Days of Whine and Tomatoes
Where o where are the good ones? Insert exasperated sigh here.
Testing dozens of tomato recipes for this year’s contest calls for dozens of pounds’ worth. And decent specimens have been tough to come by, my friends. We don’t have the food-safety scare of last summer (remain positive!), but the weather and blight are delaying the show.
So, that old use-the-best-ingredients creed? On hold. The difference between a good-looking hothouse tomato and the real thing is substantial, I’ve learned – especially for salads, for fresh sauces, for recipes that involve reductions or extractions of tomato juice, for drinks. And even for tomato ice cream.
We couldn’t wait around. There’s a deadline (Aug. 12 edition), and we’re going to meet it, because despite all the things changing in the modern newsroom, journalists still sit at desks and get stuff done on time – or very, very close to it, with extenuating circumstances.
About 40 recipes have made the first cut, headed out to volunteer testers. I’ve done quite a few myself, and I have cook’s empathy for the ones that are thisclose:
* A meatloaf stuffed with herby chopped tomatoes called for 2 teaspoons of white pepper and a teaspoon of horseradish for 2 pounds of lean ground beef. The seasoning killed it.
* A tomato-onion pie baked in a 9-inch pan asked for 3 large Vidalias to be chopped, just cooked until soft and then placed as a thick, slithery block between two layers of thinly sliced tomatoes. Too much liquid; not enough tomato taste.
Among the more promising recipes thus far:
* Pork tenderloins pounded thin and rolled with a Greek-y mixture of tomatoes, feta, mushrooms and olives inside. Moist, cooks surprisingly fast.
* A tomato curry with the usual Indian spices (fennel, fenugreek and cumin seeds), used in judicious amounts. The balance of flavors is admirable, and the curry’s uses seem endless.
Results are due in soon from the tomato “crackers” made without flour, green tomato and ginger ice cream (love the idea of it, my fingers are crossed) and a hillbilly relleno pie (ditto; recipe names mean a lot).
We’ll test the first-rounders again, bring in a wider circle of tasters for judging and soon narrow the field to 10 or so.
Prizes have remained a mystery, but only because we’re trying to figure out what the winning cooks would like best. In years past, we’ve offered gift certificates to kitchen stores, various utensils and books. If you have thoughts on what might be nice for this year – within reason – we’re still mulling options. Of course, the coveted canvas Top Tomato reuseable tote bags will be back, with a spiffy new design. Win one of those and you’ll be the envy of everyone at the farmers market.
-- Bonnie S. Benwick
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