Tomato recipes are front and center

August 10, 2018

There were more than a few disappointed tomato fans last weekend when the Historic Lewes Farmers Market had to cancel the annual Tomato Festival. Based on the possibility of rainstorms, they had to move the market to avoid damaging the turf at Smith Park. The chefs and farmers had already been paired, recipes chosen and produce picked for their presentation of inventive creations for visitors to taste.

Although visitors to the relocated HLFM at Shields Elementary didn't have the chance to enjoy samples, diners at several local restaurants discovered a variety of fresh tomato dishes featured on weekend menus. When asked if the festival would be rescheduled, the HLFM explained they couldn't juggle all the logistics a second time. A look at the list of chefs, restaurants and farmers helps explain why.

Even without the festival, there's an abundant supply of tomatoes available this month. From the familiar beefsteak to golden cherry tomatoes to the colorful zebra, vine-ripened beauties are piled high at roadside stands, grocery aisles and, of course, at the numerous farmers markets open throughout the season across Sussex County.

For those of you who may not be sure whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables, there are two answers. From a botanical point of view, a fruit is the part of the plant that has edible (often succulent) fleshy material covering its seeds. Vegetables are defined from an agricultural perspective as plants cultivated for food. 

Technically, tomatoes are either or both, depending upon the context - whether you are growing or eating tomatoes. Legally, however, the tomato is classified as a vegetable, thanks to an 1893 Supreme Court ruling to clarify import tariffs, adding a financial burden to importers who had claimed it was a fruit to avoid paying taxes.

Since the tomato is both fruit and vegetable, it makes sense that it's a perfect ingredient in dishes both sweet and savory. For example, consider combining chunks of tomato with watermelon in a minty Balsamic vinegar dressing. Another sweet treat is a blend of peaches and cherry tomatoes tossed with pecans and goat cheese. Again, the Balsamic vinegar adds the ideal sweet-sharp note.

A different twist on sweet to savory is the bread pudding in the photo. Instead of sweetened, eggy bread pudding, juicy chopped tomatoes provide moisture, and shredded cheddar adds a creamy layer. We used a multi-grain wheat bread for this and made just enough for the two of us in a miniature cast-iron skillet. Each of these recipes can be tweaked to taste with different herbs or cheese, anything to highlight the flavor of fresh tomatoes.

Tomato Watermelon Salad 

2 C cubed watermelon 
1 C cubed tomatoes 
2 T minced mint leaves 
1 T Balsamic vinegar 
1 t olive oil 
salt, to taste 
mint sprigs 

Combine the watermelon and tomatoes in a serving bowl. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together the mint, vinegar and oil. Pour dressing into bowl and toss gently to combine. Season to taste with salt. Garnish with mint sprigs. Yield: 4 servings.

Tomato Peach Salad 

3 chopped peaches 
1 lb halved cherry tomatoes 
1/2 C minced red onion 
2 T olive oil 
1 T white Balsamic vinegar 
1 T orange juice 
salt & pepper, to taste 
1/4 C shredded basil 
1/2 C chopped pecans 
1/2 C crumbled goat cheese 

In a serving bowl, combine peaches, tomatoes and onion; set aside. In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, orange juice. Pour dressing over serving bowl's contents and toss gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with shredded basil, pecans and goat cheese. Yield: 4 servings.

Tomato Bread Pudding 

2 T chopped shallot 
1 T butter 
3 slices multi-grain bread 
2/3 C chopped tomatoes 
2 T tomato juice 
1/4 t salt 
1/4 t pepper 
1 t snipped chives 
1 C shredded cheddar cheese 

Melt the butter in a miniature cast-iron skillet. Add the shallot and sauté until softened. Toast the bread and cut into cubes. In a mixing bowl, combine the sautéed shallot, bread, tomatoes, tomato juice, salt, pepper and chives. Add 1/2 C cheese and toss gently to combine. Transfer bread mixture to same skillet and top with remaining cheese. Bake until cheese is melted, about 15 to 20 minutes. Yield: 2 servings.