The Love Apple

Since my last column highlighting the “wolf peach” or Solanum lycopersicum was well over a
decade ago, it’s time to highlight the versatility of the love apple or everyday tomato. Though
it goes by several aliases, tomato is derived from the Aztec tomatl or “the swelling fruit”. When
you think about it, a tomato does seem a little like a fruit swollen with liquids seeds described
by the late George Carlin as “still in the larval stage” due to the gelatinous appearance of the
seeds. And yes, because a tomato is simply an “ovary” for seeds, it is classified botanically as a

As Simple as it Gets

There are fewer culinary delights as a simple vine ripened tomato adorned simply with a little sea
salt and a splash of extra virgin olive oil or a couple of drops of aceto balsamico. Of course, it’s
simpler said than done as vine ripened tomatoes are truly “swelling fruits” as described by the
Aztecs making transportation a little sketchy. So unless you’re growing your own crop, most of
the tomatoes you consume are picked before optimum ripeness including those heirloom
variety at your local Farmer’s Market as even those farmers have to transport their fragile crops.
However, even those heirloom varieties picked early and sold at Farmer’s Markets or even your
neighborhood supermarket are leagues above your average run-of-the-mill supermarket
tomatoes that were mainly bred for easy transport usually without any consideration for flavor
characteristics. A good alternative to the heirloom variety of tomatoes are the grape, cherry or
miniature varieties as their smaller size makes them less prone to rupture and they are sweeter
the average supermarket tomato.

Solar Powered Tomatoes

Though most of the dried varieties of tomato go by the generic name, sun-dried tomatoes, I’m
pretty sure most are not dried for hours in the sun. In fact I’m pretty sure that the last rays of
sunshine seen by the tomato was when it was still on the vine and that the drying occurs in
large commercial dehydrators. While drying concentrates the flavors in tomatoes, it also
changes the flavor to a cross between tomato and raisin… a tomatoey raisin if there’s such a

While the flavor does change a little, it still imparts a tomato flavor albeit a little richer flavor.
And instead of trying to create my own I simply purchase those large bottles from the big box
stores with the dried tomatoes soaked in olive oil. After shaking off as much oil as possible, I
blitz the dried tomatoes in a food processor to create a finely minced dried tomato “paste”.
Sometimes I simply spread the dried tomato “paste” with crème cheese (I used to use fat free
cream cheese but apparently only reduced fat cream cheese is available now) on a bagel for a
simply vegetarian bagel sandwich. Sometimes I’ll blitz the dried tomatoes with Nicoise olives,
capers and a little anchovy paste for a tomato tapenade as a spicier sandwich or bagel spread. Or
sometimes I’ll simply mix the tomato “paste” with Worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise for a
spiced mayo with sandwiches (it’s great with smoked brisket sandwiches).

Not Quite Dried Tomatoes

Many years ago while sampling the Menu Degustation at La Mer in the Halekulani hotel, one
dish included a piece of tomato confit. It was a bite sized piece of tomato that simply appeared
to be skinned and seeded but the flavor was a food epiphany. Imagine the sweet flavor of the
best vine ripened tomato magnified 5 to 10 fold and of course I had to try to re-create it! But
how? Confit usually refers to a protein cooked in its own fat at very low temperatures.
Tomatoes don’t have fat or at least very little fat mainly in the seeds. I could have asked La Mer’
s chef at the time but he only spoke French… and probably wouldn’t have divulged his secret
anyway. Then I finally came across a recipe by that French Laundry master, Thomas Keller. After
peeling then halving Roma tomatoes lengthwise, he simply added a little salt, fresh thyme and
olive oil and baked them no higher than 250 degrees for several hours. Okay, not the same as
that first experience at La Mer but still pretty tasty and perfect for a variation of the traditional
Caprese salad with tomato, mozzarella and basil. Except I serve mine on crostini with basil pesto
and these low-and-slow roasted tomatoes.

Tomato Cocktail Anyone?

Several years ago, a good friend hosted a dinner featuring tomatoes in every course. The one
caveat was no guest was allowed to bring any food to the dinner. Share a bottle of wine? Fine,
but no food. So I created my Tomato Water Martini. Hey, it’s not food, it’s a cocktail. I first
purchased several pounds of heirloom tomatoes and roughly chopped them then added it to a
food processor. I then added a little smoked salt and several fresh basil leaves then blitzed it to a
puree. I then placed a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl and poured the puree in the strainer,
covered it with plastic wrap and refrigerated it overnight to let the liquids strain out of the
solids. This refrigerated tomato “water” was then mixed with Square One basil infused vodka,
two parts tomato water to one part vodka. I adorned to shot glass with a fresh cherry tomato
and basil leaf. Hey, I didn’t bring any food…

Of course, I also made a tomato tapenade palmier using my recipe for tomato tapenade and
spread it over a sheet of puff pastry (purchased in the freezer section of a supermarket then
thawed in the refrigerator) and gently rolled each side until they met in the middle. After using
a scant bit of egg wash to make sure the two rolled section sealed in the middle, cut across into
1/4 inch slices and baked until golden brown. Yes, this is food but I explained to the host that it
wasn’t meant to serve with his culinary creations for the evening but was simply a “chef’s snack”
while he finalized his dinner prep.

Tomato Dessert

And lastly, I also made a Spiced Tomato Cake to serve after dinner but once again, I argued that
it wasn’t food. It was dessert which is distinctly in its own class. For instance, when you were a
child and your Mother told you to finish your food at dinner, if you reached for that Twinkie or
Little Debbie snack she would have slapped you ‘upside your head! “That’s not food, that’s
dessert”! So, I rested my case…

Tomato Spice Cake

2 & 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 cup Italian stewed tomatoes reduced to sauce
2 eggs
1/2 cup grated carrot with moisture squeezed out
1 cup granulated sugar
9 slices of dried tomato rehydrated by simmering in equal parts of sugar and water for 15 to 25

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour an 8" or 9” square cake pan. Mix the
dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl then add stewed tomatoes and grated carrots to dry
ingredients and mix until well incorporated. Add eggs to mixture one at a time beating well
after each addition then stir in granulated sugar and mix until just combined Pour into the
greased and floured cake pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Cut into thirds – 9 equal squares
then garnish each piece with the candied dried tomato slice.