Eat Local · Farmers' Market · Uncategorized

Tomatogasm 2012

We’ve reached that time of year once again, when summer’s sultry conditions explode in an avalanche of heirloom tomato varieties.  A plethora of colors, sizes and tastes satisfy multiple senses.  We relish every recipe, and savor the sauces prepared at the peak of flavor.  When they’re ripe and juicy, they are soooo good, nearly nirvana.

Tomatoes are best in the summer months.  No feat of technological manipulation comes close to replicating nature’s handiwork.  Thus, we’ve reached the pinnacle of tomato season here in the Triangle, and we’re enjoying nature’s bountiful fruit (barely disguised as a vegetable) through local festivals and events (the only event missing is coronation of a tomato queen, I think).  Everyone should have ample opportunity to get their fill of heirloom tomatoes as they are “celebrated” in July and August.

Tomato Festivals

Carrboro Farmers’ Market celebrates Tomato Day, Saturday, July 14th, 2012, 8:30 am to noon.  They invite us to sample more than 70 varieties of locally grown tomatoes.  They’ll even give you a map to find vendors that offer “market shopper exclusive specials” and purchases can earn raffle tickets for “big prizes”!

Raleigh Downtown Farmers’ Market declares July 11th a “Tomatolicious” day at the market.  With heirloom tomato samples, a corn roast by Chef Chad of Market Restaurant, music from the Old Habits, and tomato-centric local lunches, Raleigh downtowners have no excuse not to indulge.  Bring the kids too – they’ll find the veggie puppet show and tomato face painting fun!

Tomatopalooza, an annual tomato tasting event, is scheduled for Saturday, July 28, 1 – 4 pm, in Efland (see the website for directions to the event site).  Participants in the annual feat of extreme tomato tasting may bring tomatoes from their own gardens to share with attendees.  Event registration is required (see the website for full details, and how to register).  Prior Tomatopalooza events yielded more than 160 varieties, and revealed crowd favorites like Sungold and Black Cherry for taste, and Mexican Midget and Garden Peach as most unusual.

Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market gets in on the action too, celebrating with a Tomato Festival on Saturday, July 21 (normal market hours are 8 am to noon), as does Durham Farmers’ Market on the same day.  Chef Shane Ingram from Four Square restaurant will host the tomato tasting festivities at Durham Farmers’ Market.

Tomato Dinners

Speaking of Chapel Hill, one of the organizers of the aforementioned Tomatopalooza event will be a co-host at “Farm to Fork: Tomato Palooza” a cooking class offered at A Southern Season, this Sunday July 8th at 2:00 pm, $30.00 (see the link to register, if seats are still available).  Marilyn Markel demonstrates the menu, and Alex Hitt of Peregrine Farms joins in the discussion of all matters ‘mater with Craig LeHoullier.  What’s on the menu for the class?  Sea Salt Focaccia with a Rainbow of Sliced and Slow Roasted Tomatoes with Applewood Smoked Bacon and a Dollop of Homemade Mayonnaise, Cherry Tomato Pesto with Whole Wheat Pasta, and finally Duck Quesadillas with Salsa Fresca.

Beginning in mid-July (the 18th, 24th & 26th) and continuing through early August (the 1st, 7th & 9th), the tomato dinners (with optional wine pairings) at Zely and Ritz in downtown Raleigh are frequent “sell out” dinners.  I haven’t seen a menu for this year’s dinner series but last year the multi-course meal finished with a Sun Gold Tomato Panna Cotta for dessert.  If that tidbit seems intriguing to you, do call the restaurant to make your reservation soon.

Another of my favorite downtown Raleigh restaurants, 18 Seaboard, will be serving patrons with reservations (call 919-861-4318 to make yours!) at an heirloom tomato wine dinner July 16 and 18.  As reported in this N&O article, the menu includes a tomato gazpacho trio and a tomato cheesecake for dessert.

As Acme restaurant in Carrboro puts it, “the eleventh annual deep-fried, cross-eyed, absolutely tomato-fied belly flop into the juicy heart of summer in Carrboro is back.”  In other words, the 11th Annual Tomato Festival (July 13th – 15th) returns with a reported 500 pounds of local tomatoes.  I get the impression Carrboro really, really likes tomatoes.  😉

This year, Piedmont restaurant in Durham is holding its tomato dinner (starring more Coon Rock Farm tomatoes) on July 12th (call 919-683-1213 for reservations).

Finally, though more “dish” than “dinner”, I’ll be making a stop in Raleigh’s Piebird for a slice of their heirloom tomato pie… as soon as I know it’s back on the menu (adding that “to do” to the week’s list, must check Piebird seasonal menu).

Know of any other local ‘mater-focused events in the Triangle? Please, do tell!

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