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Any way you slice 'em, it's hard to beat Texas tomatoes

Arguably, a Texas tomato in its prime needs no gilding.

"A perfectly ripe tomato is enough," declares David Uygur of Dallas, the former Lola executive chef who is opening his own restaurant, Lucia, this year.

"I love nothing more than slicing a big tomato and putting it on a plate with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil," says Casey Thompson, Top Chef alumna and executive chef of Fort Worth's new Brownstone.

Chefs murmur lovingly about the musky aroma of a ripe Texas tomato and the prospect of eating one that's still warm from the sun.

"I've traveled to California, to many places," says Thompson, "and Texas tomatoes are the best I've ever had. ... [They] reflect the sun, the soil and the farmer. There's just something about them."

As satisfying as tomatoes are solo, this is also a good time of year to pair them with ingredients that show them off. So we asked local chefs which ingredients lift a tomato higher, then requested a recipe.

The chefs' minimalist recipes create just the kind of synergy you want when a plump, ripe Texas tomato is on the line. Find fresh tomatoes at your local farmers market.

Texas tomatoes with burrata

Makes 1 serving

"It's very Texas to pair cottage cheese with tomatoes," says Casey Thompson, whose first impulse was to use creamed curds in this dish, which appears on her menu at Brownstone. "They're much thicker, bigger and more rich." Only, she can no longer get them locally, so she has recast the dish with burrata, a soft cheese with a mozzarella shell and a curdlike center. "Creamy ingredients feel right because they marry well with the brightness of the tomatoes."

1 Texas tomato, sliced thick

1 tablespoon extra-virgin Texas olive oil

Maldon sea salt and fresh black pepper

1 banana pepper, sliced into thin rings

3 tablespoons burrata (see note)

Lemon wedge

1. Lay the tomato slices, overlapping, on a rectangular plate. Drizzle the slices with the olive oil. Season generously with crushed salt and fresh cracked pepper.

2. Spread slices of banana pepper around the plate.

3. Spoon the curds down the center of the tomatoes. Squeeze the lemon wedge over the top of the dish.

Note: Central Market and Whole Foods carry burrata cheese.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 208 calories, 15 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, 4 milligrams cholesterol, 194 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 62 percent of calories from fat.

-- chef Casey Thompson, Brownstone Restaurant, Fort Worth

Fried green tomatoes with shrimp ravigote

Makes 4 servings

"I love to pair seafood with fried green tomatoes, and something creamy to pair with the tart and crispness of the tomato," says Top Chef contestant Tiffany Derry, executive chef at Go Fish Ocean Club in Dallas. Her creole French shrimp ravigote is like a shrimp salad.

Oil for frying

2 cups flour

2 tablespoons creole seasoning

1 cup buttermilk

3 green Texas tomatoes, cut in 1/4-inch slices (for a total of 12 slices)

Salt and pepper

Shrimp ravigote (recipe follows)

1. In a tall, heavy-sided saucepan, heat oil (2 inches deep) to 350 degrees. Mix the flour and seasoning; divide into 2 bowls. Pour buttermilk in a third bowl. Have all 3 bowls set up near the stove.

2. Season tomato slices with salt and pepper. Dredge in the first flour bowl, then in the buttermilk, then in the second flour bowl. Fry for approximately 2 minutes, just until tomato turns golden brown and is slightly soft in center. Don't crowd the tomatoes, and give the oil time to return to 350 degrees between batches. Remove to paper-towel-covered plate and keep warm.

To plate, lay a tomato slice on each of 4 plates and spoon some shrimp ravigote on top of each tomato. Repeat process till you have 4 stacks of 3 tomato slices and shrimp.

Nutritional analysis per serving, with ravigote: 462 calories, 19 grams fat, 62 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams protein, 2 milligrams cholesterol, 424 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber, 37 percent of calories from fat.

Shrimp ravigote: Mix together 1 cup mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard, 1 tablespoon creole mustard, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, 1 tablespoon chopped capers, 2 teaspoons minced red onion and 2 cups cooked and chopped shrimp.

-- chef Tiffany Derry, Go Fish Ocean Club, Dallas

Grilled tomato and mozzarella salad with cilantro pesto

Makes 2 servings

“I grew up on tomato and mozzarella salad, but this particular version is now my favorite,” Fort Worth chef Jon Bonnell says of this dish in his cookbook, Fine Texas Cuisine. “Grilling the tomatoes and toasting the cheese adds a richness to this dish that’s hard to beat, and making a rich pesto to drizzle on puts this dish over the top in terms of intense flavor.”

For the cilantro pesto:

1 bunch fresh basil (leaves only)

1 bunch fresh cilantro (leaves only)

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

1 anchovy fillet

1 small clove garlic

1 lemon (juice only)

½ teaspoon salt

5 ounces extra-virgin olive oil

1. Lightly toast the pine nuts in a nonstick pan over medium heat until just lightly browned on all sides.

2. Place all ingredients into a blender except for the olive oil. While blending, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until a thick sauce consistency is achieved. Adjust the thickness of the pesto by adding or subtracting different amounts of oil if desired.

For the salad:

2 ripe tomatoes

Sea salt and fresh black pepper

Extra-virgin olive oil

2 balls of fresh mozzarella cheese

Aged balsamic vinegar

Basil and cilantro leaves, for garnish

1. Cut the tomatoes into thick slices, season with salt and pepper then brush with a light coating of olive oil. Grill quickly to get nice charred marks, then remove and arrange on a plate.

2. Cut the mozzarella into thick slices and place one slice on each tomato. Use a blowtorch to toast the top of the cheese until lightly golden brown, then season with salt and pepper.

3. Place one spoonful of pesto on top of the cheese, then drizzle the plate with a few drops of olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. Garnish with basil leaves or cilantro leaves.

Tip: Use the best extra-virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar that you can afford for this dish. The flavors will really make a difference.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 831 calories, 87 grams fat, 10 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, 16 milligrams cholesterol, 725 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 92 percent of calories from fat.

-- chef Jon Bonnell, Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine, Fort Worth

Panzanella

Makes 2 to 4 servings

“Salt makes a tomato taste more like a tomato,” says Dallas chef David Uygur. “It allows the sweetness to be more prevalent without killing the acid.” Salt is inherent in so many ingredients that go well with tomatoes, he says, from bacon (as in a classic bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich) to anchovies, capers and olives (components of puttanesca pasta sauce).

3 large, ripe Texas tomatoes, cored and cut into large chunks

1 Texas sweet onion, diced

Salt to taste

A twist or 2 of black pepper

Squeeze of lemon juice¼ cup (at least) of fruity, peppery, extra-virgin olive oil

2 sprigs basil, torn with your fingers

A few parsley leaves

2 cups stale bread, crust removed and cut into cubes (see note)

1. Put tomato and onion in a bowl. Season with salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil. Let this sit on the counter for 10 minutes, or until the tomato exudes some of its liquid.

2. Mix in the herbs and bread; cover with plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter for an hour. Do not refrigerate. Taste to be sure the bread is soaked with the tomato juice. If it’s a bit dry, add some more lemon juice and olive oil. Serve as a starter or with roasted chicken or grilled fish.

Note: The bread needs to be a good, chewy loaf, not something soft that will lose its texture.

Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 2: 300 calories, 28 grams fat, 14 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, no cholesterol, 18 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 79 percent of calories from fat.

--David Uygur, chef-owner Lucia, opening this year in Dallas

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