Fruits of the Vine

Heirloom tomatoes 2

Sugar on a tomato? Yuck!! It’s fruit, for sure, but honestly, that’s a worse idea than making a butter and sugar sandwich on white bread!! (So Midwestern, so first grade…)

Chefs, I totally get it. Sugar cuts acidity, especially in sauce/salsa, and even more importantly adding sugar can harmonize flavors and texture if the tomato’s sugar + acidity balance is off. But there’s something deeply seductive about unadulterated tomato acid. It begs to be purely savory, just eat it like it is. Tomatoes are so alluring if paired with the right high-acid wines, especially when some part of the dish is married with EVO. All I have to do is say this thought out loud and my mouth begins to water in anticipation!

Tomatoes, especially uncooked, are tricky to pair with wine – nothing quite as difficult as artichokes or asparagus, to be sure. They have the potential to distort the essence of wine unless the preparation and bridge ingredients are carefully considered. Part of the reason may be that wine grapes and tomatoes are similar vine-ripened fruits. With so many different varieties of each fruit, most high in both sugar and acid, putting the right combinations together can be challenging. But aligning the right wine with summer’s fantastic range of fresh tomatoes is magic!

At this point I’m tempted to riff on sparkling wines, particularly blanc de noirs and rosé. The natural acidity of grapes used in Champagne and Cava and Prosecco make bubbly wine an alluring soul mate for tomatoes. Done! Pop a cork and enjoy.

But the “academy award” goes to still wines.

For a long time, I subscribed to the notion that white wines couldn’t possibly be good with tomatoes. After all, tomatoes are red (and green, and yellow, and purple…). I am so happy to discover and renounce the errors of my ways. My Valentine’s Day occurs not in February, but in August, the best of all months to fall in love with tomatoes.

Enjoy this selection of fried, raw and cooked summer tomato menu ideas from The Painted Chef catering along with my personal recommendations for wine pairings.

Fried green tomatoes

Home-grown fried green (unripe) tomatoes are summertime delicacies associated with the American South and Midwest. The tomatoes must be picked fresh before they begin to turn red, and should be firm, dry and fragrant, or they will turn either to mush or hard bricks in the frying pan. (Don’t try this dish with heirloom tomatoes that remain green to full ripeness.) Although the traditional fry coating is cornmeal, the delicate flavors of an unripe green tomato will shine through a crunchy coating perfected in three easy steps: a light dusting of flour followed by a short dunk in beaten egg (or try buttermilk) and a third coating of panko. Fried green tomatoes are paired perfectly with any high acid white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc. Try something surprising: a dry Chenin Blanc from South Africa.

Gazpacho

Gazpacho is the national soup of Summer everywhere in the world! It is the most fresh, clean and pure essence of garden vegetables harmonized in a cup. A little emulsified olive oil will lighten both the color and texture of this cold soup, and will also broaden the options for wine pairings. White wine works, but a dry rosé from France (Tavel, Provence regions) or Spain (Navarra, Rioja regions) is a great choice. Depending on the region and grapes, the wine will range from bright ruby red to pale salmon pink. For best results, choose a rosé that matches the color of the finished soup. The surprisingly robust wine will enhance the flavor of the soup even if it is prepared with lots of garlic and plenty of salt. A few homemade croutons, also doused in olive oil, will further meld the tasting experience.

Pizza

What wine goes with pizza? Anything – at least in my pizza-loving mind!! Narrowing this assertion down a bit, the very best match for red pizza sauce is the Sangiovese grape from its Tuscan spiritual home. Chianti, Brunello, Vino Nobile, Rosso di Montalcino and Rosso di Montepulciano are all fantastic selections. Pizza topped with fresh sliced tomatoes, mushrooms, sausage (optional for meat lovers), buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil is a perfect pairing all year round.

Image credits: Heirloom Tomatoes, nj.com; Fried Green Tomatoes, allrecipes.com; Gazpacho, edibleharmony.com; Pizza, slice.seriouseats.com

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