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Titillating Tomatoes

When I leaf through the pages of the glorious looking new book, “The Heirloom Tomato, From Garden to Table” (Bloomsbury), I fairly blush.

I’m just going to come out and say it: This is tomato porn.

Rippling, curvy, plump, and with bodacious glistening seed sacks, tomatoes have never looked so utterly sensual as they do in this book written by gardener, seed savor and heirloom produce advocate, Amy Goldman, and photographed by the incomparable Victor Schrager, whose works have graced the Museum of Modern Art in New York. 

Talk about tomato on tomato action; wait until you see these photos of half a dozen beefsteak tomatoes piled pyramid-style on top of one another, with each a different glorious color and size. It’s tomato as high art. It’s tomato as sex object. It’s tomato beauty you can’t stop staring at.

Thankfully, though, you don’t have to hide this book under your bed or pull it out only when nobody’s looking. This can proudly grace your coffee-table. And anybody who grows tomatoes _ even I, who can barely keep my plants alive half the time _ will lust after the beauties in this book.

Goldman produces hundreds of tomato varieties on her farm in New York’s Hudson Valley. She offers growing advice, as well as information on dozens of varieties, including what shape and color fruit they produce, what the flavor is like, what the texture is like, and what its origins are. Fifty-five recipes are included in the book, as well as more than 200 of those luscious photographs.


Yearning for more tomatoes? Head to Sutro’s at the Cliff House in San Francisco on Aug. 13 for a very special tomato dinner. Guest Chef Ron Siegel of the Ritz-Carlton Dining Room in San Francisco, and his pastry chef, Alexander Espiritu, will be on hand to create a four-course dinner that will showcase the organic, heirloom tomatoes grown by Cliff House General Manager Ralph Burgin on his family’s Sonoma farm. Think grilled skirt steak with tomato compote, and tomato tart tatin with yogurt mint sorbet.

The dinner is $55 a person ($80 with wine pairings). A portion of proceeds will benefit the non-profit Community Alliance with Family Farmers, which fosters family-scale agriculture.

Sutro’s Chef de Cuisine Brian O’Connor also will be featuring heirloom tomatoes in dishes on the daily summer menu in an “Ultomato” celebration.

At PlumpJack Cafe in San Francisco, Executive Chef Rick Edge gets into the tomato spirit, too, with a four-course tasting menu featuring lovely heirlooms. The tasting menu, $45 per person ($21 more with wine pairings), will run through the end of September or when the tomatoes run out. Dishes include seared day boat scallops with golden tomato vinaigrette, and tomato-braised Kurobuta pork shoulder.

Additionally, more than 52 San Francisco restaurants will be participating in “Heirloom Tomato Week” (which is actually longer than a week since it goes from Aug. 14-24). The restaurants will feature heirloom tomatoes in a la carte dishes or in tasting menus. Its their way of trying to help farmers who were impacted during the recent salmonella scare that mistakenly identified tomatoes as the culprit.

Every diner who pays with a Visa card also will receive a commemorative book with tomato recipes from the participating restaurants, which include Coi, Piperade, and Poleng Restaurant & Lounge. View a complete list here. Reservations are available on OpenTable.com.

The promotion, organized by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, will include a tasting tent set up in Union Square, Aug. 7-9. This will be the first of a series of similar ingredient-based celebrations planned over the next year, including a Dungeness crab one in January and a strawberry one in April.

In Saratoga, Sent Sovi’s tomato dinners proved so popular that the restaurant has extended the special tasting menu through Aug. 17. It’s $85 ($125 with paired wines), and features such delights as Lemon Boy tomato “bellini,” arctic char with Green Zebra tomatoes, and walnut-tomato tart with a scoop of super-vanilla gelato.

In Carmel, Cantinetta Luca in the Mirabel Hotel & Restaurant Group, will host the “Four Chefs Heirloom Tomato Dinner” on Sept. 8. Four chefs from the restaurant group will create a four-course gala dinner that includes such dishes as Burrata cheese-filled pasta with heirloom tomatoes, and tomato braised pork shoulder with smoked tomatoes. Price is $105, inclusive of wine, tax and gratuity. For reservations, call (831) 626-7880.

And my buddy Nathan Lau of the HouseofAnnie blog has a posting about a free tomato tasting event Aug. 10 at Wild Boar Farms in Suison Valley, Solano County, which supplies such restaurants as Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Tastings of wines, tomatoes, and tomato dishes are on the agenda. Best yet, you can pick your own tomatoes on the farm for only $2 a pound. Read more here.

Lastly, since the photo above no doubt has you salivating, here’s the recipe for that dazzling focaccia from “The Heirloom Tomato, From Garden to Table”:

Cherry Tomato Focaccia

(serves 8 )

For dough:

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 teaspoon honey or sugar

¾ cup lukewarm water, between 110 and 115 degrees

1 cup room-temperature water

2/3 cup bread flour

4 cups all-purpose white flour

¼ cup whole-wheat flour

2 teaspoons salt

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons pure olive oil

¼ cup sliced garlic

1 pint assorted cherry and currant tomatoes

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

For garnish:

3 tablespoons fresh basil leaves

1 teaspoon kosher or coarse salt 

Make focaccia dough: Sprinkle dry yeast over lukewarm water. Let sit for 5 minutes, then stir in honey or sugar. Allow it to sit another 5 minutes until bubbly. Add bread flour and combine to form the “sponge.” Rest it for 30 minutes. Combine white and whole-wheat flours and salt. Make a well in the flour and add the sponge, ¾ cup oil, and remaining cup of water. Mix until shaggy (this can be done in a mixer with a paddle). Once it becomes a shaggy mass, dump dough out of bowl onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm spot, about 80 degrees, until it doubles in volume; this should take about 1 ½ hours. 

While waiting for dough to double, warm ¼ cup olive oil in a small saucepan, add garlic, and cook until tender. Reserve both oil and garlic. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Brush a cookie sheet (or half sheet pan) with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place dough in center. Gently spread dough out until it is about 8 inches by 12 inches. 

When dough has just begun to rise, scatter cooled garlic and olive oil over the top. Place whole tomatoes on surface of the dough, pushing slightly to fix them in place. Allow dough to rise again to double its volume, surrounding the tomatoes.

Bake until browned, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and continue baking for 10 minutes. 

Chiffonade the basil. Sprinkle salt and basil on focaccia. 

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