I submitted an entry into the Queen Anne Farmers Market Holy Tomato! Contest last week. The objective: showcase the glory of the tomato. The parameters? None. What would you do? What do you think I did? Apparently I’m predictable as all get out, in more ways than one, since everyone who saw my dish (who knows me or my blog) took one look at it and knew I created it. I guess that means I have a niche, but sometimes it’s a little frustrating to be pigeonholed, especially if it’s the same hole you’ve been pigeoning around in more or less your entire life. I’ve always been, how do I say this properly, fringe-y. The first award I ever won was “most shocking pumpkin” at a pumkin-carving school contest when I was seven. Apparently sticking two meat cleavers on either side of the jack-o-lantern face was shock-inducing. Imagine a kid bringing that pumpkin to school in this day and age- seems crazy now that they let me get away with it.
The next award came along in junior high (this is not counting all the statewide spelling bee’s I so nerdily won, mind you) when I was voted “snazziest dresser.” WTF did snazzy mean in the 1990’s, people? I’m sure it was for the time I made a pair of bellbottoms out of upholstery fabric I found at the Goodwill and then tied 20 bells around the cuffs of each leg. I got sent home because my outfit was “disruptive.” Then in high school I was voted “most likely to be on the cover of Rolling Stone.” I have no idea where that one came from considering I haven’t played an instrument since the cello in sixth grade, and even though I KNOW I can sing, I’ve been assured by everyone else who’s heard me that I can’t carry a tune nearly as well as I can carry a glass of vino to my lips repeatedly, which is apparently my true Olympic talent. It was around that time I realized my calling was Halloween costume contests. I’ve never met a Halloween contest I couldn’t win, and enjoyed much success in that realm, due, in large part, to the fact that I’ve never dolled myself up like a “ho” and blasphemed the holiday by using it as an excuse to look cheap and tawdry. Not that I haven’t gone nearly nude, it’s just usually in more of an intellectual, complicated sort of way, and there tends to be fire shooting out my nipples or something equally as startling.
All this is to illustrate the fact that I’ve been eternally shoved into the odd box and I can’t seem to get out, no matter how hard I try to do something that might compel the masses. I’m really not counterculture- I have friends who drive Range Rovers, live in Beverly Hills and Bellevue, have fake boobs and get botox injections. I’m sure I know a Republican or two, even. I guess I just have a place in life and I might as well make myself comfortable and kick up my heels. Which is why I should have known my tomato entry would win “most creative” before I ever thought up what I was going to make. I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining- I am thrilled to add a notch to my bedazzled, Gaga-fied, chartreuse, shiny dragonskin belt. I just sometimes wish the ideas that come into my head as perfectly normal things to do wouldn’t be met with comments like “that’s so original” or “how on earth did you ever think of that?” I don’t try to be “creative” “original” or “complex,” especially on the plate. I just try to combine classic flavors in ways that seem delicious to me.
Once again, I deconstructed the classic BLT sandwich and presented it in frozen format. I did this last fall and I was not 100% thrilled with the outcome, so I went back to the drawing board, changed the “bread” to a maple-pecan Pizzelle, tweaked the bacon ice cream (by adding lots of bourbon), substituted pea shoots instead of lettuce in the sorbet, and finally messed around with egginess and creaminess in the tomato gelato. I garnished the plate with a candied heirloom grape tomato sitting on top of a pea shoot and piece of homemade bacon. It was pretty. It was classic. It was delicious (if you don’t mind me saying so). But I guess it was also “creative.” I’m just one big self-fulfilling prophecy so I better get used to it. The thing is, who wants to eat “creative?” Wouldn’t you rather eat “fan-fucking-tastic?” It’s kind of like the adjective I use when someone asks my opinion on something and I don’t want to insult them- “that’s interesting.” Or something you’d say to a five-year-old who just made you an indiscernible fingerpainting. “Very creative, little Suzie.”
That being said, I was thrilled to have won the award, and the ultimate accolade came when the lone chef at the judges’ table took out his iPhone and snapped a few shots of my dish. I don’t know what he was thinking, exactly, but whatever it was must have been inspiring enough to want to remember, so that made me very happy. All three judges popped the candied tomatoes like crack, and luckily I had brought an extra plate of them so was able to share some candied tomatoes with the crowd. They are so easy, and make great additions to other canapés and appetizers. For example you can candy a tomato and set it on a basil leaf perched on a round of mozzarella, or if you’re feeling really decadent top a cracker with a candied tomato and a slice of seared foie gras. I will leave you with the candied tomato recipe, though if you’re really interested in one of the frozen component flavors, let me know and I’ll email you that as well.
Note: increase the sugar and water as necessary if you have more tomatoes, or if your pan is not a very small saucepan, as you want enough depth to the candy syrup to be able to easily dip your tomatoes and coat them.
- 1.5 c granulated sugar
- ½ c water
- 24 grape tomatoes with stems intact, washed, and thoroughly dried
- Boil the sugar and water in a small saucepan stirring constantly until the syrup reaches 330° as measured by a candy thermometer. Remove from heat. Working quickly, use tongs to dip the tomatoes into the syrup by their stems. Place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet to harden. If you want to affix them to the surface on which they will eventually set, do so within fifteen minutes so they retain some tackiness, but not right away, as they’ll be too hot.