Tomato – the Jekyll and Hyde Ingredient

You’d think a post about tomatoes would be at the high of tomato season, right? We will doubtless have multiple tomato posts during the season, but I was inspired to write this after reading an article by Andy Griffin of Mariquita Farm's in Ladybug Postcard (thanks SlowFood East Bay for posting).

Tomatoes are indeed my favorite ingredient. They have a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. They can stand alone, simply sliced or with a dash of salt and drizzle of olive oil. There are very few things to compare to a Gazpacho on a hot summer evening. They also bring balance to something complex and rich like a Bolognese Sauce. Fresh tomatoes, straight from the farm, are simple perfection. There are multiple methods of preserving them – making them available throughout the year. Whole tomatoes, canned at the peak of freshness, work perfectly in something complex like a Bolognese Sauce – or blended to form the base of an amazing Bloody Mary. Tomato Jam allows for the incredible sweetness of the ingredient to be used throughout the year. A pickled green tomato brings the balance of acidity, and when combined with the jam, it’s a perfect way to recreate the sweetness and acidity that makes the tomato so amazing.

Where does Mr. Hyde show up? With so many ways to extend the season of the tomato, why do some restaurants insist on keeping a Caprese Salad on the menu long after local, fresh tomatoes are done for? Why would you import a cardboard imitation from thousands of miles away that lacks any of the flavor profile of the most amazing of ingredients? To me it’s the most immediate indication of a restaurant that doesn’t understand ingredients – serving dishes with “fresh” tomatoes when they are anything but fresh.

It takes a little more work to allow tomatoes to stay on the menu after the growing season is over – but diners will appreciate the extra effort. And, as told in the excellent article by Andy Griffin, it’s a lot better for the environment. 


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