4 refreshing ways to use late summer tomatoes

Although COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted almost everywhere, we are not going back to all our pre-pandemic habits. For example, at our local farmers’ markets, attendance is down significantly from three years ago.

Interest in tomatoes also seems to have waned. For years, several local farmers’ markets have held wildly popular tomato tastings and festivals, with samples of a huge range of varieties and preparations. This year there are no tomato tastings or festivals.

But there are plenty of tomatoes and there will be until there is a big drop in temperature or a heavy rain, which are not on the horizon.

One of the tomato heavyweights is The Patch. The Sonoma-based farm is usually the first seller to appear with tomatoes, usually Early Girl and Shady Lady varieties. Next is their hybrid steak variety, perfect for classic salsa.

Heirlooms follow a few weeks after hybrids, and this year’s selection is glorious. And there among all the multi-colored fruits is a special nameless tomato.

From the tip of its stem, a purple color flows down its shoulders. The rest is yellow, as is its juicy, dense flesh.

Farmer Lazaro Calderon, who founded The Patch in 1996, thinks it could be a volunteer of two varieties, Black Brandywine and Pineapple. An online search shows several similarly marked tomatoes, although none are successful.

Hopefully Lazaro saves some seeds, because this tomato is absolutely delicious. It makes an excellent Caprese salad. And while we’re on that subject, let’s take a closer look at the salad.

Insalata Caprese contains only six ingredients: tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, extra virgin olive oil, salt and black pepper. The quality of each ingredient is what matters most.

But lately I’ve seen all sorts of ingredients added, from balsamic vinegar to bacon, eggs, corn (still on the cob), strawberries, watermelon, figs, salmon, and quinoa. In some cases, fruit replaces tomatoes; in others, it joins them. None are Insalta Caprese.

At some point, a dish needs a new name, in part because traditional nicknames — think pesto pasta, BLT and clam chowder — create expectations.

I’m all for being spontaneous in the kitchen. But when it comes to leaving traditional names on dishes that bear little or no resemblance to the original, my advice is to just stop, especially if the dish is on a restaurant menu.

The Patch attends several Farmers’ Markets throughout the week and also has a stand at the Farm, at 280 Second St. E., Sonoma. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Late summer and fall are perfect times to make this classic salad. When you use out of season or supermarket tomatoes, that’s a shadow of what it’s supposed to be. Basil, too, is a creature of summer and tastes best in its time. For this salad, I recommend heirloom tomatoes with dense flesh, like Black Brandywine, a longtime favorite. The Patch includes it among their many heirloom strains.

Traditional Caprese Insalata

Makes 3-4 servings

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, well chilled

3 – 4 medium ripe beefsteak tomatoes, cored

2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

flake salt

3 tablespoons of the best quality extra virgin olive oil

12 fresh basil leaves

Ground black pepper

Use a very thin, very sharp knife to cut the mozzarella into ⅜-inch-thick slices. Reserve briefly.

Cut the tomatoes into ⅜-inch rounds, cutting through their equators, not their poles.

Arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella in circles on a large serving platter or individual plates. Scatter the garlic on top and season lightly with salt.

Drizzle with olive oil, prick basil leaves here and there and season with a few turns of black pepper.

Leave to stand for 15 minutes, sprinkle with a little salt and enjoy.

Here I use burrata instead of mozzarella and cut the tomatoes into wedges instead of rounds to resonate with the shape of the cheese. The flavors and textures of the dish met our expectations.

Insalata Caprese with Burrata

Makes 4-6 servings

1 burrata, 8 ounces

6 small tomatoes (2 inches), preferably mixed colors, cored

Small handful of cherry tomatoes, quartered

3 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

6 to 8 basil leaves, torn into small pieces

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

flake salt

Ground black pepper

Sprigs of basil, for garnish

Arrange the burrata off-center on a medium or large plate.

Cut each small tomato into 6 wedges, cutting across the poles, not the equators.

Arrange the tomato wedges randomly on the plate. Add the cherry tomatoes.

Scatter the garlic over the tomatoes, followed by the basil.

Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, garnish with sprigs of basil and enjoy immediately.

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