The tomato speaks

What to do with this summer’s bounty of ruby, ripe, juicy field-grown ‘love apples’

Close up of colorful tomatoes, some sliced, shot from above

Frankly, you haven’t experienced summer until tomato juice is dripping down your chin, according to local fresh-tomato cultists.

First, find a totally ripe, field-grown tomato, not some crunchy little, too-sweet grape variety. Sink your teeth into that Beefsteak and slurp. For the second bite, sprinkle the tomato with good flaky salt. Inhale the aroma. Wipe off your chin.

Once upon a time the French called the tomato pomme d’amour, or “love apple,” believing it to be an aphrodisiac. Whether they work romantically, once you taste a truly great summer fruit, you’ll experience tomato lust. 

OAK at Fourteenth Steve Redzikowski

Steve Redzikowski thought he knew what tomatoes taste like when he arrived in Colorado about 15 years ago. 

“I had eaten a lot of tomatoes in New York. I got here and tasted some heirloom tomatoes from Red Wagon Farm. It was a whole different level of tomato and took me by surprise,” says Redzikowski, chef-owner of Boulder’s OAK at Fourteenth and Brider in Denver.  

The cook’s passion for tomatoes grew to the point that he started presenting a tomato dinner at OAK every August featuring local field varieties in every course, paired with wines. 

Svetlana Kolpakova – stock.adobe Watermelon tomato gazpacho.

The menu for this year’s tomato dinner on Aug. 22 includes tomato watermelon gazpacho, stuffed pasta in tomato broth and halibut with tomato tamales. Dessert is a tomato ricotta cheese tart with peach ice cream. Each course — cooked by a different OAK chef — showcases heirloom tomato varieties grown nearby at Speedwell Farms and Red Wagon Farm

“We try to let the tomato speak for itself,” Redzikowski says. “Some are sweet, some savory, in different shapes and colors. Some are better for making sauces.” 

Red Wagon Farm grows the Steverino, a red hybrid tomato, named to honor Redzikowski. 

The chef recommends biting into a great tomato sprinkled with furikake, a Japanese seasoning combining sesame seeds, dried fish flakes, nori seaweed and sometimes salt, sugar and chile flakes.   

How Do You Like Your Tomatoes? 

It turns out there are as many favorite ways to enjoy fresh local tomatoes as there are tomato lovers.

Several friends we queried said: “Keep it simple.” They were raised walking into the garden, salt shaker in hand, until a choice fruit was found.

Jacek Chabraszewski – stock.adob

Denver-based writer Gil Asakawa grew up in Hokkaido, Japan, where the local tradition was to treat tomatoes as a fruit. “My mom’s way of serving fresh tomatoes was to slice them and sprinkle with sugar,” Asakawa says. “Now, I like slices with a dip of Kewpie Mayonnaise and shoyu soy sauce.” 

Other fans insist on thick tomato slices enhanced with various combinations of extra virgin olive oil, balsamic reduction, kosher salt, ground pepper or fresh chopped basil. 

Add slices of mozzarella and you have another classic: Caprese salad. Chef Dan Asher of Boulder’s River and Woods recommends upgrading the Caprese with home-stretched mozzarella. “It tastes so much fresher and it’s really not hard to make,” he says.

The Sandwich Debate

John Lehndorff

Many folks we queried voted for a tomato sandwich, using “good” bread, thick slices, mayo, salt and pepper. There seems to be a sharp debate whether Best Foods, Kewpie, Blue Plate or Duke’s mayo is the ideal spread. Purists suggest only scratch-made mayo will do. Grey Poupon, Miracle Whip and horseradish sauce were also suggested.

The tomato sandwich bread of choice may be sourdough or whole grain. Toasting or grilling gets the nod for flavor and texture while keeping the sandwich from getting soggy. Naturally, the quintessential cold tomato sandwich variation is the BLT, with or without avocado (that’s a BLAT). Some like it hot, as in a grilled or pressed cheese sandwich middled by a thick slice of tomato. 

From Panzanella to Pie

Titarenko – Italian tomato bruschetta with chopped vegetables, herbs and oil on grilled or toasted crusty ciabatta bread

A number of the other easy ways to eat tomatoes involve many of the same ingredients. 

Tuscan Panzanella is basically a tomato sandwich salad. To make it, toss tomato chunks, basil, salt, lightly toasted bread cubes and a simple vinaigrette. 

Bruschetta is an open-face toast and a great vehicle for tomatoes. It’s best buttered and grilled and crowned with tomato slices and chopped herbs.

Tomato pie comes in two models. Southern tomato pie layers slices in a deep-dish crust topped with cheese and other ingredients. Tomato slices can also cover fresh pizza dough instead of sauce, along with olive oil, garlic, shredded cheese and herbs.

Tomato Days are Waning

As the season winds down too fast, buy all the tomatoes you can from local farmers. Excess or overripe tomatoes can easily be blended into a beautiful cool gazpacho soup. They also can be roasted (or smoked) and turned into salsa, sauce or pico de gallo. You can even freeze whole Romas, Green Zebras and San Marzanos to use in sauces this fall.

For sheer pleasure, try cornbread-battered fried red tomato slices (especially in a sandwich) or tomato upside down cornbread.

Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest, like this suggestion from a reader:

“Whole ripe tomato. Cut stem off flat. Lots of Parm cheese and black pepper on top. Microwave until it’s mush. Eat with a spoon.”

For chef Hosea Rosenberg of Boulder’s Blackbelly Market, tomato season includes a cherished daily ritual. “My favorite way to enjoy tomatoes is to go out in the garden with my daughter, Sophie, and watch her pick and eat cherry tomatoes,” he says.

Finding Local Tomatoes: Farmstand Guide

We’ve upgraded the recently published Boulder Weekly guide to Boulder County’s roadside farm stands with a digital map. The map makes it easy to plan your tomato finding route:

Boulder County Farm Stands by alexiskgnu · MapHub

Boulder County Farm Stands by alexiskgnu

Map by Jacob Agatston and Alexis Kenyon/KGNU

Local Food News: New Louisville Panaderia 

JP’s Cuisine is open at 1631 Pace St. in Longmont, former site of Nicolo’s Pizza.

Panaderia Tradicional Y Neveria is serving Mexican baked goods and sweets at 1312 Centaur Village Drive in Lafayette. 

Got trees full of apples you’re not going to harvest? Contact Community Fruit Rescue now to schedule a harvest by volunteers:

Culinary Calendar: Wine Time at Altitude

The Nederland Jazz & Wine Festival, Aug. 26 in Chipeta Park, is a relaxed mountain event featuring live jazz, food trucks and unlimited tastings from 15 local wineries, five distilleries, two breweries and five non-alcohol beverage makers. Profits support Nederland Area Seniors. Tickets:

Words to Chew On: Beauty of Ugly 

“I love judging food by its smell and feel and taste. The healthiest tomato isn’t always the perfect one that’s been covered in pesticides.”

Sheherazade Goldsmith

John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles Thursdays on KGNU-FM. Listen to podcasts at: 


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