Sunday, July 24, 2011

Behold the Love Apple

The Love Apple....La Pomme D'Amour. The French are so a lyrical name to the simple tomato in the 16th century. The tomato, it seems, was thought to be an aphrodisiac.

My own love affair with the tomato began in my early teens. The pivotal tomato memory came when my father picked a Beefsteak from our garden, and made the simplest sandwich for the two of us. He toasted white bread (in the mid 70's no artisinal bread had yet found its way into our kitchen) slathered on some Hellman's mayo, thickly sliced the mildly acidic, juicy, pulpy fruit, and sprinkled some salt and freshly ground pepper. It was dang simple, and totally delicious.

For lunch today, I was down to the last pieces of Sesame Ezekiel bread...the 2 heel slices. I'd used up all the avocados and I ran out of roast turkey. Must. Go. Food. Shopping. What to have, what to make? I had one perfect tomato left from a run to Poplar Ridge Farm in Waxhaw last weekend, and there was a bit of fresh basil pesto in the jar. Ahhhh!

Perfection on a summer Sunday.

Prior to growing cherry and beefsteak toms in our garden in the 70's, I was exposed for the most part to tomatoes in jarred spaghetti sauce (it wasn't called pasta back then...), pizza sauce, and the anemic hothouse "cherry" and basic salad varieties in the supermarket.

I can remember going to a gas station in the Italian section of Glen Cove, Long Island NY and at the side of the building, seeing tables full of tomatoes drying in the sun. Outside! At the gas station! It was my first look at what I later knew to be sundried tomatoes. I didn't come from an ethnic/traditional cooking family...are you getting that sense?! I'm Irish/German with a few other sprinkles and there are no recipes that have been handed down.

My curiosity was piqued, and the summer of my junior year in high school I walked the half-mile up to Filasky's Farm and asked for a job, but only if my sister could have one, too. We were hired (sister, sight unseen!) and I spent the next few summers and heaven! I have no idea what I was paid. I was hot, dirty and tired in the best way and I was handed a wad of cash at the end of every weekend. I saved it to buy extra clothes and supplies for college and for gas money. Fred and Jack Filasky grew some veggies and pumpkins on the farm, and sourced the rest from Eastern Long Island and the Hunts Point Market in the Bronx, NYC. Their wives Joanie and Johanna were colorful characters, working the registers. The colors were so much brighter than the produce at the grocery store! I learned about squash blossoms, beets, kohlrabi, soft Boston, Bibb and red-tipped lettuces, cheese pumpkins, local strawberries, silver queen corn, patty pan, Hubbard, acorn and spaghetti squashes, baby zucchini (oh, you saute and enjoy them before they grow into baseball bats!)

But, I digress!  Of course there were gorgeous tomatoes. They were just called "local tomatoes" not "heirloom."  Whether you're former US Vice Prez Dan Quayle and want to tack an "e" on the end of tomato"e" or a farmstand customer who asked me for the end of the day, they taste great no matter who you are, how you spell it or how you say it.

Yellow beefsteaks from the North Fork of Long Island

My farmstand days morphed into Farmer's Market shopping forays when I moved to NYC in 1986. I lived in Gramercy Park and the Union Square area to the southwest was considered dangerous and druggy. During my time there, new buildings cropped up, the park was scoured, and the Union Square Market was born. Quite a transformation. It was wonderful! Flowers, cheeses, eggs and milk and fresh veggies from Upstate, Long Island, New Jersey, Pennyslvania and Connecticut.

I left NY for good in 2010, when the Farm to Table and Slow Food Movements were in full swing. Unfortunately, timing is everything, but the South was beckoning. There was even a farmer's market on Saturdays one block from my house in Long Island City. Green roofs became popular and a rooftop farm was growing in Brooklyn. The 'nose to tail' concept took hold and young people started butchering as a career. They are half my age, so I can say "young people" now! Canning and preserving had a resurgence in popularity and I was enjoying the farminess within the city. The New Amsterdam Market opened under the FDR Drive near the South Street Seaport.

In a city where I unconsciously held my breath for 20 years to survive the olfactory assaults of the streets and subways, I especially loved the scent of the herbs that I grew in my "postage stamp yard" in LIC.

The herb garden in the 40' x 14' postage stamp. My big, fragrant rosemary plant, sage, basil, tomatoes, parsley, chives and mint.

I love to make centerpieces from the garden and to bring herb bouquets as a hostess gift.

Whether they're roasted, toasted, skewered, pureed, sauced, souped, sliced, baked or fried...Yum!

Nearly 40 years after my tomato awakening, through the seasons and some moves, I've continued my love affair with real food by joining the Slow Food movement here in North Carolina. I'm enjoying the farmers markets, farm dinners and potlucks.

I attended Slow Food Charlotte's "3rd Annual Love Apple" dinner last night in Waxhaw, NC. It was flattering that among the beautiful tomato breads, gazpacho, curried chicken with green tomatoes and apple, red tomato rice, panzanella salad, tomato spice cake (!), Greek salad, bloody mary's, Tomato/Corn/Mozzarella/Avocado Salad with Basil Pesto Vinaigrette went over well, and the bowl was emptied. The recipe follows:

Tomato, Corn, Mozzarella and Avocado Salad with Basil Pesto Vinaigrette

For the salad:
10 ears fresh corn (silver queen preferred, yellow corn is ok), kernels removed
1 lb fresh mozzarella, cubed (or use the small round balls!)
4 medium haas avocados, diced
1 1/2 pounds cherry or grape tomatoes
A few quartered pieces of yellow and red heirloom tomatoes

Method: Remove corn kernels and discard cobs. Saute corn in a saucepan with 1tbs unsalted butter, and some S&P...for a few minutes to get rid of the raw taste and bring out the sweet flavor. Toss the mozzarella with 1tbs basil pesto, for taste. Toss all the ingredients into a big bowl. Chill for a few hours. Dress the salad right before it doesn't get soggy! Season with S&P to taste.

For the dressing:
1 tbs prepared or fresh basil pesto
1 tsp granulated sugar
4 tbs red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp ground sea salt + 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
A few tablespoons of minced flat leaf parsley and fresh chives

Method: Whisk above ingredients together, then keep whisking and stream slowly 1/2 cup good olive oil.

Oui, pomme d'amour!


  1. Hey Dale,

    I was JUST talking TODAY about your grilled peaches and romaine. I'll bet your salad was a hit. You are a quite talented in the kitchen! Enjoy the rest of summer. May love and double rainbows rain upon you. Muah! -Kelly D.

  2. Thanks, Kelly! You taught me the word "spelt!" and you cranked out those Christmas cookies ;-)