Summer’s Last Gasp
Tomatoes in the Pumpkin Patch
By Tom Yates
Something feels out of whack.
We have Chaney’s pumpkin ice cream in the freezer and gorgeous heirloom tomatoes on the windowsill. Labor Day begins 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 oddly 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.
Eventually, I’ll roast them.
Or juice them.
Or throw them at the garage.
Right now, they’re just still so perky.
Cheery, even. Happy looking. Undaunted by the recent dreary weather and cool spell, I embraced their out of season swagger and threw together a Fall 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 easily to reveal 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 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 late summer garden jungle.
Now, it’s time to carve the pumpkins. Or cook them.
This article also appears on page 16 of the September 2019 print edition of Ace Weekly.
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