Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tropical Storm Tomato

Now that we're into August we are reaching the pinnacle of the summer vegetable season. Favorites like beautiful corn, vibrant greens and Walla Walla onions are abound, not to mention one of my personal favorites - the majestic tomato.

With the resurgence of heirloom varieties in the last several years it's hard to beat their flavor unless you grow them yourself, and the list of different types seems to keep growing. This time of year I usually start off with a gloriously simple tomato plate with a rainbow of slices with sea salt and good olive oil, but lately I've had this idea brewing in my head like a tropical storm, and the more I thought about it the bigger it became, until the tomato plate was put on the back burner for next week because I was just too damn excited to make this one.

My idea entailed an entree-sized gazpacho dish paired with seared tuna similar to the yellow watermelon version I made last year, but far more refined and with more traditional ingredients.

The best way to make gazpacho is to keep it simple, let the ingredients shine on their own. Since gazpacho is made up of raw ingredients, if you don't use the best ingredients the taste will fall flat. That's why I use heirloom tomatoes for mine; they have the best flavor, and since I don't cook them even tomato purist - who believe that a good, fresh tomato should only be eaten as is - can't scoff.

In order to keep the tomatoes as fresh-tasting as possible I had to first cook my base ingredients of chopped garlic and Walla Walla onions in extra virgin olive oil early enough so that they could cool down naturally before adding them into the mix. For the tomatoes I chose a unique yellow variety known as "Lemon Boys" due to their vibrant color and medium size. I blended the stewed garlic and onions with the fresh tomatoes with simple additions like 25 year old sherry vinegar, kosher salt and white pepper and passed the soup through a fine strainer to remove the leftover seeds and skin, leaving me with a velvety-smooth soup with the perfect balance of natural sweetness and tart.

Traditionally speaking, other ingredients like cucumbers and bell peppers are added into the gazpacho base, but I like to keep them separate, even going as far as creating a cucumber mousse by pureeing seedless cucumbers with cream cheese and a little gelatin before putting the mixture into my trusty iSi whipped cream maker to make a light and airy foam that I sprayed into large ring molds and froze to allow the gelatin to quickly set. Then I removed the rings and allowed them to defrost, resulting in delicate little clouds of goodness.

I chose Ahi tuna again because it is best served seared, or just cooked on the outside yet still raw on the inside, and unlike other fish that isn't sushi, most people can appreciate it served cold. I took it a step further and used its deep red color as a play on ham by marinating it overnight with more familiar flavors like soy sauce, brown sugar, onions, garlic and allspice before lightly smoking the loins.Then I carefully cooked the sides of the tuna with a propane torch instead of searing them in a pan because 1 - I didn't want to lose the subtle smoke in the cooking process, and 2 - I didn't want to burn the sugar that was leftover from the marinade, not to mention the fact that it kept the meat from drying out the way that any portion of cooked tuna can get.

To finish the dish I garnished it with some finely diced cucumbers, red bell peppers and red onions around the mousse and placed a scoop of handmade tomato-basil sorbet on top of a nest of fresh, living pea sprouts for added crunch and decor.

Another undoubted symbol of summer is the colossal watermelon, and since I referenced it in my entree special I thought it would be fitting to use it as a main ingredient for my cocktail special.

It's hard to imagine a more refreshing summer cocktail than the mojito (though I have a few ideas up my sleeve for future use...), let alone a better concept that is open for interpretation and revival. I can - and have - come up with virtuously endless combinations of this favorite, with each one being better than the last. For example...

I start with the true base of the cocktail by muddling fresh limes wedges and mint leaves with ice to break them down and release their oils before adding Bacardi rum (anything better and people complain that they "don't taste the alcohol"), fresh watermelon puree that I strained to keep it smooth, and topped it off with a splash of club soda to brighten it up.

With Love,


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