In the middle of winter, is there anything as unappealing as a sad, mealy tomato from the grocery store? That’s reason alone to celebrate the arrival of summer. Bursting with ripe juice, enticing with sweet viney aromas, and diverse in color and shape, tomatoes become worthy of their fruit status.
This past weekend, I attended a tomato party that a friend of a friend has been hosting in San Francisco annually for the last nine years. Everyone was asked to bring a different tomato-based dish. But this was no half-baked pot-luck—everyone thought outside of the box. While there were plenty of classic tomato recipes, including a gourmet grilled cheese and tomato soup, the number of unique dishes present would make your head spin. I’ll let you in on a few of my favorites.
Our friend made Roma tomatoes filled with Thai beef larb and garnished with a spicy Thai basil pesto—a satisfyingly sweet, spicy and savory combo that was the perfect finger food. It took awhile for the guests to cut into the succulent tomato tart for no other reason than its beauty. A guest handed out shirred eggs served over a kind of Provençal tomato sauce, and we slurped greedily when the broken egg yolk transformed the sauce into a creamy texture. There was mouth-watering pulled pork and barbecue sauce (tomato-based, but of course!) and a beautiful tuna tartare stuffed in cherry tomatoes and served on a bed of crushed ice—two much appreciated doses of protein after all the veggies.
In addition to sipping rosé, Grenache and Beaujolais—all great complements to the high acidity of the tomatoes—I tasted a surprising drink. One of the guests made a special cocktail to order. He had wrapped chopped tomatoes and strawberries into cheesecloth and infused the bundle in water. Shaken with gin or vodka on the rocks and garnished with a basil leaf, it was the perfect summer cocktail: simple, elegant and refreshing. The strawberry was subtle and only served to enhance the color and elevate the tomato flavor. Voila!
Then came dessert—always my favorite. A rich and creamy tomato cheesecake winked at me all night, but I confess I never got around to tasting it. I was a little more focused on the lemon-almond polenta cakes made by my dear friend, Jeremy, which he garnished with a dollop of freshly made tomato jam and lemon goat cheese frosting. I might be biased, but my eyes were wide with delight. When I realized that I was turning red, round and ready-to-be-juiced like Violet Beauregard in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I knew it was time to go home.
While I don’t imagine craving a tomato anytime soon, I was totally inspired by the theme. For those of you with gardens brimming with zucchini, carrots, beets and sweet potatoes—which could also easily straddle that line between savory and sweet in strange and interesting ways—a similar feast could be an ideal solution. But it is the glorious, summer tomato who deserves this annual, end-of-season salute, aptly named La Sagra del Pomodoro. Cheers to the hosts for celebrating all things tomato and encouraging creative participation from all involved. Until next summer!
Click here to see more photos of the dishes described: http://on.fb.me/1eSaFXi