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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

An Ode to Tomatoes

You can have your fancy auto-mo-biles and your shiny jewelry, this time of the year I am happy with little more than tomatoes. Valencia has their own variety that are about as good as tomatoes get. July and August are the best months for these Valencia tomatoes and I buy them compulsively from just about every vegetable stand that I pass during the day—and I pass quite a few. It's too hot to cook (although I still cook a lot) so something as simple as a sliced tomato is about all you need. Maybe a pinch of salt, a couple drops of oil if you must, a leaf or two of basil if you have it, and vinegar once in a while just for a change.

These aren't the hothouse variety of tomatoes that you find all year long in most U.S. super markets, or the uninspired tomatoes you find here in the winter. These are right off the vine and still ripening as you bring them home from the market. I had a hothouse tomato lying around a couple of weeks ago, a remnant from those harsher times when the good ones are still in the ground. I had it sitting in my kitchen for a few weeks and it just sat their patiently, not changing color and not getting a bit riper with age. I finally put it out of its misery by chopping it up and throwing it into a soup.

These summer Valenciano tomatoes are very impatient. You only have a window of about three days to eat them before they ripen into mush. They are so good that I don't like to use them for anything but serving uncooked and unprepared. It's almost a waste to make gazpacho out of such beautiful pieces of fruit. I eat them alone or in a Greek salad with cucumber, onion, and green peppers. I serve tomatoes as the base with pasta salads. Basically, I use any excuse that I can find.

My favorites are called raf tomatoes and they are odd-shaped things with the meat separated into different lobes. I have my own little trick for serving them. I use an apple corer to remove the stem base and I push the corer all the way through the tomato. This whole center of the raf is kind of difficult to deal with so using an apple corer works really well. Next I cut it in half from the top. After this you can sit the half on its side and slice the lobes individually.

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