Pizzeria Azzuro

After waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more, our precious end of summer tomatoes are finally ripening. And with them come a rush to cash in on that once-a-year flavor that only comes from a still-warm heirloom picked right off the vine. Restaurants are loading up their menus with tasty, ripe tomato dishes, canners are getting their Mason jars ready and festivals celebrating the ruby fruit are about to get underway. Here’s what you’re saying about how you savor the wolf-peach (aka the tomato) and some spots around the North Bay to find all the fixings to savor these juicy morsels.

Fried Green Tomatoes: A southern specialty that’s more than just the name of a movie that taught us all the meaning of Towanda! It’s a great way to use up end-of-season unripened tomatoes, seasoned with breadcrumbs or cornmeal and fried crispy in a cast-iron skillet. Jeff Mall at Zin Restaurant (344 Center Street, Healdsburg) uses his own home-grown tomatoes for his version, which changes frequently. currently on the menu: Tomato Tomato Tomato salad with Heirlooms, Fried Green Tomatoes and Cherry Tomatoes with Bacon and Basil.

Celebrate Tomatoes
There’s no shortage of tomato-fests. Here are some favorites:

Kendall Jackson Heirloom Tomato Fest: Tomato-lovers flock each year to this ode to heirlooms, now in its 14th year. The winery grows nearly 180 varieties of tomatoes in the culinary gardens, all of which are available for tasting on at the event. Dozens of Sonoma County chefs and restaurants turn out to showcase their own tomato creations and a chef’s challenge featuring top toques from the Bay Area. 11am to 4pm, September 11, 2010, $65 per person, 800-769-3649, http://www.kj.com/events/tomato-festival/.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes 5: Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar is under siege Sept 14-20 as they harvest the spoils of their organic garden’s 25 heirloom tomato varietals. “This time of year we harvest two 24 lb. cases of tomatoes every day,” said Chef Janine Falvo, She’ll feature dishes including Menage a Tomato with Housemade Mozzarella and Watermelon Gazpacho, a PBLT Sandwich with Pork Belly, Lettuce and Tomato on a Brioche Bun, Pineapple Tomato Poached Halibut with Grits, Yellow Taxi Cab Hollandaise and Lobster Mushrooms, Lamb with Sousvide Eggplant, Falafel, Tomato Confit and Black Garlic, and Sweet Tomatoes with Lemon Basil Ice Cream. All of tomato dishes can be ordered a la cart or as part of a tasting menu three courses for $45 or $65 for five courses. Rock-star sommelier Chris Sawyer does tomato-inspired wine flights, with pairings are available for an additional $15 for three courses and $25 for five. Don’t miss the Best Ever Bloody Mary while watching the cult-classic movie, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes broadcast in the bar all week.1325 Broadway, Sonoma, (707) 931-2042

Caprese: The classic Italian antipasti of fresh slices of mozzarella and mozzarella topped with basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  This time of year, it’s a menu staple, but beware of imitators. Burrata (a fresh mozzarella stuffed with cream or ricotta), mozzarella di bufa (buffalo milk mozzarella) or freshly pulled mozzarella are the best — not the rubbery stuff. Rosso Pizzeria’s John Franchetti does one of the area’s best mozzarellas, and usually has some variant of caprese on his menu (53 Montgomery Dr., Santa Rosa). “As for which restaurant does well with ripe tomatoes, I love, love, love the Caprese salad (on their flat bread) at Rosso’s when it’s tomato season. Super yum!” said Kelly Hamilton.

But this one’s pretty easy to do at home as well. Rosso sells fresh mozzarella at the Saturday and Sunday farmer’s markets in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, but you can also find an excellent burrata at Trader Joe’s. Add heirlooms, olive oil and a sweet balsamic like Sonomic from Sonoma Valley Portworks. “At home I make it all of the time, and recently I tried caprese skewers with chunks of fresh mozzarella, folded basil leaves, and cherry tomatoes. Portable Caprese!” said Michelle Marques.

BLT: So simple. So easy to mess up. Bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayo and great bread. The California twist is avocado, turning the BLT into the BLAT on many menus. It’s haute DIY BLT’s at Bardessono during Tomatoville (Sept. 10-12) where you can build a masterpiece with vine-ripened tomatoes, a variety of aioli (basil, bacon/sherry mayo, Cajun remoulade) a selection of local breads including brioche, pan de mie and artisan bacon from Baccalone, Fatted Calf and their own apple-smoked bacon. 6526 Yount Street, Yountville, (707) 204-6000. Want to make your own? Black Pig Bacon, made by Zazu Restaurant’s John Stewart, is available at G& G Market.

Cookbook author Paula Oandasan (There’s Not a Healthy Recipe in This Whole Damn Book: A Guide to Southern Comfort Food) skips the bacon and just slathers two pieces of squishy white bread with mayo, a little salt and pepper and loads on a juicy tomato for her Texas Tomato Sandwich. “Get a big glass of iced tea, get comfy and enjoy. You may add thin slices of red onion, but simpler is better. I wish it was always tomato season!” she said.

Tomato Jam, Homemade Ketchup, Tomato Chutney: When summer’s bounty overfloweth, there’s always preserving to keep the season fresh all year round. Just Like Grandma’s Jams sells tomato jam at the Saturday farm market in Santa Rosa, along with other flavors, and it’s not quite as weird as you might think. Perfect on a cracker with a schmear of cream cheese, it’s a sweet, sour and savory treat. At Equus at the Fountain Grove Hotel (101 Fountaingrove Parkway, Santa Rosa – (707) 578-0149), the kitchen serves up crab cakes with a fresh tomato chutney that’s perfect for the season. Green String Farm, a sustainable farm and stand near Petaluma, has jars of homemade ketchup, salsa and tomato sauce available throughout the summer from 10am to 6pm.

Pico De Gallo: “I love tomatoes in my salads, roasted or grilled, in a nice pasta sauce, as a side dish – but my all-time favorite is to use them in Pico de Gallo – always reminds me of simpler times when I was a little girl!” said Marlene Hudson. A simple salsa of fresh tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, onions and jalapeno, it’s easy to whip up at home. Got some extra? Throw the leftovers in a blender with a few breadcrumbs, olive oil and vinegar and you’ve got gazpacho — a cool Spanish summer soup.

Pasta with tomatoes: “My Early Girl tomato plants, true to thier name, that were planted on May 4th, yeilded the makings for our first fresh pasta sauce this past weekend. I cut the tomatos into chunks, added fresh thyme, oregano and basil (also from the garden, natch…) and sauteed in a pan with olive oil and some white wine. Add a little salt and pepper to taste and mix with some cooked penne or fusilli pasta and i have the freshest taste of summer ever!” said Laura Long.

Bread Salad: This simple salad idea comes from Edwin Spear, “Start with a colorful assortment of heirlooms, a cucumber, and a couple slices of grilled ciabbata or seeded sourdough. Brush the bread with some good, *local* olive oil. Cut the ‘maters, cukes, and bread into bite-sized chunks. Toss with minced garlic, a handful of fresh herbs–especially basil and thyme–and some really fresh goat or Pt. Reyes Blue cheese. Dust with–and here’s the kicker–lavendar salt, and drizzle with balsamic vinegar (I prefer locally-brewed “Sonomic”).

But maybe the simplest idea for what to do with your ‘maters comes from Meloni Courtway, “Picked fresh with my two year old and eaten in the yard, with seeds on our chins.”

What are your favorite ways to tomato?