Love Apple

BY Liz Biro

Neither 90-degree temperatures dripping humidity nor coconut-scented suntan oil screams summer as loudly as bright colorful dripping-down-to-your-elbows juicy tomatoes. Sure you could pick up a big red one and bite into it fresh like the love apple it deserves to be called but with so many wonderful tomato varieties in gardens and at farmers  markets why not go out on a vine? From soup to pie Cape Fear-area chefs share their favorite recipes for fresh tomatoes.


Compressed Watermelon and Tomato Salad

Source: Chef Tyson Amick executive chef Aubriana s

Tomatoes and watermelon may sound like an odd couple but downtown Wilmington s Aubriana s chef Tyson Amick notes the pair is a natural match.

They re both fruity and if the tomato you are using is not particularly juicy watermelon can add to that (juicy) effect Amick says. Plus they both just feel good in summer he says. Amick compresses watermelon for this salad recipe freezing and defrosting it to leech out the water and intensify the melon s flavor. Just-cut watermelon is fine too as are other melons such as Crenshaw cantaloupe or honeydew. No matter which melon you use or how you prepare it serve the salad immediately after preparation for the freshest flavor and texture. If you don t like cilantro try fresh mint or basil.

4 cups large seedless or seeded watermelon cubes

1 large ripe tomato cut into medium dice

1/2 small Bermuda onion finely diced

1 medium cucumber peeled seeded and cut into small dice

2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1 fresh jalapeno finely diced (optional)

1/4 cup feta cheese cubed (optional)


Place watermelon on a sheet tray and freeze until cubes are frozen solid. Remove watermelon from freezer and let stand in pan at room temperature until thawed. Strain accumulated juice (reserve or freeze juice in ice trays for use in beverages). Melon will be noticeably dense. Melon may be frozen and thawed a few more times to reach the desired consistency. When process is finished melon should be reduced to about 21/2 to 3 cups.

Place melon in a large bowl. Add tomatoes Bermuda onion cucumber cilantro honey olive oil rice wine vinegar and jalapeno to the bowl. Gently toss to combine ingredients. Taste and then season with salt if desired. Add feta to the bowl and toss gently. 

Makes 4 servings.



Source: Chef Mark Milner Milner s Cafe & Catering

The cold tomato-based raw vegetable soup gazpacho is famous in southern Spain where summers as hot as those on North Carolina s southern coast beg light meals — no cooking required. Fresh-pressed tomato juice and hand-diced vegetables are essential says chef Mark Milner of Milner s Cafe & Catering in north Wilmington. He says the juice gives the soup a solid foundation. Don t try shortcuts like using a food processor for some of the vegetables or using canned tomato juice Milner warns.

The vegetables lose their crispiness within minutes after being submitted to the food processor s blade he says. Consider adding fresh mint cilantro basil and dill (yes all four). At Milner s the chef sometimes adds grilled shrimp and scallops.

6 vine-ripened plum or roma tomatoes cut into small cubes

1 cucumber washed unpeeled and cut into small cubes

1 green bell pepper washed stemmed seeded and cut into small cubes

1 small Bermuda onion peeled and cut into small cubes

1 garlic clove chopped

1/4 cup California extra-virgin olive oil

1/ 8 cup red wine vinegar

6 basil leaves julienned or chopped

2 cups of tomato water (see cook s note)

1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Dash of sugar or honey (optional)

Cook s note: Tomato juice is the key to this dish. Look for heirloom or vine-ripened tomatoes from a local market.

Preparation for Tomato Juice (broth for soup): Use a sharp knife to score an x on the bottom end of each heirloom tomato. Drop tomatoes into boiling water for 30 seconds. Cool tomatoes in an ice bath for a few minutes and then peel off the skins.  Puree the skinned tomatoes in a food processor and then pour the puree into a fine sieve placed over a bowl. Use a wooden spoon to press out remaining juice.

Preparation for Tomato Dice: Slice plum tomatoes lengthwise and with a spoon deseed into the same fine sieve on top of a bowl. Any tomato juice will be collected and then added to the soup. Discard the seeds. Dice the deseeded plum tomatoes and add them to reserved tomato juice. 

Dice remaining vegetables and add them to tomato juice. Add fresh herbs olive oil vinegar and Seasonings. Serve immediately or chill gazpacho and serve cold with crusty bread. 

Makes 8-10 servings.


Tomato Zucchini Pie

Source: Carolyn Atkinson owner of Flying Pi Kitchen

When a customer raved about her mother s tomato pie Carolyn Atkinson had to see what all the fuss was about. After all she owns pie-centric Flying Pi Kitchen in downtown Wilmington. After trying a few recipes like those the customer described Atkinson decided to bump up the savory pie usually topped with a mixture of mayonnaise and cheddar cheese. She added zucchini basil parmesan and bread crumbs. Atkinson ticked off several other possible variations: pesto oregano bacon eggplant or grilled porcini mushrooms.

4 medium zucchini

1 tablespoon salt

5 Roma tomatoes

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

1 9-inch baked pie shell

Grated parmesan cheese

Dried basil

1 cup Italian bread crumbs

Preparation: Cut zucchini into 1/8 -inch-thick slices. Place zucchini in a bowl toss with salt and refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove zucchini from refrigerator and place vegetables in a colander to drain.

While zucchini are draining line a sheet pan with paper towels. Slice tomatoes into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Lay slices on paper-towel-lined pan. Leave tomatoes on paper towels for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl whisk together mayonnaise and cheddar cheese. Set aside.

Place half of the zucchini in a layer on the bottom of the pie shell. Sprinkle with dried basil and parmesan cheese. Layer half the sliced tomatoes over zucchini and sprinkle tomatoes with dried basil and parmesan cheese. Continue with the rest of the zucchini and then tomatoes sprinkling each layer with dried basil and parmesan cheese. Evenly spread mayonnaise and cheddar cheese mixture over pie sealing topping to the edge of the pie. Sprinkle bread crumbs evenly over the pie.

Bake pie for 18 to 20 minutes until topping has browned. Remove pie from oven and cool for 10 minutes before cutting. Cut into 6 slices.

Makes 6 servings.


Salsa Fresca

Source: Josh Vach owner of K-38 Tower 7 and Las Olas Mexican restaurants

Josh Vach s salsa recipes are top secret. The zesty sauces are key to many dishes at his Mexican restaurants: Tower 7 in Wrightsville Beach and K-38 and Las Olas in Wilmington. But we kept asking until Vach surrendered his salsa fresca formula. It s not the restaurants  signature salsa but Vach called it easy to make and user friendly. Salsa fresca lands on some of the restaurants  tacos. It s a great topping for grilled chicken steaks and seafood too not to mention tortilla chips.

8-10 roma tomatoes finely diced

1 serrano chili minced

1/2 small yellow onion finely diced

1/2 fresh-squeezed lime 

1/4 bunch fresh cilantro chopped

Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and gently toss. Cover bowl and place in refrigerator for 1 hour.

Makes about 3 cups.


Zuppa Caprese

Source: Jody Carmichael owner of Hot Pink Cake Stand

Tomatoes fresh basil and mozzarella cheese: such a delicious trio especially in the classic Caprese salad. Hot Pink Cake Stand owner Jody Carmichael melds Caprese salad s lovely flavors in a comforting yet light soup that pops up on the savory lunch and dinner menu at the Monkey Junction location.

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
1 medium onion halved and thinly sliced
4 pounds ripe flavorful tomatoes halved
4 large cloves garlic unpeeled
Olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
12 fresh basil leaves
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese chilled
1/4 to 1/2 cup whole milk half-and-half or heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Balsamic reduction (see cook s note)
6-8 fresh basil leaves chopped

Cook s Note: Look for balsamic reduction sometimes called balsamic glaze at gourmet and specialty food markets. Make your own by simmering a cup of good balsamic vinegar in a pot on the stove until the vinegar becomes syrupy.

Preparation: Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. When pan is hot add olive oil and butter. When fats are hot add sliced onion to the pan. Spread onions evenly across the pan and cook slowly until onions turn a caramelly brown about 10 minutes reducing heat if onions start to burn.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place halved tomatoes cut side down and unpeeled garlic cloves on a sheet pan. Do not crowd tomatoes. Drizzle tomatoes and garlic with a little olive oil. Roast tomatoes in oven until skin shrivels about 30 minutes.

Place onions and tomatoes in a medium saucepot. Peel roasted garlic and add to the pot. Add white wine and stock to the pot. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place pot on stove over high heat. Bring soup to a boil reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add basil leaves and simmer 5 minutes. Remove soup from heat and cool.

When soup has cooled puree using a food processor blender or immersion blender. Return pureed soup to the pot. Cut mozzarella cheese into 1/ 8-inch thick slices. Set aside.

Place soup on stove over medium heat. Warm soup until hot. Stir in milk half-and-half or cream adding more for a creamier texture. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Preheat oven broiler. To serve ladle soup into oven-proof bowls placed on a sheet pan. Float mozzarella cheese slices over soup in each bowl. Heat soup under broiler just until cheese warms and softens but does not brown. Remove soup from oven. Drizzle each bowl with balsamic reduction. Garnish each bowl with chopped basil.

Makes 6 servings.


A Reader’s Recipe:

Tomato and Leek Pie with Basil Mayo

Reader Christa Jones a private chef in Wilmington and surrounding areas sent us her recipe for tomato and leek pie.

It s a wonderful way to really showcase the flavor of tangy garden-grown tomatoes sweet basil and leeks and savory bacon in a flaky pie crust she says. It s one of my favorite things to make on a summer Sunday afternoon and can be enjoyed warm or chilled.

1 9-inch pre-baked deep-dish pie shell

4 large garden fresh tomatoes

1 teaspoon salted butter

1/2 cup thinly sliced leeks (white part only and separate rings)

3/4 cup mayonnaise

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

10 large basil leaves chopped

2 teaspoons cracked black pepper

4 strips of bacon (fried drained crumbled) optional

Basil Mayo

1/4 cup mayonnaise

4 large basil leaves chopped

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Blanche the tomatoes in boiling water until skin is easily peeled away. Slice tomatoes and place in a colander to drain well.

In a medium pan saute the sliced leeks in butter until golden brown.

Mix mayonnaise cheddar mozzarella and black pepper together in a medium-sized bowl.

Layer the drained tomato slices crumbled bacon chopped basil and sauteed leeks in the pre-baked pie shell.

Spread the mayonnaise and cheese mixture over the layers and bake for 30 minutes.

While pie is baking mix 1/4 cup mayo and chopped basil together.

Slice warm pie and serve with a dollop of the basil mayo.

Makes 6 servings.


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