Heirloom tomatoes at the SF Chefs.Food.Wine panel at Williams-Sonoma, 8/11. I've just picked up some great tomato-cooking tips too good...
Tomato tips from the experts

Heirloom tomatoes at the SF Chefs.Food.Wine panel at Williams-Sonoma, 8/11.I’ve just picked up some great tomato-cooking tips too good to keep to myself.

Where did I come across this trove? While moderating a panel on heirloom tomatoes last week at the fabulous SF Chefs. Food. Wine. event in San Francisco, a blockbuster that spread joy and good food throughout the city for four days. (It’ll be back next year. Plan to go.)

The panelists: chef Gary Danko (of North Beach’s multiple- award-winning Restaurant Gary Danko) and Joanne Weir (of the PBS series “Joanne Weir’s Cooking Class” and author of 18 cookbooks, including 1998’s You Say Tomato.)

They put on a great show, full of fun banter, excellent recipes, and these tips, which they threw out to the crowd like beads at Mardi Gras:Secret ingredient: tomato skins. And you thought they were compost! No, these bits of highly pigmented, flavorful tomato have a higher purpose in your kitchen, it turns out.Gary’s way with tomato skins: Dry the skins in a low oven (200°) for a few hours. Steep the freshly dried skins in extra-virgin olive oil for two days to make a richly flavorful oil  for drizzling onto salads or meats. Joanne’s way with tomato skins: Dry them in the oven, also at 200,° for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, and then pulverize them into “tomato dust” with a spice grinder (a clean coffee grinder works too, btw). What do you do with it? Joanne says you can add it to tomato soup or pasta sauce for extra flavor, or—I love this—make a practically instant appetizer by sprinkling it onto feta, drizzling with olive oil, adding a few olives, and serving with pita.

How to seed a tomato, fast.  Joanne slices the tomato lengthwise (through the stem end), and then, instead of painstakingly spooning out seeds, just grips each half and squeezes firmly into a bowl. The seeds stream right out.

How to oven-dry a tomato.Gary tosses halved roma tomatoes with plenty of extra-virgin olive oil, thyme, and salt and pepper. He arranges them, cut side down, on a heavy baking pan; pours all that herby oil over them; sets them on the highest rack in the oven; and cooks them at 400° until the skin blisters (10 to 20 minutes). Then he skins the tomatoes, pops them back in the oven (but at 200°), and cooks them for about 2 hours, until just the tomatoes and the oil are left–all the juices have evaporated. He packs them airtight, in the oil.

How to cut a tomato beautifully.Gary removes the tomato’s core, peels the tomato, and cuts the tomato into 6 wedges; then he cuts  the inner walls and seeds from each wedge , leaving behind the “petal” (the fleshy outer wall of the tomato). He then cuts each petal into meaty diamonds, which he lightly salts and uses to add flavor and color to a number of different dishes. He also uses them to make a classic tomato “fondue,” simmering them in extra-virgin olive oil with shallots and onions until meltingly tender—a great sauce for meat or fish. How to freeze a tomato.Whole, on a baking sheet (then put in sealable freezer bags); or make a concassé (peel, seed, and chop) and freeze in heavy plastic containers or in sealable freezer bags.

How to store a tomato.

Never, ever refrigerate them. The cold converts the tomato’s sugars to starch, reducing their sweetness, and also breaks down the cells, making the tomato mealy and/or spongy. Keep them at room temperature, out of the sun, stem side up.Best tomato quote of the day.From Joanne: “Garrison Keillor said that when you no longer care about fresh tomatoes or sweet corn, death is near.”

I can’t wait to try all of these using our One-Block tomatoes—which we’re growing again this year. (They’re ripening annoyingly slowly this summer because of the cool weather here in Menlo Park.)

Hurry up, tomatoes…

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