Eva Purple Ball, Green Zebra, Black Krim, Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, HillBilly, Mortgage Lifter, Pink Ping Pong, Early Girl…

No, I am not calling you names or listing bizarre obscenities. I am talking about tomatoes. I am particularly fascinated by the heirlooms…their rainbow of colors, unique appearances (wow! there are some delicious ugly tomatoes), and vast range of flavors. There are nearly 10,000 varieties of tomatoes. If you are thinking about growing your own, check out this book: The Great Tomato Book by Gary Ibsen. This guy ran the TomatoFest in Carmel, CA for the last 17 years (bummer, I just checked his website and it looks like he retired last year. So I guess no more TomatoFest but check out his book for some real tomato lowdown).

Tomatoes have been going strong and tasting good for a while but there is still plenty of time for you to get out there and enjoy them well into October. If you think that you don’t like tomatoes you have probably never had a freshly grown one. No, seriously, they are available all year round in the supermarket but that doesn’t make them taste good. It is especially easy to get a real tomato and capitalize on their real season here in California- it merely involves a trip to your local Farmer’s Market. If you are a doubter of their delicious-ness, I believe this will change your mind.

Some things to know: Tomatoes are full of vitamin C and contain the powerful anti-oxidant Lycopene. Lycopene is believed to help with anti-aging and even cancer prevention. Please store your tomatoes in a cool dry place…perhaps your Rebecca of Sunny Brook Farm-like basket on the counter? DO NOT refrigerate (unless they are already chopped and waiting to be used) as this will cause them to lose their flavor (I bet this is why some people think they don’t really like tomatoes).

To attest to the naked beauty of the tomato try these simple ideas:

Oven Roasted Tomatoes:
8-12 Roma tomatoes, halved the long way
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ Teaspoon Salt
½ Teaspoon fresh ground Pepper
350 degree oven.

Toss the tomato halves w/ the olive oil, salt and pepper and layer them, cut side up, on a sheet pan. Roast until the tomatoes turn a deep red color and slightly brown on top and caramelized on the bottom. (will appear semi dried)

3 ways to use:
Bruchetta or pasta topping:
Roughly chop tomatoes and mix with chopped garlic, chopped basil, drizzle good olive oil and sweet balsamic. Toss with pasta for a quick dinner or top toasted or grilled bread and add shaved parmesan or crumbled goats cheese for a yummy appetizer or snack.

Quick Tomato Soup:
Chop ½ medium yellow onion and sautee in 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil until translescent. Add 1 teaspoon minced garlic and 2 tablespoons dry sherry. Stir until most of the liquid is gone and add tomatoes, 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock. Bring to a boil and lower heat to simmer. Cook another 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and puree with 1 table spoon fresh herbs of choice (basil, oregano or marjoram, parsley, tarragon, even mint for a different twist) Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

Tomato-Ricotta Tart:
For easy crust: Use store bought puff pastry. Roll on floured board to about 1/8 inch thickness and cut into rounds to fit tart pan or use muffin pans for individual size. Form the dough to the sides of the pan of choice, poke the bottom with a fork and chill for 15 minutes. Heat oven to 350 degrees and pre bake the crusts for 15 minutes or until slightly firm. If the center has puffed up, poke it with a skewer so it lays flat.

For Ricotta filling:
Mix 2 cups of ricotta w/ 2 eggs, ¼ cup grated parmesan, ¼ cup grated mozzarella, ½ teaspoon sea salt, fresh ground pepper and 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Stir until combined.

Fill tart shell 2/3 of the way full, top with roasted tomatoes and bake 20-25 minutes or until ricotta custard has set. Sprinkle with herbs and a good olive oil drizzle. Serve with a fresh green salad or as an appetizer.

Heirloom Tomato salad w/ Herbs and Goats Cheese:
Slice an assortment of beautiful heirloom tomatoes and layer on a platter or individual plates. Drizzle with good olive oil, a sprinkle of coarse sea salt. Top with mixed chopped herbs (basil, parsley, cilantro, mint, Tarragon, marjoram… you choose) and crumbled goats cheese.