to 1 week. Use in salads, on sand-
wiches, for pasta, or anywhere you want a rich, pure tomato flavor.

Two cups (50cl)


If there is anyone on the face of this earth – or in the entire universe, for that
matter – who loves tomatoes as much as I do, it is Charlie Trotter. Painful
though it may be, I must admit I suspect he has actually surpassed me. Chef
Trotter takes everything he touches to a new level.  Flavors once superb
become sublime. This is what The Chef has to say about tomatoes:


Charlie Trotter's
by Charlie Trotter, 1994. Ten Speed Press

“Tomatoes are my favorite vegetable, but only in season, when they are so
sweet and juicy that they can almost quench your thirst as you eat them.
I buy organically grown, vine-ripened tomatoes almost exclusively from the
Angelic Organic Farm in Caledonia, Illinois. They supply me with tomatoes
in all sizes and shapes and in a variety of flavors and colors – yellow, green,
purple, even white. They also provide me with many varieties of heirloom
tomatoes, types that had been abandoned for years because they were not
suitable for large-scale production, but that are now being grown for the
specialty market. Almost all of them seem to have an unusual sweetness.
Because there are so many different kinds available, tomatoes lend themselves
to spontaneous, creative handling. Raw, they can be cut up for a salsa-type
preparation to accompany seafood, or they can be tossed with other vegetables
in a little olive oil for a salad. They can be roasted whole, then hollowed out
and filled with grains or vegetables. They can be layered into a terrine, or even poached in olive oil or duck fat to make a confit that will melt in your mouth
with an unbelievable richness. Furthermore, the very essence of the tomato –
its water – is one of my basic cooking ingredients. I use it in the construction
of a wide variety of dishes and sauces. I even braise seafood in it. In fact,
tomatoes are so versatile that in August and September, I even feature an
all-tomato menu at the restaurant that is invariably a huge hit.”

 A man after my own heart, Chef Trotter. A man who understands that passion
can – and should – extend to all things beautiful. The Good Lord willing and
the creek don’t rise, as my grandmother used to say, I shall live long enough
to experience Heaven on Earth: The all-tomato menu at Charlie Trotter’s.
Please, God!
 So. Tomato lovers unite! This one’s for you. Let’s hear from another fellow
tomato fanatic.  None other than Marcelle Bienvenu, beloved locally as the
“Creole Cooking” columnist in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and admired internationally as a cookbook author and co-author of several of Emeril
Lagasse’s cookbooks:

 

Batch of Creole tomatoes a washout
Cooking Creole
Marcelle Bienvenu
New Orleans Times-Picayune, Thursday 19 July 2001

“Anyone who knows me will tell you I have a fixation on Creole tomatoes. I’ve
been known to get up at the crack of dawn, pull on shorts and a T-shirt and
drive 2 1/2 hours to Belle Chasse to pick up a case of Creoles at Becnel’s fruit
and vegetable stand.
I have a friend who’s almost as fanatic about these tomatoes and we’ve often
made a day trip to New Orleans just to pick up a case or two of Creole babies –
no stopping at Saks, no lunch on the town, no dawdling!
We are so happy with our stash of ‘maters’ we discuss all the way home about
how good they’re going to be in salads, on sandwiches, combined with Vidalia onions in a tart, or tossed with pasta and fresh basil.
Well, a couple of weeks ago I was in the city on business and on my way home,
I made the pilgrimage to Becnel’s. I put my carton on the passenger seat so I
could pat and caress them occasionally as I sped through a thunderstorm down Highway 90 listening to Jimmy Buffett! Oh, was I happy with my tomatoes!
Three days later, the tomatoes were at their peak. My husband and I usually
have Sunday supper with our neighbors, Pat and Jeri, and I offered to provide
my tomatoes, thickly sliced, sprinkled with feta cheese and fresh chopped basil,
and drizzled with olive oil and vinegar.
Jeri’s contribution was flank steak stuffed with roasted peppers and sweet
onions, as well as fresh corn on the cob. We had drinks on the patio over-
looking Bayou Teche, the table was set, and the wine was open and breathing.
Right before we sat down, I went to do my last minute drizzling of olive oil
and vinegar. We sat down and everyone dug in. ‘Oh man,’ my husband said,
‘these are great Creoles!’
’You got that right,’ Pat agreed. Jeri offered her dittos. I tool my first bite and realized something was wrong, very wrong. My first thought was that the olive
oil was rancid. I yelled, ‘Stop eating the tomatoes!’ They looked at me like I
was insane!
Then Jeri said, ‘Marce, show me the bottle of olive oil you used.’ We dashed
to the kitchen and I pointed out the decorative bottle with the stopper topped
with a ceramic olive. ‘That’s my dish detergent, Palmolive liquid!’ Jeri said.
I had ruined my glorious Creoles!
But at least we all had a sense of humor. The guys were laughing so hard I
thought they were going to choke.  Bubbles were blowing from their mouths
and there were bubbles all over our plates. I tried rinsing the tomatoes but
that only created more bubbles!
Thank goodness our flanks and corn were not ruined. We laughed through
dessert, which was a perfect blueberry cobbler. Well, you can guess what I did
the next morning. Right! I drove to New Orleans for more tomatoes! And this
time, I was very careful about my ingredients."


 Creole Tomato Soup
Makes 8 to 10 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 teaspoons salt
1/3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic
8 cups chopped, peeled and seeded
fresh tomatoes (about 5 pounds)
2 quarts chicken broth
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and
celery. Season with the salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about five minutes. Add the garlic and tomatoes.
Cook, stirring often, for three minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about one hour. Add the
parsley and serve.
Alternately, you can serve the soup chilled. If you want a richer soup,
add about one-half cup heavy cream before adding the parsley, and heat
to warm through.

 

Creole Tomato and Onion Tart
Makes 6 servings

1 unbaked 10-inch fluted tart shell
3 tablespoons olive oil or butter
3 medium-size sweet onions (such as Vidalia or
Texas Sweets), thinly sliced
Pinch of sugar
2 to 3 medium-size Creole or other
ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Put the tart shell in a tart pan (one
with a removable bottom) and press it gently against the sides and
bottom, trimming any excess. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil or butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions
and the sugar. Cover the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until the
onions are golden and slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Remove
and set aside to cool.
Spread the onions evenly on the bottom of the tart shell. Arrange the
tomatoes over the onions and sprinkle with the cheese. Season with salt
and pepper. Bake until the cheese is melted and golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool a few minutes before slicing to serve.

 * * * * * * * * *

"My husband made a delightful salad combining chopped tomatoes, diced cucumbers, feta cheese, and seeded and chopped cured olives (like kalamatas),
and tossed with vinaigrette dressing. Oh my! Moral to this story: Do not put
your detergent in an unmarked bottle! So there, Martha Stewart!"
 

Click below for more tomato recipes:

Baked Tomatoes with Garlic and
Basil (Alice Waters)

Creole (Tomato) Lullabye
How good does it get?
Tomatoes and corn...

It's Creole tomato time!
Gazpacho: The Quintessentail
Summer Soup

Sophia Loren's Spaghetti con
Pomodoro Crudo

Spinach Fettuccine Salad with
Fresh Tomato Sauce

Stewed Creole Tomatoes and Shrimp
(Commander's Palace)

Summer Basil and Tomato Bread Soup
Tomato Aspic with Shrimp Salad
Tomato Bisque, Favorite (Chef Keegan)
Tomato, Corn, and Avocado Salad with
Crispy Tortilla Strips

Tomato Pie (Laurie Colwin)
Tomato Soups (Craig Claiborne)
Tomatoes Stuffed with Avocado
Tomato-Zucchini Tian

 

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