The Big One


If we didn’t have 250 tomato plants growing in our back field, believe me, right about now I’d be planning a serious farm-stand crawl. Island map and dollar bills in hand, I’d hop in my hot car, roll down the windows, and head out in pursuit of the Big One. You can have your prize-winning striper; for a cook-gardener like me, there is nothing like landing a perfectly ripe, obscenely juicy giant beefsteak tomato on a steamy summer day.

I would take my tomato home, plunk it on a scruffy wooden cutting board, carefully slice it with a serrated knife into thick slabs, and sprinkle sea salt on it. I’d probably drizzle on a little olive oil. And I might shower my tomato with a few tiny basil or mint leaves I’ve plucked from the garden. Oh, and then I’d eat it. All. No sharing.

If I were really lucky and happened upon two or three or even more of these lovelies, there’d be no shortage of delicious things to do with them. That is, if I had time to cook in August, which I don’t, because we spend all day harvesting vegetables for the farm stand customers who seem to think cruising around the Island looking for juicy tomatoes is a fun idea.

Seriously, since the time is upon us, I’m going to skip over all that hair-raising tomato-growing advice I might foist upon you if it were May or June and press you instead with delicious suggestions for your dinner table or picnic blanket.

A garlicky grilled bread salad is one of my favorite destinations for ripe tomatoes. A traditional Italian panzanella makes use of day-old bread, but I make mine with toasty grilled bread. You can vary this satisfying salad, but start with juicy tomatoes, good bread, plenty of garlic, fresh herbs, and a bright mix of olive oil and vinegar. (See recipe.)

Try updating an old-fashioned marinated tomato salad by adding fresh peaches and mint, maybe a Champagne vinaigrette. How lucky are we that tomatoes and peaches are in season together? When their juices mingle, the tang and sweetness are a perfect balance. Add a few edible flowers or herb blossoms for a pretty salad. Be sure to cut the tomatoes and fruit into similar-sized pieces, and dress just before serving.

Make a tomato and fresh biscuit sandwich. Everyone has his or her favorite tomato sandwich. Me, I make mine with homemade biscuits. I add fresh corn kernels and a bit of cheddar cheese to the biscuit dough, and I finish the sandwich with basil mayonnaise.

Beefsteaks make the best gazpacho. The deep, almost umami-like flavor of a ripe beefsteak makes it the best candidate for a cold pureed tomato and cucumber soup. To deepen the flavor even further, add a roasted bell pepper to the blender. 

Instead of a plate of tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, try stacking the tomatoes with the sliced mozzarella and a few slices of roasted eggplant. Drizzle with basil oil and serve with salad greens as a lovely starter to a summer meal.

If I can’t have them raw, I want them roasted. The ripest, tastiest beefsteak tomatoes also make the most incredible roasted tomatoes. They need a slow oven (325 degrees works) to release all their moisture and caramelize. Cut them in half, put in a shallow roasting dish, drizzle with plenty of olive oil, and prepare to wait a few hours for caramelization. Eat the roasted tomatoes that night with a grilled steak, arugula, and goat cheese salad. Or use later in just about anything, from pastas to pizzas.

Get that great slow-roasted flavor in a quicker gratin. Arrange sliced beefsteaks, slightly overlapping, in a shallow baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt, fresh pepper, and fresh thyme leaves. Top with a mix of fresh breadcrumbs and parmigiano. Bake at 400 degrees for a bit more than an hour, until the juices in the pan have greatly reduced.

Hmmm, this all sounds so good that now I really must find a ripe beefsteak tomato. I think I’ll head out to our farm stand and see if I can pilfer one. Or two.

I learned to combine tomatoes and grilled bread in a salad when I was a cook many years ago at Al Forno restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island. Every summer since, some variation on panzanella has been one of my favorite destinations for beefsteak tomatoes. Add cucumbers, olives, or mint for a different take.

The following recipe was published along with this article, Island Tomato, Basil, and Grilled Bread Panzanella.

The following recipe was publised along with this article, Mini Savory Bread Puddings with Tuscan Kale, Bacon, & Cheddar. - See more at: