The Search for a Perfect Tomato – Part 2

22 09 2010

Tomatoes from Pelee Island, Ontario, September 2010

Last summer you may recall that I was on the hunt for great tomatoes. A few times over the years I’ve encountered the odd one that was bursting with flavour and had the proper texture but they are surprisingly rare. Unfortunately, Summer 2009 was cool and wet in Southern Ontario so it probably wasn’t the best time to embark upon such a quest.  However, this year we had a much better summer, with near ideal growing conditions. It was time to start my search anew.

Tomatoes ripening on the vine in Southern Ontario

As tomatoes came into season by August, I started checking out farmer’s markets and roadsides stands.  I searched during my travels to Eastern Ontario and Quebec and dutifully sampled everything from cherry tomatoes to heirlooms.  The overall quality this year was far superior to last summer’s waterlogged specimens but something was still lacking.  Where was that elusive deep and sweet flavour that I’ve been craving?

And then I found them: red, ripe, flavourful Tomatoes.

I was spending the last weekend of summer on Pelee Island with my brother-in-law Dan and his wife Jenn.  Located in the middle of Lake Erie, Pelee Island is the southernmost populated point in Canada (at 41 degrees, it shares the same latitude as Barcelona, Spain and Rome, Italy).  The island has a temperate climate that is favourable for grape growing and it is located just south of Leamington, Ontario which is known as the Tomato Capital of Canada.  Clearly, this would be a promising place to find good tomatoes.

A roadside stand on Pelee Island

We happened upon a roadside stand that was selling locally grown garlic and tomatoes, most likely picked from someone’s garden that morning.  Like many roadside stands in rural Canada, it was on the honour system – you put your money in the tin provided and make change from it if necessary.  We deposited the requisite amount and were on our way with fresh tomatoes and a few heads of garlic.  When I got home, I sliced into them and they were just about perfect: uniformly deep red throughout, juicy and sweet.

Tomatoes that are uniformly red throughout usually taste the best

I am a firm believer that when produce is at its best, preparation should be minimal. I decided to use my precious few tomatoes in classic preparations.  I ate one plain, sliced into wedges with a dash of salt and pepper.  Next, I made a BLT: combine crisp bacon, lightly toasted bread, crunchy lettuce, thickly sliced tomatoes and a little bit of mayo and you have a lunchtime masterpiece.  Later that night, I made some bruschetta to accompany dinner (see recipe below).  Finally, the next day I made a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich (they were getting a little soft so this was a good way to use the last of them).  As summer draws to a close, I’m already dreaming of next year’s tomatoes…

A grilled cheese sandwich with tomato slices pairs well with a bit of grainy mustard and pickles

Bruschetta

(VEGETARIAN)

This is more of a guideline than a detailed recipe – amounts will vary depending on how many tomatoes you have.

  • Ripe tomatoes
  • Fresh basil or oregano
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • White bread (baguette, ciabatta, etc), cut into slices about 1″ thick
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  1. Cut tomatoes into a small dice.  Add to a small bowl.  Finely chop some fresh basil or oregano and add to the tomatoes. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil and season with salt to taste.
  2. On a grill or under the broiler, toast one side of the bread until golden.  Rub the garlic clove over the toasted surface of each bread slice.
  3. Spoon some of the tomato/herb mixture onto each toast.  Drizzle each piece with more olive oil if desired.

Bruschetta is an easy and delicious way to showcase perfect tomatoes

For more great tomato ideas, visit the Tomato archives.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

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