July 1, 2009

The Tomato

No, not dessert... just something I am obsessing over since receiving our first few heirloom tomatoes of the summer. I remember a time in my life where I hated tomatoes, well most tomatoes. I would only eat the tomatoes from my Pock's garden. He had a fairly small garden in our backyard but every year he grew a tomato similar to the Early Girl. They were bright red and juicy and we couldn't wait to pick them. He would slice them up with salt and sometimes we would just stand at the kitchen counter and eat them. He is the one who instilled a love for fruit and salt that I just can't break to this day (grapefruit, cantaloupe, watermelon...).
Planting the first seeds
watching Pock garden
Some time in the past giant seed corporations like Monsanto took control and decided what we should eat. They funded genetic engineering for crops to withstand pests and drought, and found a way to patent their seeds' genes. There have been an outrageous number of lawsuits for farmers crops that have been contaminated by Monsanto who demands a technology fee for using their product (even when the product comes by air or bird poop). This concept is completely wrong. Plants are very smart and these engineers are taking a role that no one should. Plants evolve in certain climates to reach maximum growth under the conditions they are used to. Evolution. It's that simple. Unfortunately, big corporations have taken the region out of our food system. Fortunately, farmers (mostly smaller scale) have joined a movement against the Man and began collecting and sharing seeds like heirloom varieties.
The Slow Food Movement has strongly backed growing heirloom varietals of vegetables and even Turkeys and Chickens. The Seed Savers Exchange is a non profit dedicated to sharing rare seeds and have been around since the 70's. I like this idea very much, and hope to support it when I have a garden of my own. (First I need a balcony or south light). But the movement has sparked interest in consumers who are tired of the mushy pink hot house tomato. This tomato is the reason for my hatred. Thankfully, I live in a city with a strong support for local food with a great farmers market full of delicious tomatoes. Our first CSA box came a couple weeks ago with an assortment of heirlooms that were huge. I really enjoyed my walk through the farmers market last Saturday when I saw a tomato the size of my head, but lumpy and disproportionate. A man pointed it out to his daughter and she was completely confused. These tomatoes are slightly unpredictable. They are all very fun looking, fairy tale like even. Something that Alice should have eaten to increase in size. Some are striped, some multicolored, but they all surpass what my taste buds once knew as "tomato". Meaty flesh with little pockets of seeds scattered randomly throughout make each slice unique. I sliced one open before dinner and regretting that I had not taken a picture before, decided it was time. I had only planned on eating half and saving the rest for later and I did, but it was only about 10 minutes later. I think the tomato I ate was something like the Cherokee Purple but don't know for sure. All I know is that I am happy for summer and that summer brings tomatoes.
If you have a garden I encourage you to check out the link above for the Seed Saver Exchange instead of buying your seeds at garden super stores. Do your part to bring back the Heirloom! I wanted to add some recipes at the end here that I plan on attempting this summer with our tomatoes to break the general thought that tomatoes may only be used in savory dishes. If you try one before me I'd love to hear how it turned out!
Happy Baking.
Source of recipes SFGate
Oliveto, Oakland CA
Chef Paul Canales and Pastry Chef Jenny Raven

Mascarpone Budino with Sungold Tomato Compote

Makes 10-12


For the budinos:

5 ounces softened cream cheese

1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar

13 ounces mascarpone cheese

3 eggs

1 3/4 tablespoons lemon juice

Finely grated zest of 1 1/2 oranges

Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon

For the compote:

5 1/2 cups Sungold tomatoes

3/4 cup sugar

1 lemon, halved, sliced paper thin and chopped, with peel

1 cup sultana raisins

Additional lemon juice and sugar, to taste

Instructions: Spray 10 to 12 six-ounce ramekins with oil and line the bottoms with circles of parchment paper.

In an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until completely blended.

Add the mascarpone and beat until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping the sides of the bowl well. Add the lemon juice and orange and lemon zests. Pour into the prepared ramekins.

Preheat the oven to 325° (300° for a convection oven). Place the ramekins in a pan large and deep enough to fit all of them, such as a roasting pan, and pour in boiling hot water until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the budinos are set, 30-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool in the water bath. Remove from the water bath and chill thoroughly before inverting each ramekin onto a plate so that the budino comes out. Discard the parchment paper circles.

For the compote: Preheat the oven to 325°, or a convection oven 300°. Set aside 1 1/2 cups of the tomatoes. Cut the remaining 4 cups in half lengthwise. Place them with their cut sides up on a wire rack set over a sheet pan. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of the sugar. Bake for 15 minutes, sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, and continue cooking until the tomatoes are dry but not brittle, 1-1 1/2 hours.

Place the reserved 1 1/2 cups tomatoes into a blender, and blend to make 1 cup thin puree.

Bring 1 cup of water along with the remaining 6 tablespoons sugar to a boil and add the lemon. Let simmer for 10 minutes, then add the roasted tomatoes and raisins. Cook until the mixture is bubbling fiercely, add the tomato puree, and cook another few minutes, stirring well with a heatproof spatula so that the bottom of the pan does not scorch.

Remove the compote from the heat and cool to room temperature. Add more sugar to taste, and, if needed, a squeeze of lemon. Spoon generously over each budino.

Tomato Sugarplums

Makes about 20


4 cups Juliet tomatoes (can substitute Sungold cherry tomatoes or Romanitas; see Note)

1/4 cup sugar + about 1/4 cup more for cutting board

2 cups almonds

1/4 cup honey

2 teaspoons orange zest

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 cup confectioners' sugar

Instructions: Preheat the oven to 325°, or a convection oven to 300°.

Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise. Place them with their cut sides up on a rack set over a sheet pan. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Bake for 15 minutes, sprinkle with another 2 tablespoons sugar, and continue cooking until the tomatoes are dry but not brittle, about 1 1/2 hours for cherry tomatoes, about 2 1/2 hours for larger Juliet or Romanita tomatoes. It may take less time if you use a convection oven. Cool.

Meanwhile, toast the almonds in the oven until nicely browned, about 15-20 minutes. Cool and chop finely with a knife, or pulse in batches in a food processor to a very coarse grind.

When the tomatoes are cool, sprinkle a cutting board with 1/4 cup sugar and cover with the tomatoes. Carefully chop them quite finely, tossing with some of the sugar if they begin to stick to your knife.

In a large bowl, combine the honey, orange zest, cinnamon and ginger. Add the almonds and tomatoes and mix well.

Roll the mixture into 1/2-inch balls. Fill a bowl with the confectioners' sugar and drop the balls into it as you go. When you have almost covered the surface of the sugar with balls, toss to coat the balls well. Proceed until all balls are coated.

Place in an airtight container and let "ripen" several days in the refrigerator. Toss again in confectioners' sugar and bring to room temperature before serving.

Note: Romanita tomatoes are available at Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market, both in Berkeley. Juliets are hard to find but may be in mixed baskets; inquire at farmers' markets or produce stores.

Walnut Ice Cream with Brandywine Caramel Sauce

Serves 6-8

The ice cream and sauce are very rich, so you will want small servings.


The Ice cream

1 cup walnuts

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup + 6 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup powdered milk

1 cup whole milk

7 egg yolks

The sauce

1 small Brandywine tomato

1 cup sugar

Instructions: For the ice cream: Preheat oven to 325° (300° for convection oven). Place nuts on a pan, then toast until dark and golden, 15-20 minutes. Let cool, then grind until fine in a food processor.

In a saucepan, heat the cream and 1/2 cup sugar to just below the boiling point. Add the ground nuts and let steep at room temperature for at least an hour, or until a strong walnut flavor has permeated the cream. Pour through a coarse strainer into a large plastic bowl, then pour again through a fine-mesh strainer such as a chinois into another large plastic bowl.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, mix 6 tablespoons sugar with the powdered milk, and slowly add the whole milk, whisking constantly until the powdered milk is dissolved. Place over high heat until it's just below the boiling point.

Place yolks in a large bowl. Add a ladleful of the hot milk mixture to the yolks and mix well. Add about a third of the hot milk to the bowl with the yolks and stir. Pour the contents of the bowl into the pot with the milk and cook for another 30 seconds or so, until the milk begins to steam.

Remove from heat and pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into the walnut-infused cream. Cover and chill until completely cold, 3 hours or overnight.

Churn in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

For the caramel sauce: Cut the tomato into large pieces and process in a blender or small food processor until smooth. Pass through a fine-mesh strainer. Measure out 1/2 cup puree; set aside any extra.

Combine 1/4 cup water and the sugar into a broad, heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir until sugar dissolves. Cook over high heat until the sugar is a tawny golden color. Turn off the heat and add the tomato puree. Do this carefully and step back in case of any of it splatters.

When the foaming eruption has subsided, stir the caramel mixture with a wire whisk, turning the flame back on if necessary, until all of the candy threads have melted into the caramel. Remove from heat and let cool. Taste for tomato flavor intensity and add any extra puree, if desired.

Serve the ice cream drizzled with the caramel sauce.


  1. Anytime you'd like to make that ice cream recipe, I'll be there for a taste test.

  2. Only because 1 tomato is used and it would be very easy to dodge the sauce anyway...you don't fool me!
    From the woman who tried to hide certain vegetables in other things to get you to try them

  3. I LOVE heirloom tomatoes! Those hot house ones shouldn't even count. It's good to see them making a comeback in grocery stores. I think their popularity will spread quickly as more people start to rediscover them.


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