Five cooks and a few tomatoes

Five cooks and a few tomatoes

Ah, the tomato!

Whether it is romas or beefsteaks, Sunrise or Red Star, field ripe tomatoes seem to have captured the summer: in their sweet and juicy flesh and “jelly” you can taste the sun.

With hundreds and hundreds of varieties, tomatoes are versatile and packed with nutrients, vitamins like vitamin-C and the antioxidant carotenoid lycopene.

A South American native that was domesticated in Mexico, tomatoes took a long time to gain acceptance in many parts of the world. As a member of the nightshade family, people (the Elizabethans, for example) used to believe they were poisonous.

Tomato varieties (Photo: WREats).

Tomato varieties (Photo: WREats).

That said, they make an amazing “poison.” Their acidity and aromatics make tomatoes particularly well suited to numerous dishes and many different applications. Lots of people just like them on their own.

Here’s what a few local chefs do with tomatoes — it may inspire you to take a few minutes to really appreciate this terrific summer sunshine.

Nick Benninger, Uptown 21 Food & Drink, Waterloo

It’s almost as if we had asked Benninger, who owns and operates Taco Farm Co., to say the first thing that came to his mind when we said, “tomato.”

“Salt!” he replied.

“In a perfect world good salt, but all I want on my first tomato of the season is salt. I’ll eat them out of my hand like an apple. The best!”

Peter Egger, Egger Hospitality Group

Egger, whose group includes The Breadalbane Inn in Fergus and Wellesley’s Nith River Chop House, has a very methodical, four-part process to tomato season, as he explains below. It’s rather poetical, don’t you think?

“My first garden tomato I eat like an apple; the second I slice with a touch of salt.

“The third tomato of the season I quarter and add just a drizzle of good olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.

“And the fourth tomato,well, for that I make into a toasted tomato sandwich with a dab of garlic aioli.”

"Soprano" tomatoes for "gravy" (Photo: WREats).

“Soprano” tomatoes for “gravy” (Photo: WREats).

Aura Herzog, Ambrosia Pastry Co., Waterloo

Herzog, like Egger, seems to have a special tomato hierarchy.

“I start with a fresh salsa. Then, next is a home-made pasta with tomatoes and fresh basil. Third, it’s a caprese salad with real, fresh buffalo mozzarella.”

Her final devouring of the season’s ripe cherry tomatoes is a simple one.

“They get picked and eaten like candy before we can do anything with them!”

Melissa Baer, Vibrant Farms, New Hamburg

“Tomatoes. Wow, tomatoes. How many things do I do with tomatoes,” Baer asks?

“The main thing I do is to eat them — right off the plant!

“Next would be to use them in salads until there are too many coming in. Then you have to start making sauce and freeze it.”

Ryan Murphy, Public restaurant, Kitchener

In the Bridgeport neighbourhood of Kitchener, Chef Ryan Murphy of MamaPapa Catering Co. and PUBLIC Kitchen & Bar gets original variety and heirloom tomatoes from Kitchener’s Working Centre Garden.

“It’s a really simple preparation making a tomato bruschetta. Toss them in good olive oil, a bit of salt and pepper, put them on some good bread and just barely warm for a minute in the oven. Then some shaved Parmesan.”

Murphy will also make an ultra-fresh (the tomatoes still hot from the sun after being picked) salad with some red onion, olive oil, red wine vinegar, perhaps some cucumber and salt and pepper. He’s also been known to go a bit extreme and pop cherry tomatoes in the deep-fryer so they blister: peel them and you’ve got wonderful “naked,” luscious cherry tomatoes.

“Tomatoes are best when they are right in season. And that’s when you should treat them simply,” Murphy says.

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