Archive for August, 2007

Cherry Tomatoes Are Meant To Be Peeled

Saturday, August 11th, 2007

Heirloom Cherry Tomato Tart: Peeled Organic Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes, Organic Opal Basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano Chips, and Organic Ricotta on Toasted Plum-Streaked Brioche.

I haven’t had many tomatoes yet this season, and I think that plums are to blame. I’m tired of eating skins for now.

So, at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market on Wednesday, I bought a punnet of colorful heirloom cherry tomatoes more out of duty than craving. It wasn’t until I got home that I remembered the glistening rainbow of peeled cherry tomatoes in The French Laundry cookbook, so I gave it a shot.

The result: peeled cherry tomatoes are my newest form of tomato perfection. These luscious orbs melt away with the freshest tomato flavor and optimum tomato texture. It’s almost like spherified tomato sauce, akin to an El Bulli trick.

I usually shy away from dealing with the peeling-by-blanching method b/c it takes a lot of time-heat-dishes-water-ice (I’m talking about you, peaches), but since cherry tomatoes are so small, the blanching step is a snap. Not even an ice bath is needed.

You just bring enough lightly salted water to cover the tomatoes to a boil in a saucepan, gently add a few (rinsed, stemmed) cherry tomatoes at time, and after about 5 seconds, remove them with a slotted spoon onto a cutting board; if you notice that certain colors of tomatoes are splitting during poaching (like my yellow ones did), take them out even sooner b/c they probably have thinner skins. With a thin serrated knife, make the smallest possible incision into the skin near the stem end (purely for cosmetic reasons). Gently unwrap the tomato from its skin with your fingers. They will keep for several hours at room temp. I’m guessing that you could also just microwave some water to boiling and work with that.

It takes a little time, but each tomato is its own challenge to peel without nicking or squashing. You appreciate the colorful beauty of each one close up, and feel protective of their sensitive selves, and snack on them.


This tart was inspired by the Salad of Petite Summer Tomatoes with Vine-Ripe Sorbet in The French Laundry Cookbook that featured the peeled tomatoes. I just made it bigger, more casual, and based on what I had on hand. Once the tomatoes are peeled, it’s practically a matter of assembly; and things stick nicely onto their moist surface. Incidentally, for lunches this summer, I’ve gotten into the habit of baking or toasting some sort of bread-y base (puff pastry, pizza dough, bread, etc), and loading it up with toppings once out of the oven. There’s more control, temperature contrast, and crunch that way, and the ind’l flavors keep more integrity (yes, sometimes desirable, sometimes not).

I spread ricotta on the toasted brioche b/c I love it with tomatoes and it’s a good moisture barrier btw the bread and tomatoes.

Instead of making their garlic tuile with a flour-based batter, I grated some parmigiano-reggiano cheese, formed it onto rounds on a silpat, baked them in a 350F oven until bubbly, broke them up, and scattered them over the tomatoes.

I added chopped opal basil b/c it’s pretty and I’d bought some at the market, too.

I used “plum-streaked brioche” b/c I had the leftover plum brioche tart that I froze as the base, but I couldn’t slice away every last fragment of the plums. Luckily, plums and tomatoes go very nicely with each other. There’s something kinetic there, esp w/ the slight sugar factor. Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course has a recipe for Sautee of Tomato and Plums if you want to try a dessert with the combination.

I didn’t make the TFL tomato sorbet, but I bet it’s fantastic the way it would melt over the tomatoes as a sauce and also as a textural counterpoint as a silky sorbet.

I enthusiastically bought a lot more heirloom cherry tomatoes this morning at the Saturday Santa Monica market (which is smaller than the Wednesday one, but is predominantly organic), and now I have the happy challenge of making a lot of dishes with them. Tonight, I think that the peeled cherry tomatoes will be great with pasta. I’ll probably bake the ricotta with eggs, flour, and parmigiano-reggiano cheese so that I can chop it into cubes to toss in; or maybe it’ll be turned into gnocchi. And add basil… and onions… and olives… and whatever else I can find…

I Left My Heart at Chino Farm

Sunday, August 5th, 2007

When Chad suggested going to the Wild Animal Park just outside of San Diego on Saturday, I countered with a suggestion to stop at the legendary Chino Farm in Rancho Santa Fe on the way.


Walking up to the stand, we were greeted from just about this point by the mingling fragrances of glorious produce (and it can’t be denied, the sight of many parked luxury cars).




Looking at these pictures, I feel the same pang of regret that I feel when I look at my pictures from Pierre Herme: Why didn’t I get one of everything when I had the chance?

And my pictures barely begin to show the variety of produce that was available. I’m particularly haunted by the memory of their peach tomatoes, in both red and yellow. They were tomatoes with a matted, slightly fuzzy skin, and looked so unusual.

But we were sporting around in a car without A/C, and we had a hot day at the wilderness park ahead of us to boot. It wouldn’t have been right to let such produce waste away in the heat, so I got as much as I thought we could handle as part of lunch.


I’m posting this picture a second time, because they were amazing. We were told that they were French strawberries, and I’m guessing that they were mara des bois. Despite the ubiquity of strawberries and strawberry flavorings, strawberries often have an elusive flavor — their fullness experienced in fleeting, almost side, sensations. The flavor of these was full-on, with an exquisite, lingering after-taste. If you were in a certain mood, I bet that you could spend a pleasant afternoon by eating one every five minutes.

This punnet had been fuller, btw; we ate quite a few before I managed a photo (and I swear that they were much redder than my pic shows up online). It cost $5.


I also got golden raspberries. I loved their velvety texture, and the plumpness of each drupelet. These were mildly sweet and mildly tart, with a sort of honeyed apricot undertone to the raspberry flavor. They were $5 (and had also been grazed on by us before the photo).


I also inquired into their pluots, and was told that they were still starchy and needed to sit out for a few days. When I explained that we were going to eat the fruit right away, the kind woman searched through their selection and found one that was just right. It was a gorgeous, deep red inside, with a balanced sweetness and flavor. I’ve started to brace myself for the tartness of plum skins, but this had no such way about it, probably thanks to the apricot influence. And it was gratis.

Driving around the area is great fun, by the way. It reminds me slightly of a hotter Sonoma, with farm stands tucked into the hills and curvy roads. Back when I lived in Napa, I would often daydream about hopping into my car to make the pilgrimage to Wild Flour Bread. Now, Chino Farm is my new dreamy destination of choice.


We even stopped at a winery, Orfila Vineyards, that we happened upon for a tasting. I particularly liked their tawny port, which was accompanied by a bittersweet chocolate callet.

And the Wild Animal Park was very good. It’s an “1800-acre wildlife preserve that allows visitors to view herds of exotic animals as they might be seen in their native lands.” It’s affiliated with the San Diego Zoo. In general, there seemed to be a lot of room for the animals (so if you go, prepare to walk a lot). We saw flamingos, warthogs, okapis, lions, gorillas, cheetahs, meerkats, Asian and African elephants, vultures, tarantulas, snakes, guineafowls, gerenuks, tigers, and more…

We also learned that lions sleep up to 20 hrs a day!


Sweet Napa’s Television Debut — on Shark Week

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

Sharks love to eat seals. It’s their favorite meal, and with good reason — sharks gain a lot of energy from seals. One bite of a seal is the equivalent of a human eating 200 burgers or 500 candy bars in one sitting.

And what does that have to do with me?

Well, this charming comparison is part of the Discovery Channel‘s new Perfect Predators program, produced by Tigress Productions. And whose candy bar will illustrate the point? My very own


Perfect Predators will be airing in the US on the Discovery Channel this Saturday, Aug 4. In Los Angeles, my listings show that it will be on at 2pm on channel 210. It is actually about sharks’ array of mechanisms that make them such skillful hunters.

This image will be shown for approximately 2 seconds at some point during the second of its two hours. A scientist will point to it, and I believe that the number “500” may be superimposed on top of it. So, you can’t miss it… Just. Don’t. Blink.

I’ll post updates of futures airings, esp in Europe and the UK.



Btw, I like the equation: 1 Bite of Seal = 500 Candy Bars = 200 Burgers = A Lot of Energy

I also like the corollary to this: 1 Burger = 2.5 Candy Bars.

When given the choice btw 1 Burger, 2.5 Candy Bars, or 1/200 Bite of Seal, I think I know what would win for me most every time…