Food: Tomatoes in the Pumpkin Patch

Food: Tomatoes in the Pumpkin Patch

Chef Tom’s Food and Cooking Column appears on page 13 of the Ace Weekly print edition. Text and Photos by Chef Tom.

This appears on page 13 of the October 11, 2012 print edition of Ace Weekly.


Something feels out of whack. We have Chaney’s pumpkin ice cream in the freezer, pumpkins on the front porch, and gorgeous heirloom tomatoes on the windowsill. It’s October, the season for corn mazes, pumpkin patches, apple picking, fresh apple cider, and winter squash.
Fresh Tomatoes in the pumpkin patch? Really?
The tomato seedlings we bought from Henkle’s Herbs and Heirlooms at the farmers’ market last spring have morphed into one gigantic tomato hedge with collapsed tangled limbs limping over their cages, meandering and entwining at will. Amid the twisted growth, tomatoes poke through the trapped fallen leaves and dried up branches.
Oh sure, we’re happy to have tomatoes this late in the season. Who wouldn’t be happy? They just feel weird and out of place. A few mornings ago, I watched a confused squirrel try to bury a bright red tomato in his winter war chest. Welcome to the club, little buddy.
October tomatoes.
Eventually, I’ll roast them.
Or juice them.
Or throw them at the garage.
Right now, the tomatoes are still so damn perky. Cheery, even. Undaunted by the recent dreary weather, gray skies, chilly rain, and cooler temperatures, I embraced their out of season swagger and threw together an October heirloom tomato salad. Sacrilege.
I sliced Black Carbon, Orange Minsk, and Red Jetsetter tomatoes into thick discs. To boost the flavor, I sprinkled them with sea salt and placed them in a colander over a large bowl to drain.
After 20 minutes, I slid the tomatoes onto a large plate and used the salty sweet drippings for a broken tomato vinaigrette (1/4 cup tomato water, 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons olive oil, cracked pepper, and snipped chives).
I split a few Yellow Pear, SunSugar, and Supersweet tomatoes, and set them aside. For textural contrast, I grabbed another handful of the tiny sweet tomatoes, carefully scored the bottoms, and dropped them into boiling water for 5 seconds before plunging them into ice water. Their skins slid off like slippery smooth silk stockings. Easy. Hidden treasures.
As an unconventional nod to a caprese salad, I halved a Madison County Key Largo sweet red pepper, removed the seeds, and stuffed the halves with fresh mozzarella cheese. After topping them with crisp candied bacon and diced green peppers, I slid them into a 350 oven to roast for 20 minutes.
I stacked the sliced tomatoes over lightly-dressed baby arugula and tumbled the split tomatoes to the side. After pulling the bacon-flecked cheesy peppers from the oven, I nestled them next to the undressed tomatoes.

Every salad needs crunch, so I peeled and deveined 8 jumbo shrimp, dredged them through flour and egg wash, wrapped them each with shredded phyllo dough, and deep fried them in 350 degree oil until they were crisp before scooping them onto paper towels to drain.

After spooning the vinaigrette over the glistening tomatoes, I showered them with biting cracked black pepper, briny capers, and fresh basil flowers before finishing with the peeled tomato jewels and the outrageous fried shrimp croutons.
Crisp. Fresh. Clean. Unexpected.
A simple salad from our garden jungle.

October heirlooms.
Nothing could have topped that lusty warm tomato romp to help recapture the forgotten tastes of summer.
Now, it’s time to carve the pumpkins. Or cook them.