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[whitespace] Tomatoes
Photograph by Brian Camp

Juicy Fruits: Summer here in the Valley of the Heart's Delight is tomato time. If you're not eating them, warm from the garden, you're blowing it.

Hot Tomatoes

Now ripening on the vine, these fruits promise perfect simplicity

By Sara Bir

A TOMATO OUT of season can be a most spiteful fruit, as unnaturally hard as the ass of a woman who spends too much time on the StairMaster. And yet we eat out-of-season tomatoes all fall and winter and spring, in salsas, on burgers and atop salads. We love tomatoes so much that our impatience gets the best of our appetites, perhaps because a tomato's watery tang seems the epitome of freshness, a thing we crave in the steely winter months. Tomatoes, when they are good, are very, very good. But when they are bad, they are horrible.

When tomatoes are very, very good--as in homegrown, backyard tomatoes from the tomato-perfect climate of Silicon Valley--they are also prolific, to the point that some gardeners throw up their hands and let the fruits languish in a seeping, rotten squish on the vine. And of all of you people who do just that, I am jealous.

I look at the red and orange and yellow orbs languishing in your garden, and I want to come rescue them. I even did, once or twice (or maybe six times), plucking a tiny handful of diminutive cherry tomatoes from the vines some law office down the street from my house had planted for, I assume, decoration. No one from the office had been picking the fruits steadily ripening just beyond their door, and I finally got to the point where, facing a dismal tomatoless meal alone, I gave in and sneaked away with four or five. There in the upturned refuge of my hand, they sat so perfect and delicate and fragile, more precious than a tiny cargo of shrunken Fabergé eggs.

Summer is heaven for tomato fanatics. As you read this, a green tomato is turning gold or red or a greener, watermelon-striped green. It's happening all over--go put your face to the dirt and you can feel the fertile rumbling of all those nubile tomato fruits, yearning for the pluck.

Any particularly determined and resourceful person can put their tomato bounty to good use with a round of home canning or in a batch of ketchup, a very tomato-intensive concoction (it takes about five pounds of fresh tomatoes to make four cups). Or tomatoes may be casually incorporated into every meal of the day, which is not difficult since tomatoes are so adaptable. Tomato eggs for breakfast, a sandwich with a big, juicy, cross-section of tomato in the middle for lunch and a tomato salad with dinner. Just remember to eat them soon, while they are still hot from the sun and plump with the taste of summer.

Tomato Bread

This Catalan dish, a Spanish staple, delivers deep satisfaction in its utter simplicity. Big, fat, almost mushy garden tomatoes are best suited for pan con tomate, as they smear across the bread so willingly.

It's a bit of an unrefined notion, but I like that pan con tomate is so rustic that you don't even bother with slicing the tomatoes. There's a primal glee in mutilating them over the bread. You can serve this as a tapa, although if you are alone and feeling very lazy, a couple slices of tomato bread make a lovely and wholesome, if high-starch, lunch or dinner.

Broil or grill a thick slice of white country-style bread until it is nice and toasty. (Traditionally, tomato bread is grilled over a wood fire, but to sate our modern, erratic cravings for tomato bread, it cannot always be thus.) Rub the bread with a peeled garlic clove. Cut one very ripe red tomato in half and smear the cut side of the tomato across the surface of the toast. Drizzle the whole affair with a fruity olive oil, season with salt (unrefined sea salt elevates tomato bread to a whole other level) and pepper--and eat.

Tomato Eggs

The acidic sweetness of tomatoes breathes life into humdrum eggs. With a slice or two of toast, you are in for a heavenly meal.

Put a skillet over high heat. Break the two or three eggs into a bowl, season with salt and pepper to taste, and whisk until nice and homogenous. Add a few teaspoons of olive oil to the skillet, allow to heat, and add one large or several small chopped tomatoes. Cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds or until the tomatoes start to release their juice and begin to look slouchy. Add the eggs and cook, scrambling as per your own preference. Turn out onto a plate and top with any or all of the following: a few dashes of Tabasco, crumbled feta cheese and a generous pinch of the Middle Eastern herb blend za'taar. The Lord will now smile upon you, seeing you have wed the bliss of eggs and tomato.

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From the August 8-14, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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