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Cooking School: Summer Tomatoes

Savor summer’s last hurrah with recipes from chef Keith Luce

Written and produced by Stephen Exel
  • Peter Krumhardt

    Recipes begin here

    Summer and early fall provide us with so many fresh-food options, there’s hardly enough time to cook all the wonderful bounty we find in our markets and gardens. Chef Keith Luce focuses on new ways to use all those tomatoes still ripening on kitchen counters and windowsills.

    Luce is a former sous chef (at the unlikely age of 24) at the Clinton White House, winner of the James Beard Foundation’s 1998 Rising Star Chef of the Year, and former Master Chef for Traditional Home. After holding executive chef positions in Aspen and San Francisco, he headed up the kitchen at The Herbfarm near Seattle, Washington, one of the top destination restaurants in the world. He now acts as culinary director for Canadian companies Fratello Coffee Roasters and Corbeaux Bakehouse in Calgary, Alberta. 

    For Luce, reinvention is key to cooking. He takes a look at the classic uses for summer tomatoes and turns them around so they are exciting and invitingly delicious.

    “There’s a romantic side to a tomato,” Luce says. “No other ingredient is sexier. People are driven to it because it’s the sun on your palate. A sun-ripened vine tomato is the most beautiful taste. It makes people take pause. When you’re plucking a perfect tomato, it’s a fleeting moment of beauty that personifies late summer.” 

    Photography: Peter Krumhardt

  • Chef Keith Luce

    Luce is the 17th generation to grow up on the Long Island, New York, farm his family settled in the 1600s. “I understood produce from a very basic level,” he says. “I planted it, hoed it, weeded it, and harvested it. The beauty of a tomato is you have a complete sensory experience.”

    Tomatoes are native to South and Central America; the Spanish conquistadors introduced the tomato to Europe and the Philippines. The British likely brought the tomato to North America, although it may have found its way here through the Caribbean. Thomas Jefferson is said to have packed its seeds to bring home from Paris.

    The tomato is technically a fruit, but in an 1893 case that disputed a vegetable tariff, the Supreme Court ruled the tomato was a vegetable because it was generally served for dinner rather than dessert. Today, most people recognize it by its botanical classification as a fruit.

  • Peter Krumhardt

    Versatile Fruit

    When purchasing tomatoes, it’s best to buy locally. The delicate red (and yellow and green and purple and pink) globes just don’t travel well. Choose the ones that are heavy for their size and smell earthy and tomato-like. Let tomatoes ripen in a paper bag and don’t refrigerate them—cooler temperatures turn them mushy. Tomatoes should have shiny, taut skin that gives a little when gently squeezed.

    Heirloom tomatoes—varieties that have been grown without crossbreeding for more than 40 years—are often sweeter than the hybrid varieties found in grocery stores. These are the varieties you’ve seen at farmer’s markets and specialty grocery stores with curvy shapes and oddball names like Mortgage Lifter and Lollipop.

    Luce recommends seeking out heirlooms for his recipes. Their sweeter flavor and sturdier flesh bump up the essence of tomato goodness. Imagine enjoying Sunday brunch with the freshest Bloody Mary you’ve ever had, made with just-picked crushed tomatoes.

    Tomato Tartare—chopped tomatoes tossed with vinegar, garlic, Dijon mustard, parsley, and basil—can be a fresh and fast garnish for pasta, a bright topping for
    seafood, or a creative new take on classic mozzarella-tomato salad.

    Tomato Raisins are cherry tomatoes slowly roasted until sweetened and wrinkled. Use these raisins tossed with fresh salads, warmed lightly in olive oil to garnish grilled meats and fish, as a garnish to fresh goat cheese, or to top bruschetta.

    Luce’s Green Tomato Relish is laced with honey, coriander, lime zest, and a hint of heat from jalapeños. Dress up backyard grilling favorites, such as sausage or bratwurst, with its refreshing, vinegary taste.

    We predict you'll add these recipes to your favorites, both summer and fall.

  • Peter Krumhardt

    We Say Tomato

    Chef Keith Luce’s tomato recipes are adaptable in so many ways, they’re likely to become your go-to end-of-summer tomato recipes. As you read through the recipes, you’ll find helpful photos showing the best way to process whole tomatoes.

    Recipes and equipment

  • Peter Krumhardt

    Tomato Tartare

    This meatless tartare is delicious on its own or with salty crackers. Serve in a martini glass, hollowed-out tomato, or vessel of your choice. It’s also terrific as a topper for hot cooked pasta, chicken, pork or fish, or on bruschetta.

    Recipe from chef Keith Luce

    • 2 pounds fresh heirloom tomatoes
    • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
    • 1-1/2 teaspoons good-quality Spanish sherry vinegar
    • 1 clove garlic, minced
    • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
    • 1/4 teaspoon honey
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/8 teaspoon fresh lemon thyme leaves
    • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley
    • 1/4 cup picked small fresh basil leaves (if only large leaves are available, gently tear in half or quarters)
    • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped Marcona almonds

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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Tomato Tartare

    Peel tomatoes by scoring an X on both the stem and bottom ends. Place tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove; immerse in cold water. 

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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Tomato Tartare

    Remove skins from tomatoes.

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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Tomato Tartare

    Core tomatoes. Seed tomatoes by squeezing over a fine-mesh sieve placed over a bowl. Chop 3/4 of prepared tomatoes. Coarsely chop remaining tomatoes. In large bowl combine all tomatoes; toss with 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Mix well. Let stand at room temperature about 30 minutes.

    Place tomatoes in fine-mesh sieve or colander; drain well.

    In small bowl combine olive oil, shallots, sherry vinegar, garlic, mustard, honey, pepper, lemon thyme, and remaining salt. Whisk to combine.

    To serve, in large mixing bowl combine drained tomatoes, vinaigrette, parsley, and basil leaves. Toss to combine, season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if desired. Top with almonds when serving. Makes 3-1/2 cups.

  • Peter Krumhardt

    Fresh Tomato Bloody Mary Mix

    Garnish these heirloom tomato Bloody Marys with skewers that include a variety of summer vegetables and olives. A cucumber spear, small carrot, or celery stalk makes a fine stir stick.

    ​Recipe from chef Keith Luce

    • 4 to 5 pounds ripe tomatoes, preferably heirloom
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
    • 2 tablespoons lime juice
    • 1 teaspoon grated fresh horseradish
    • 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
    • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
    • 1/2 teaspoon bottled cayenne pepper sauce
    • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt

    Coarsely chop tomatoes; place in large bowl. Add salt; toss to combine. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

    Working in batches, transfer tomato chunks and any accumulated liquid to food processor or blender. Cover; process or blend until smooth. 

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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Fresh Tomato Bloody Mary Mix

    Press mixture through fine-mesh sieve; discard pulp. Add lemon juice, lime juice, horseradish, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and celery salt; whisk to combine.

    Transfer mixture to covered storage container. Refrigerate up to 1 week. Makes 9 servings. 

  • Peter Krumhardt

    Tomato Raisins

    Chef Luce uses Sun Gold tomatoes for this recipe, but any cherry tomato will work. Sun Golds are one of the sweetest varieties of tomatoes. Drying the tomatoes for different periods of time will change their taste—experiment to your liking.

    ​Recipe from chef Keith Luce

    • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    • 5 cloves garlic, minced
    • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
    • 1 teaspoon packed brown sugar
    • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
    • 1 pound fresh red and/or yellow cherry tomatoes

    Preheat oven to 200°F or "warm." In large bowl combine olive oil, garlic, salt, brown sugar, and paprika. Slice tomatoes in half through  stem. Add tomatoes to olive oil mixture; toss to coat.

    Line heavy baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread tomatoes, cut side up, in even layer on baking sheet.

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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Tomato Raisins

    Place tomatoes in center of oven. Bake 5 to 6-1/2 hours or until tomatoes are shriveled and shrunken, but not crunchy.*

    Store in airtight container in refrigerator up to 3 days. Makes 8 servings.

    Serving tip: If you like, top slices of toasted whole grain crusty bread with slices of mozzarella. Place on baking sheet. Broil 4- to 5-inches from heat 1 to 2 minutes or until cheese is melted. Spoon raisins atop. Serve immediately. Drizzle with any remaining oil mixture.

    *Dehydrator method: For dehydrator, toss tomatoes with half the oil mixture (reserve remaining oil). Place tomatoes in single layer on mesh-lined dehydrator trays. Dehydrate at 135°F 11 to 12 hours or until leathery but not brittle. Remove tomatoes as they finish drying while allowing remaining tomatoes to continue drying. Cool to room temperature.

  • Peter Krumhardt

    Green Tomato Relish

    Everyone at our Taste Panel raved about this relish when we sampled it. We all agreed: The relish deserves a really good hot dog or bratwurst.

    Recipe from chef Keith Luce

    • 2-1/2 pounds green tomatoes
    • 3 cups sliced red onion
    • 1/4 cup pickling salt
    •  3 cups cider vinegar
    • 2-1/4 cups packed brown sugar (1 pound)
    • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
    • 2 teaspoons celery seeds
    • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Green Tomato Relish

    Core and slice tomatoes in 1/2-inch thick slices. You should have about 8 cups. Place sliced tomatoes and sliced onion in large clean bowl. Sprinkle salt over tomatoes and sliced onion. Mix well. Cover bowl; let stand at room temperature about 4 hours.

    Remove tomatoes and onions and place in 100-percent-cotton cheesecloth or fine sieve. Rinse with cool water to remove excess salt. Squeeze gently to remove excess juice. Discard salt liquid.

    In large nonreactive saucepan combine vinegar, brown sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds, and crushed red pepper; bring to a boil. Add tomato-onion mixture and simmer, uncovered, over low heat about 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. You may also can tomatoes at this point if it is your preference (directions follow).

    Tomatoes are ready to use when cool. To serve, spoon relish atop your favorite grilled meats, fish or seafood. Makes 32 (1/4 cup) servings.

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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Green Tomato Relish

    Canning: Prepare through step 3. Ladle hot relish into six hot, sterilized half-pint canning jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims and adjust lids. Process jars in boiling-water canner 10 minutes (start timing when water returns to boiling). Remove jars; cool on wire rack. 

  • Peter Krumhardt

    Equipment - Tomato Press

    This stainless-steel electric tomato press from Waring creates smooth sauces and purees in no time, automatically coring the tomatoes and separating the seeds and skin from the fruit. Cooks in our Test Kitchen say: “Even if you use this once or twice a year, it’s one appliance that really earns its shelf space.” Available at Williams Sonoma or waringpro.com. $149.

  • Peter Krumhardt

    Equipement - Can Do!

    Reissued and redesigned for modern canning standards, Ball Heritage Jars celebrate the 100th anniversary of the company’s iconic “Perfection” jar. Find them at FreshPreservingStore.com