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Winning tomato recipes

Bonnie S. Benwick
L.A. Times/Washington Post News Service
James M. Thresher | The Washington PostTomato Stack Salad, which proves that an exceptional tomato needs only simple adornment, took first place in The Washington Post's Food Section's third annual Top Tomato recipe contest.
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If the Washington Post’s Food section’s third annual Top Tomato recipe contest were merely a numbers game, it would break down this way: 111 submissions, 41 recipes tested, 13 finalists, 2 entries without tomatoes (!), 3 solid winners and 1 batch of shining examples that spoil author Michael Pollan’s recent polemic about Americans not spending quality time in the kitchen.

But the whole enterprise means so much more.

We asked readers to submit original recipes with a maximum of 10 ingredients; 13 dishes were chosen. Cutesy names, canned tomatoes, ice creams and sorbets (good tries, though) didn’t make the cut; neither did creations with too much pepper and not enough salt. And we remembered why we started the whole shebang: Tomato love is a powerful good thing. Uncooperative weather and late blight aside, summer’s glorious seedy fruit is waiting at your local farmers markets and roadside stands. It’s always nice to share new ways to enjoy it.



First-place honors go to Ellynne Brice Davis of Leonardtown, Md., for a recipe so simple she almost didn’t send it in. We found her Tomato Stack Salad easy and artful: a filling with the classic flavors of mozzarella and basil – plus pecans and drizzles of a sweetened vinaigrette – goes between layers of the ripest, juiciest specimens you can find. It takes 15 minutes and no cooking.

Mary Jo Sweeney of Crownsville, Md., just missed a repeat performance as No. 1. (Readers have told us they are still making her ‘Mato Sammidges from last year.) This year’s second-place winner is her Tricolor Tomato Salad With Lime Sour Cream and Pesto, which makes an elegant first course. The citrus complements both the pesto and tomato surprisingly well.



Rockville, Md., resident Lloyd Ronick’s Terrine of Tomatoes With Tarragon barely edged out a very nice tomato curry to win the third-place spot. It’s a bit of a throwback, with heavy cream and gelatin added to smoothly solidify pureed tomatoes, celery, onion and herbs. Ronick has tweaked the recipe every few years since he watched a foreign chef compose something similar on a PBS cooking series called “Great Chefs of the World.”

See, Mr. Pollan? A home cook watched it on TV and was moved to create. It’s been known to happen.

The first-place recipe in this year’s Top Tomato contest proves that a glorious, height-of-summer specimen needs only simple adornment to achieve winning results. Ellynne Brice Davis of Leonardtown, Md., got the idea from hors d’oeuvres of stuffed cherry tomatoes she had at parties earlier in the year: “This vertical presentation satisfies my craving for tomato, basil and mozzarella, all in a single serving,” she says. The addition of pecans to the filling and a fair amount of sugar in the dressing lend sweetness and crunch.



Davis’s recipe for Breton Bay Baked Oysters in Tomato Cups was a finalist in last year’s competition.

Ingredients

4 large ripe red tomatoes, trimmed level on the bottom

1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves, rolled tightly and cut into very thin strips (chiffonade)

1/2 cup thinly shredded mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup pecan halves, coarsely chopped and preferably toasted (see NOTE)

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic pepper, such as McCormick brand

Spring mix greens, for serving

Directions

Lay the tomatoes on their sides on a cutting board. Use a serrated knife to make 3 deep slits in each one, spaced evenly apart, being careful not to cut all the way through to the other side. Stand the tomatoes upright on the cutting board, so the slits are horizontal and the stems are on top.

Combine the basil, mozzarella cheese and pecans in a medium bowl.

Whisk together the sugar, oil, vinegar, salt and garlic pepper in a small bowl to form a dressing. Drizzle a small amount of the dressing into each tomato slit (just to moisten), then use the basil-cheese-pecan filling to fill the slits in each tomato.

Place a small amount of the greens on individual salad plates, then place a stuffed tomato on top of each portion. Drizzle the remaining dressing evenly over the filling in each serving. Chill briefly, if desired, before serving. Use any remaining dressing to drizzle around the greens on each plate.

NOTE: To toast nuts, spread them on a baking sheet and place in a 325-degree oven, shaking the sheet occasionally, for 15 minutes. Watch carefully; nuts burn quickly.

She’s done it again: Last year’s first-place Top Tomato winner, Mary Jo Sweeney of Crownsville, Md., gave us ‘Mato Sammidges. This time her individual layered salads took second place. Sweeney says she was looking to use up containers of sour cream, pesto and pine nuts – all in the service of complementing tomatoes. Her salad looks very splashy served in a margarita glass.

Some tips from Sweeney: Adjust layered amounts to fit the size of your serving dishes. Add the lime juice to the sour cream in increments; a delicate citrus taste works best so it does not compete with the pesto and the acidity of the tomato. Don’t add the salt to the sour cream mixture until after you taste the pesto; the flavor of store-bought pestos varies widely.

MAKE AHEAD: The lime sour cream needs to be refrigerated for 4 to 6 hours to develop flavor.

Ingredients

Juice of 1 lime, plus the finely grated zest of half the lime (1 tablespoon juice plus 1/2 teaspoon zest)

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup low-fat sour cream

1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

About 8 Roma tomatoes, cored and chopped into chunks, then drained

8 ounces good-quality store-bought pesto (made with pine nuts and basil), at room temperature

3/4 cup pine nuts, toasted and chopped (see NOTE)

4 small sprigs basil, for garnish

Directions

Combine most of the lime juice and all of the zest, the cayenne pepper, sour cream and salt in a container with a tight-fitting lid; mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours.

When ready to serve, have ready 4 footed clear glass dessert bowls (8- to 10-ounce capacity) or margarita glasses.

Divide the tomato chunks among the bowls, arranging them as a thick, packed layer in each one.

Spoon a thin layer of pesto over each portion of tomatoes, going to the edges of the glass so the layering can be seen.

Taste the lime sour cream; add the remaining lime juice as needed. Spread the lime sour cream completely across the top of each portion, adjusting the amount and thickness to personal taste. (You might not use an entire cup’s worth, depending on the serving dish size.)

Garnish with the toasted pine nuts and a sprig of basil. Serve immediately.

NOTE: Spread the pine nuts on a small baking sheet or in a pie plate. Toast in a 350-degree oven for 6 or 7 minutes or until golden brown. Watch closely, because they burn easily. Let cool completely.

Inspiration for third-place Top Tomato 2009 winner Lloyd Ronick’s elegant appetizer came by way of an old cooking series called “Great Chefs of the World” that ran on PBS. The Rockville, Md., resident jotted down notes as he watched a terrine being made, and over the years he refined and adjusted ingredients and amounts to his taste.

The result is a creamy and smooth terrine with rich tomato flavor. Sometimes Ronick likes to pour the terrine mixture into individual martini glasses. Just before serving, he spreads a thin layer of guacamole on top for color and flavor contrast.

Serve slices of the terrine with dressed salad greens. Serves 6 to 8.

MAKE AHEAD: The terrine needs 8 hours’ refrigeration to set up. It can be made a day in advance.

Ingredients

1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large rib celery, cut into small dice ( 1/4 cup)

1/2 medium yellow onion, cut into small dice ( 1/2 cup)

2 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges, then seeded

1 1/2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin powder

1/4 cup hot water, plus more cool water as needed

1/2 cup heavy cream

Leaves from 6 sprigs tarragon, chopped (2 or 3 tablespoons)

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Heat the oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the celery and onion; cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until softened but not browned.

Add the tomato wedges and stir to incorporate; cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice to break up the tomatoes, then uncover and cook for 10 minutes, so that some of the tomatoes’ moisture evaporates. (But if the tomatoes look too dry during the last 10 minutes of cooking, put the lid back on the pan.)

Pass the mixture through the fine disk of a food mill, or press it through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium bowl. Discard the solids. Return the strained mixture to the pan; reduce the heat to medium-low and stir until heated through. The consistency should be that of tomato sauce; add water as needed if it is too thick, or cook longer if it is too thin. Remove from the heat.

Combine the gelatin and hot water in a small bowl, stirring until dissolved. Let it sit while you use a whisk to whip the cream in a separate bowl, until it is slightly thickened.

Add the tarragon, dissolved gelatin and whisked cream to the tomato mixture in the pan; stir to incorporate. (There should be about 4 cups total.) Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the mixture into a 4-cup-capacity terrine or gelatin mold. (Alternatively, the mixture can be divided among martini glasses.) Refrigerate for 8 hours, or until set.

When ready to serve, carefully run a knife around the inside edge of the terrine or mold. Immerse the bottom of the terrine or mold in a large bowl or a sink filled with a few inches of hot water for 30 seconds, then place a plate over the top. Invert so the terrine unmolds onto the plate.

Cut into slices to the desired thickness; transfer to individual salad plates. (Or place the filled martini glasses on individual plates.) Serve chilled.


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