Quick Bite: Make the Most of Local Tomatoes
Tasty new spins on tomato-inspired dishes
Is there anything more evocative of the Southern summer than the esteemed local tomato? Few can deny the pleasure of the succulent fruit plucked from the vine, still warm from the sun and eaten right there in the garden. Whether you envision rosy slices tucked under rounds of mozzarella; jewel-toned red, yellow, purple, and orange tomatoes chopped in a spicy salsa; or thick rounds piled on grilled burgers, these treasures are the keystone of Lowcountry supper tables. Perhaps because tomatoes are one of the most stubborn agricultural products, they are also one of the most prized—the tomato refuses to bend to our will, and thus a well-grown tomato rich with flavor remains emblematic of its season like few other fruits or vegetables. Wadmalaw Island, along with Johns Island, makes up some of the Lowcountry’s most fertile stretches of farmland. All manner of produce is grown there, from squash to collards to herbs, but when the weather starts to warm and summer approaches, it’s the tomato that has locals fired up. The rich soils of these two barrier islands collectively produce more tomatoes than anywhere else in the country and yield a number of different varieties. Everything from tried-and-true slicers and heirlooms to the newer kinds favor the Lowcountry land and our accommodating climate. So, what constitutes a good tomato? It’s heavy in the hand, has a pungent aroma, yields willingly beneath a sharp blade, boasts shiny skin, and has flesh that’s both sweet and acidic. As for finding them, these tomatoes are grown in local soil, ripened on the vine, eaten soon after picking, and never refrigerated. Indeed, there’s no small number of Southerners who celebrate the tomato’s flavor and its intense pleasures, and who refuse to accept the mealy, anemic, commercial counterfeits. So it’s safe to say that this fruit’s future here is certainly sealed, and our tables will long be laden with local tomatoes.
- 12 medium vine-ripe tomatoes
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 Tbs. sugar
- 2 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbs. lemon juice
- 2 Tbs. prepared horseradish
- 3 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp. celery salt
- 1 ½ tsp. Old Bay seasoning
- 1/4 tsp. bottled hot pepper sauce
- (optional) Vodka
- Pickled okra for garnish
Remove cores from tomatoes and cut tomatoes into pieces. Place in large saucepan with water, celery, onion, garlic, sugar, and salt. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes or until tomatoes are soft. Using a colander or sieve, strain tomato mixture into a large bowl, pushing on tomato pieces to extract all juice. Discard solids.
Return strained mixture to pot over low heat. Stir in lemon juice, horseradish, Worcestershire, celery salt, and Old Bay seasoning. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Stir in hot pepper sauce if using. Transfer Bloody Mary mix to a pitcher and chill. (Because the acidity and water content of tomatoes can vary, taste the juice before chilling and adjust seasonings according to taste.) Cool to room temperature. The juice mixture can be made one day in advance. It is natural for the mixture to separate slightly, so stir or shake before serving.
Pour over crushed ice, add desired amount of vodka, and stir. Garnish as desired.
- 4 cups cornbread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 2 Tbs. sherry wine vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black
- pepper to taste
- 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, halved (or substitute wedges of 3-4
- 1 small red onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 1 small seedless cucumber, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 yellow or orange bell pepper, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
- 8 oz. fresh mozzarella ciliegine balls, halved
- 2 Tbs. chopped fresh basil leaves
- 2 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley leaves
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Spread cornbread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in the oven for about eight minutes or until dry and lightly golden, tossing once halfway through. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, whisk the vinegars, garlic, and olive oil together in a small bowl, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.
Combine the tomatoes, vegetables, and mozzarella in a large serving bowl. (The recipe up to this point can be made a few hours in advance, then covered and refrigerated.) When ready to serve, fold the toasted cornbread and fresh herbs into vegetable and cheese mixture. Toss all ingredients with the vinegar dressing just before serving.
- 1 loaf fresh ciabatta bread
- Homemade aioli (recipe follows)
- 4 beefsteak tomatoes
- Kosher salt
- 1 bunch watercress, tough stems removed
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
- 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- 3 Tbs. chopped fresh chives
- 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch of garlic powder
For the aioli:
For each sandwich, cut one 1/2-inch slice of bread from the loaf. Generously spread aioli on one side of the bread slice. Lay face-up on serving plate. Cut 1/4-inch slices from the tomato and shingle three tomato slices on top of bread. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Top tomato layer with a small handful of watercress. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
- 3 medium ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded, and finely diced
- 1/2 ripe pineapple, cored and finely diced
- 1 jalapeño pepper, cored, seeded, and minced
- 1/2 small red onion, finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves, pressed
- 1 tsp. honey
- Juice of 1 lime
- 2 Tbs. torn fresh cilantro leaves
- Pinch of salt
Toss all ingredients together in a small bowl. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
- 1½ cups grated Gruyère cheese, grated on large holes of box grater
- 1/2 cup grated fontina cheese, grated on large holes of box grater
- 1/2 cup chopped scallions
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 nine-inch deep-dish pie crust dough (such as Pillsbury)
- 4 medium vine-ripe tomatoes, cored and sliced
Preheat oven to 350ºF. In a medium bowl, mix the cheeses, scallions, mayonnaise, and Worcestershire until well-combined. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Line the pie plate with crust and crimp the edges. Layer bottom of unbaked pie shell with enough tomatoes to cover, reserving remaining slices for top layer. Place dollops of cheese mixture over tomato layer and gently spread to cover. Layer remaining tomato slices in concentric circles on top of pie, gently pushing them into cheese mixture so that they set firmly.
Bake for approximately 25 to 35 minutes, or until crust and cheese mixture are lightly browned. Lightly cover with foil and let set for 15 minutes before slicing so that slices will preserve their shape. Serve warm.