Much Ado About Tomatoes

A chat with two chefs, plus recipes.

Today we’re talking tomatoes with two chefs who use them at their peak to their maximum advantage.

Chris Mumford, executive chef and co-owner—with his wife, Debbie Mumford—of Mumford’s Culinary Center in Tinton Falls, was among the first farmer-chefs in New Jersey. Meg Cattani, chef-owner of Cattani’s Kitchen & Catering in Ewing, is newer on the scene, but nonetheless dedicated to seasonal cooking. And tomatoes, in general. We asked each for a few thoughts on using tomatoes in their restaurants. What we got in return were thoughts, yes, but recipes and ideas and a bushel of tomato love.

Chris Mumford:
“The most enjoyable thing for me to cook is fish. Why? Because fish come in many varieties. You have steak fish, round fish and flat fish. Each fish is handled in many different ways. I can be very creative with any fish.

“Tomatoes are very similar. You have beefsteaks, plums, cherries, grapes, teardrops, san marzanos, donut-shaped, hollow- and thick-walled tomatoes. They come in many colors. They are yellow, white, green, red, orange, purple, black, striped, variegated, marbled and two-toned. Once again, I can be very creative with tomatoes.

“I am working on doing a three-tomato plate. I like to present food in odd numbers. This way you don’t have to worry about uniformity. So here is my dish for August. I want to do a German Stripey Beefsteak tomato, sliced thick over garden sorrel, sharing the plate with slow garlic-blistered, colorful teardrop tomatoes. Finished with a chiffonade of lemon basil. My third [element] is a whole grilled yellow San Marzano tomato drizzled with a little basil oil and grated (Parmigiano-Reggiano) cheese.

“This dish continuously changes with different varieties of tomatoes that come into season. Right now, I believe I have 40 different varieties of tomatoes growing in my garden. My belief in tomatoes is raw vs. cooked as the season goes on. In August, tomatoes are fine eating raw. As tomatoes age towards the end of their growing cycle…I prefer to use [them] to make tomato coulis.”

Adaptations of Mumford’s recipes:

4 Jersey Beefsteak tomatoes, quartered
4 heirloom tomatoes, quartered
½ small red onion, diced
1 can artichoke hearts, sliced
1 can heart of palm, sliced on the bias
1 small can green olives, sliced
1 small can black olives, sliced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and halved
2 red peppers, cleaned and roasted

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup sweet basil, chiffonade
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon molasses
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste

To plate:
¼ cup Romano cheese, grated
½ pound baby lettuces

In a large bowl, place the first nine ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the dressing.

To plate: Divide the lettuces on 8 plates. Sprinkle with the cheese and the dressing. Serves 8.

¼ cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 to 3 pounds overripe tomatoes
1 medium onion, diced small
2 cups tomato juice
1 Tbsp. dried basil
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
½ Tbsp. ground fennel powder
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Fresh basil leaves, chiffonade

In a heavy-bottom pot, heat olive oil and garlic and cook slowly so garlic can toast, then add onions and lower the flame. Add the tomatoes, basil, oregano and fennel and cook for 25 to 35 minutes at a low temperature. Add the tomato juice, cover and reduce heat, cook for 1 hour, then strain mixture through a china cap.

Remove all tomato skins and seeds before returning coulis to pot and placing back on the stove. Simmer and adjust seasoning to taste as the coulis thickens, about 20 minutes.

Finish with fresh basil and reserve until ready to use. Makes 4 portions.


Meg Cattani:
“I have to say, being in New Jersey, we are blessed with some amazing produce. But, my favorite [is] the iconic Jersey tomato. At the restaurant we try to feature a weekly special highlighting a particular item as weekly addition.

“For me, when I think of summer I think of seafood and our fabulous Jersey produce (particularly tomatoes), so I think this recipe is a prefect marriage of that in a totally simple and unpretentious way—allowing the star products shine.

“[Recently], I stumbled upon a variety of Jersey tomato [called] The Ramapo Tomato, from Corner Copia in East Windsor. They are a great tomato for [their] full body, intense flavor with a hint of sweetness and almost herb-like quality. I love them and use them whenever/however I can.”

Cattani’s recipe:

8 medium Jersey fresh tomatoes
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
2 cups jumbo lump crabmeat
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoons stone-grain mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon hot sauce, or such as Tabasco
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 (4-ounce) sliced day-old French bread baguette
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste

Slice 1/4 inch from the top of each tomato, then gently scoop out the middle of each, leaving about a 1/2 inch of tomato flesh in the bottom.

Pick through crabmeat (if necessary) to check for any shell fragments. Be careful to keep the lump pieces intact if possible.

In a separate small bowl, combine mayonnaise, stone-grain mustard, scallions, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, and hot sauce if using. Fold dressing into crab mixture.

Divide the crab mixture evenly among the cavities of each tomato and top each with warm garlicky crumble (see below) served immediately. Serves 8.

For crumble:

Preheat broiler to high

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add oil and garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and stir in the lemon juice.

Place bread and parsley in a food processor; pulse 10 times or until coarse crumbs measure 1 cup. Combine breadcrumbs, butter mixture, salt, and pepper, mix well. Place on baking sheet and bake until golden brown. Let cool.

***Chef Chat: Tomatoes will continue with part two in Table Hopping on Monday, August 28, 2017.

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