by JAY PIERCE
LOCAVORE’S DELIGHT: The Series # 31. Follow us all year long as we explore the bounty of our region’s farms through the eyes and palate of our own Chef Jay Pierce.
As soon as our days turn warm, folks start aching for tomatoes. Everything’s blooming, everything’s green, but the tomatoes that you crave, that you haven’t had since last summer, are just getting planted; you’ll have to wait awhile for those succulent beauties. We’ve been passing the time as we wait for field tomatoes by buying the most transcendent greenhouse tomatoes from Screech and from Rudd Farm, a new acquaintance of ours, who’ve been slinging scrumptious local produce since last century (1999).
Nothing compares to a sun-soaked, vine-ripened tomato, regardless of variety. The true secret to why your own homegrown tomatoes or your memories of your grandmother’s heirloom specimens are so much better than anything you can buy is because those tomatoes are (were) picked at the peak of ripeness, as opposed to supermarket tomatoes which are picked under ripe (or even green) and ripened either during or after transport. The beauty of the current vogue of folks shopping at farmers’ markets is that consumers are being reconnected to vine-ripened produce in general and more specifically, tomatoes picked at the peak of ripeness.
The field tomatoes that we get from Rudd Farm, heirloom or not, are as much of an improvement over those greenhouse tomatoes as the greenhouse tomatoes were over the warehouse-ripened tomatoes they replaced. And now, as those field-tomatoes are finally upon us, we’re excited to be working with the fourth and fifth generations of the Rudd family to farm the land. Kenneth and Joan don’t do it alone, they enlist the help of their two grown sons, friends and neighbors, to grow a bounty of produce—a southern cornucopia of strawberries, eggplant, zucchini and squash and of course, tomatoes. Best of all, their farm is in Guilford County and you can’t bring the farm much closer to your fork than that, unless you grow your own.
You can find Rudd Farm tomatoes and other summer goodies on our Farmer’s Cart at the Greensboro restaurant, at their farm, and at the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market. How do you like your tomatoes?
- Always wash your tomatoes before you eat them.
- Never put a tomato in the refrigerator—tomatoes stored below 55 degrees lose flavor and texture.
- A field-ripened tomato needs little accompaniment. You want to really taste the tomato, so less is more. Usually a light sprinkling of salt is all you need to amplify that quintessential summer taste.
- Avoid cooking with field-ripened, Beefsteak tomatoes, because that wonderful flavor will get lost once subjected to heat. Plum tomatoes are better for cooking, they have more flesh and less moisture than their round siblings—just make sure you peel them first.
- If your tomatoes are too ripe, you can always save them by:
- Freezing them whole on wax paper (once they are frozen, transfer to a resealable bag or container until you need them) and later roasting them in the oven to make a tomato sauce.
- Pureeing them to make a tomato juice (great for using in your favorite bloody mary recipe)
- Canning them
How to Peel a Tomato
Check out these great Lucky 32 recipes for some creative ways to cook your tomatoes:
Grilled Vegetable Stack with Charred Tomato Vinaigrette
- 1-2 pounds of eggplant, sliced into 1/4″ thick planks
- 1-2 pounds of yellow squash, sliced into 1/4″ thick planks
- 1-2 pounds of zucchini, sliced into 1/4″ thick planks
- 1 cup canola oil
- salt and pepper to taste
Brush sliced vegetables with oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Place on a hot grill and cook until tender, creating nice grill marks on each side. Place on a plate and drizzle charred tomato vinaigrette over.
Yield about 4 servings
Charred Tomato Vinaigrette
- 3 1/2 pounds of local tomatoes
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 oz. fresh basil, de-stemmed
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/8 cup diced red onions
- 1 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
In a bowl, season canola oil with salt and pepper.Cut tomatoes in half (along the equator) and squeeze out the seeds.
Remove core from the tomatoes. Discard seeds and core.
Toss tomatoes in season canola oil then grill for two minutes on each side until charred.
Combine remaining ingredients (except olive oil) and charred tomatoes in a blender or processor and puree. While blender is running, slowly drizzle in olive oil.
Strain mixture through a medium hole strainer and discard solids.
Yield 2 1/2 cups
- 2 cups tomato puree (see recipe below)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 tablespoon green onions, thinly sliced
- 1/2 tablespoon salt (or to taste)
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 pinch celery seed
- 1/2 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
- 1/4 cup water
In a bowl, combine tomato puree, vinegar, onions, salt and cayenne.
Soften gelatin and celery seed in water for about 10 minutes, then place over boiling water until the gelatin melts.
Add gelatin mix to tomato mix. Pour into individual molds and chill until set.
Yields 6 servings
Local Tomato Puree
- 1 1/2 pounds fresh tomato
Place tomatoes on a sheet tray and roast in a moderate oven until skins are brown. Place in food processor and puree.
Yields about 2 cups
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