Sunday, July 31, 2005

Breakfast of Champions

Moving along with the tomatoes-are-too-perfect-by-themselves-to-mess-with theme, I put a few other nearly perfect foods together for a recent breakfast. This is one of my Noire Charbonneuse tomatoes sliced on a breakfast plate with some prosciutto, a bit of goat's milk cheese called nevat, some basil and a roll made from chiabatta dough. The prosciutto and cheese were salty enough that I didn't even have to add salt. A cup of tea was the only other thing needed.

It's a bit of an international meal as well: the tomato is French, the ham & bread are Italian, the cheese is Spanish and the tea was Chinese.

You can really see the dark color of the tomato when it's sliced open. This puts some people off but I can't think of a single person who, when coaxed into trying a taste, wasn't completely converted by the awesome flavor. One of the interesting thing about tomatoes is the enormous variety of colors and shapes they come in. It's amazing to me that Americans have been fixated on a single color and shape by commercial growers. We've given up soooo much to the convenience of having second- or third-rate things waiting for us at the grocery store. But fortunately, at least in my area, interesting and delicious home-grown tomatoes are really getting a foothold.

I hope your gardens are full of tomatoes and other delicious things!

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The First Tomato. Worth Its Salt?

The first tomato must be eaten as plain as possible to just savor the long-awaited flavor of its ripeness. Here is my Kellogg's Breakfast opened up for my and your pleasure. Can you see its juiciness? No, not really. The picture is really not doing it justice. ...and I'm not just talking my delirium over the first one. It really was all glistening with juiciness even though this is a particularly meaty tomato with a minimum of seeds and pockets of "jelly".

So, what is a tomato without salt? For this ritual first taste I whipped out my very finest tomato salt — Contemporary Ocean Products' Smoked Sea Salt Flakes. We have discussed salt before on the Chocolate & Zucchini foodblog. This smoked salt is my very favorite and is just perfect for a simple slice of tomato. Perhaps you can see the interesting pyramidal shape of the crystals in the photo below. This salt has just enough smokey flavor and delicate crunch to announce itself and enhance the flavor without distracting from it.

In that same C&Z conversation, someone brought another purveyor of specialty salts to my attention. It was Salt Traders and they also have a smoked salt. They call theirs Danish Viking-Smoked Sea Salt (here it appears on the right). So I had to order some and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to compare them. The Salt Traders' salt is far more compact in its cube-shaped crystal. And its flavor is far more intense as well. You can really taste the fire in this one! Honestly, if you were blindfolded and couldn't see the color or didn't know the name, the first thing you'd think is "smoke". It's at least as smokey as it is salty. I think that would make it a good choice for salmon or another strong-flavored fish. In the winter when barbeques are a mere memory this salt might be a welcome reminder of them on beef or pork.

There's a third salt in the photo. That's the Salt Traders Australian Murray River Salt Flakes. Unfortunately, I didn't think to pull this out and test it on a third slice of tomato. I wish they were easier to see against that white background but perhaps you'll see that, although they're not as large, they share the flake configuation of the Contemporary Ocean Products' salt. I think this is much more delicate in the mouth than the Danish salt. And the Murray River has a pleasant, assertive, salty flavor but, of course, without the smokey quality. I like this salt and think it's perfect for fresh veggies and salad.

Verdict? The Contemporary Ocean Products salt is the clear choice for a fresh tomato. It adds just enough additional flavor to complement the acids and sugars of the fruit with a pleasant tactile sensation from the large but delicate flake. The Australian salt is my second pick for its clean but assertive saltiness. I'll save the Danish salt for other uses.

Friday, July 29, 2005

At Long Last! TOMATOES!!!

We have had a Perfect Gardening Storm at my house: triple digit temperatures, broken irrigation sprinklers and a new lawn service that couldn't cope with it. That left my lovely garden a crispy shade of brown and my heart broken. But I'm happy to say that my tomatoes made it through and are finally pumping out fruit. YAY!!!

This is the oddest year! We should have been picking tomatoes for 6-8 weeks. Fortunately, the tomatoes I've been able to beat the squirrels and birds to (the heat seems to have made the beasts even more desperate than ever for things juicy) have been just delicious. Here is the assortment I picked one day last week.
Today's Assortment
In the background you will see the large, yellow Kellogg's Breakfast. This is a sensational meaty beefsteak with a great flavor. Yellow tomatoes are interesting for their lighter, more citrus-y flavor. Kellogg's Breakfast has all of that and more.

In the front are some smaller tomatoes. From the left you can see Black Cherry, the little yellow Sungolds and Stupice.

A few days later I got the first of my Noire Charbonneuse. This is a tomato that I had never heard of before but I was encouraged when I chose the plant at the nursery to know that they are French and "black". Black tomatoes are my very favorite. The color is shocking to some and utterly unappetizing to others. To me, it's the promise of intense, complex flavor. The French tomatoes I've grown before, Dona and Carmello, have been consistent producers of full-flavored tomatoes. So, how are the Noire Charbonnese? Well, here they are. What do you think?
Noire Charbonneuse
My verdict is that they are probably the best tomatoes I've ever tasted! It would be nice if they were a little bigger. They're supposed to be about 8 ounces and the biggest one I've picked yet is only 4. But in every other respect these guys are a 10 out of 10.

I know I've been a BAD blogger. But I hope to have more to say tomorrow about how I used these. And I hope soon I'll be able to beat the local fauna to some other varieties very soon.