Late July is peak tomato season in much of the country, so for some fresh and inventive twists on the fruit — and yes, it is botanically a fruit, no matter what the Supreme Court says — we're heading to Home Wine Kitchen in Maplewood, Mo.
Head chef Cassy Vires tells NPR's Scott Simon that while tomatoes are great eaten fresh off the vine with a little salt, she likes to prepare them in a tomato terrine — a sort of grown-up version of a jello mold. "We use baby heirloom tomatoes, set them in a basil aspic and then slice them, and it creates a really beautiful, fresh bite of summer," Vires says. "My brother actually called it the 'savory tomato jello.' "
Vires' tomato terrine is a feast for the eyes as well as the tastebuds. "There's so many different colors of those heirloom tomatoes," she says. "It's a really striking dish."
Tomato jam is also on the menu, in both sweet and savory formats. "We use them on our cheese and charcuterie boards," Vires says. "Tomato has such great natural sugars — as you mentioned, it is a fruit — so it makes wonderful, wonderful jam." However, she says, she's never considered it with peanut butter in a sandwich.
"But I think that's what I'm going to have for dinner," she laughs.
Dinners at the Home Wine Kitchen sometimes end up with a tomato sorbet. "It was a wonderful surprise," Vires says. "You take your first bite, and at first it's sweet, it's eating dessert, and then on the finish it's that wonderful citrus and acid you get from a fresh tomato." Paired with a savory-sweet basil shortbread cookie, Vires says, the tomato sorbet makes a delicious dessert.
But there's one place where there is a gap in Vires' tomato knowledge: She says she's not sure why people sometimes throw tomatoes rather than eat them. "I think somebody just realized it made the best splat."
Makes one terrine
4 pounds heirloom cherry tomatoes
12 large heirloom tomatoes
1/4 cup basil leaves
2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 ounce powdered gelatin
Separate the cherry tomatoes by color and slice in half. Set aside until ready to use.
Halve the large heirloom tomatoes and squeeze the pulp, seeds and flesh into the bowl of a food processor or blender. Add basil, salt and pepper and puree until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a large measuring cup. Add enough cold water to equal three cups of liquid. Return the liquid to the pot and bring to a simmer.
Place 1/4 cup cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin on top. Let sit for five minutes. Add the gelatin mixture to the simmering tomato water and stir to dissolve.
Lightly oil a terrine mold and line with plastic wrap. Pour in enough tomato water to come up 1/4 inch up the sides. Place in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to allow it to slightly set. Once slightly set, add one color of the tomatoes until an even layer has been formed. Pour in some additional tomato water to just cover the cherry tomatoes. Continue layering the tomatoes by color, adding tomato water between each round. Work quickly to ensure the gelatin doesn't set. Once the terrine is filled with tomatoes, pour a final layer of tomato water over the top, gently tapping the pan to make sure there are no air pockets. Add additional tomato water to make sure the tomatoes are completely covered.
Cover with the excess plastic wrap and gently push down on the surface of the terrine using the lid or cutting board. Place weights onto the surface of the terrine and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.
Once set, run a thin knife around the outside of the terrine and invert onto a cutting board or platter, gently pulling on the plastic wrap to help unmold. Gently remove the plastic wrap. Slice the terrine with a sharp knife and serve with remaining cherry tomatoes, fresh greens and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
Makes four cups
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups red tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
Place a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Saute the tomatoes and garlic until soft and fragrant, and then add the sugar, vinegar and seasoning.
Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until the mixture is thick and sticky. Adjust the seasoning and refrigerate until needed.
Makes one quart
2 pounds yellow tomatoes
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Place the whole tomatoes and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook until the tomatoes are completely broken down, about 1 hour. Strain the tomatoes through a fine mesh strainer, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.
Return the liquid to the pan and add the sugar and lemon juice. Reheat just enough to melt in the sugar. Chill the mixture and then freeze in your ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer's instructions.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Time for another Taste of Summer.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT FUN IN THE SUMMERTIME")
SIMON: Late July is peak tomato season in much of the country, and for some fresh and inventive twists on the fruit - wait, isn't a tomato a vegetable? We're going to head to the Home Wine Kitchen in Maplewood, Missouri. Cassy Vires is the owner and executive chef. She's also an award-winning food columnist.
Ms. Vires, thanks for being with us.
CASSY VIRES: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: So is there anything wrong with just picking up a tomato and maybe putting a little salt on it and biting in?
VIRES: Absolutely not. I think that's one of the best ways to enjoy a tomato, especially picked fresh from the garden.
SIMON: Any other ways you want to bring to our attention while we're here?
VIRES: We've been doing some great things with tomatoes here at Home Wine Kitchen. One of the things we've been doing is a tomato terrine, where we use baby heirloom tomatoes, set them in basil aspic and then slice them. It creates a really beautiful, fresh bite of summer tomato appetizer.
SIMON: That's kind of like a Jell-O mold.
VIRES: Yeah, it is. My brother actually called it the savory tomato Jell-O.
SIMON: Can you give us a working recipe for that terrine?
VIRES: I sure can. It's actually very simple to make. You know, just take some heirloom tomatoes and cook them in some water with some basil. You can throw a little garlic there, a little bit of gelatin, not too much, not too little. It's got to be the precise amount. And then you just set those in a terrine pan with some sliced baby heirloom tomatoes, let that set up overnight, season it with a little bit of salt and pepper. And we serve it with a little micro basil salad and some balsamic vinegar.
SIMON: And the nice thing - first thing, often terrines just look great. And some terrines it's almost like you're seeing various layers of sediment as you go through it.
VIRES: And that's one of the beautiful things about this, is that there's so many different colors of these heirloom tomatoes that you can layer those different colors in the terrine so you get like, you know, red, then orange, then yellow. It's a really striking dish.
SIMON: I understand that you folks make tomato jam.
VIRES: We do. I love making jam. Jam is one of my passions. And we do both a sweet and a savory tomato jam here. We use them on our cheese and charcuterie boards. But tomato has such great natural sugars - as you mentioned, it is a fruit - so it makes wonderful, wonderful jam.
SIMON: Ever pair it with a peanut butter in a sandwich?
VIRES: No. No. But I might try that now. I think that's what I'm going to have for dinner.
SIMON: OK. Please don't hold me personally responsible.
SIMON: And, of course, as we mentioned, it's actually not much of a mystery. A tomato is a pretty well-advertised fruit, it just is often found in the vegetable section, because it's often found in salads. You folks there at the Home Wine Kitchen make tomato sorbet.
VIRES: Yeah, that was something that one of my cooks kind of challenged me to do. We were wondering if we could do it. And we did. We juiced the tomatoes. And, you know, sorbet is a pretty simple thing. You take fruit juice, sugar, add a little water if you don't get enough juice, and freeze it and put it through your ice cream machine. And so we did tomatoes.
And it was a wonderful surprise. You know, you take your first bite, and at first it's sweet, it's eating dessert. And then on the finish it's that wonderful citrus and acid you get from a fresh tomato, 'cause we didn't cook the tomatoes at all. It was so bright and fresh. And then we paired it with a basil shortbread cookie. So that had a little sweet and savory aspect to it as well. And it's one of the desserts we're most proud of around here.
SIMON: I would offhand I think be inclined to make it one of those, I want to say palate cleanser, but one of those between course sorbets.
VIRES: An intermezzo? It would make a wonderful intermezzo.
SIMON: I'm not sure I want to say intermezzo either, but you get the idea. Yes.
VIRES: Yeah. No, it would be great for that, because that bright acid really does cleanse the palate.
SIMON: A tomato question.
SIMON: Just because you write about this kind of stuff, too. I mean, I read the other day where there was a prominent American, you know, who was traveling overseas and she got tomatoes thrown at her.
VIRES: Yes. When did the tomato become the projectile of vehemence?
I don't know. Somebody get on Wikipedia real quick and check for us. I think somebody just realized it made the best splat.
SIMON: Cassy Vires is executive chef and owner of the Home Wine Kitchen in Maplewood, Missouri. May all your intermezzos be good ones.
VIRES: Thank you very much.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT FUN IN THE SUMMERTIME")
SIMON: And Cassy's recipes can be found at our website. You can go to npr.org/tasteofsummer. And there you can find tips and cooking techniques from our entire series. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.