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What’s in Season: Tons of Tomatoes

Sonoma County gardens brim with tomatoes through the summer. They’re bright red, yellow, orange, purple and green-striped, soaking up the sun and dreaming of making it into your salads, soups and sandwiches.

It could be you crave a BLT, slathered with mayo and piled high with crisp bacon on toast. Or maybe you make a secret-recipe gazpacho that’s luscious either warm or chilled. Perhaps pizza is your thing. With so many tomatoes ready for harvest, you can make any and all recipes you choose.

It’s easy to grow tomatoes in Sonoma – just plant after the last frost in May, drip-water gently, and wait for the sun to work its magic. Even easier, drop by your local farmers markets, visit a restaurant, or stop in at a winery, since many places grow produce alongside grapes, these days.

There are so many flavors to explore, since Sonoma is home to more than 175 varieties of the flavorful fruit, accented with distinct notes of sweet, tangy, wine and chocolate. Our chefs love to dress them up in different ways, as well. Eight Cuisine in Sebastopol, for example, presents a togarashi peppered ahi salad with cherry tomatoes, petite romaine hearts, Chinese long beans, Asian pear, eight-minute egg and carrots in ginger sesame dressing, while El Dorado Grill in Sonoma likes to dress fried green tomatoes in pineapple salsa, with goat cheese, spicy crema and crispy bacon.

At Quarter Acre Farm in Sonoma, owner Andrea Davis grows a cornucopia of certified organic vegetables, primarily heirloom and oddity varieties. She harvests ten different varieties of tomatoes, including a “Sweetie” cherry tomato, Gold Nugget, Glacier, Cosmonant, Green Zebra, and Black Japanese Trifele.

Her produce is found at local restaurants, at local farmers’ markets, and through her CSA.

Kendall-Jackson, meanwhile, grows their own, in every size, shape and color imaginable in the culinary garden of their Wine Center in Santa Rosa. Annually, they show off their work with the Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival, happening this year on September 27, 2014.

At this 18th annual tomato celebration, nearly 50 of Sonoma’s top chefs will gather to present endless edibles. Tomatoes can be tasted raw, or in the chef’s creations, like tomato snow cones, tomato cotton candy, tomato macaroons, tomato crème brulee, a bevy of BLTs, Pop Rock-tomato ceviche, and sparkling tomato water glittering with cucumber "pearls." Guests vote for their favorite, and the winning is chef is deemed tomato king or queen.

With the event running from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., there are also wine and garden seminars, wine tastings, a tomato growing contest, live entertainment, and tours of K-J’s 2-1/2-acre sensory garden with plantings that mimic the flavors of wines.

Details: Tickets for the perennial sell-out are $95 and can be purchased at 800-769-3649, at the Kendall-Jackson Tasting Room in Healdsburg (337 Healdsburg Avenue), or at www.kj.com/visit-tomato-festival.

In the meantime, K-J chef Justin Wangler has a delicious idea of what you can do to celebrate your early-ripening, often abundant grape or cherry tomatoes. Try his juicy recipe at home:

Steak-Potato-Tomato Skewers

At a Glance

Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes

Serves: Serves 6

Ingredients

12 small (1” diameter) Yukon Gold potatoes
One 12 oz. beef tenderloin filet, cut into 12 chunks
12 grape tomatoes
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Tarragon Aioli
2 large egg yolks at room temperature
11⁄2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. minced garlic
1⁄2-3⁄4 C. canola oil
2 Tbsp. minced fresh tarragon
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions
Soak twelve 6” long bamboo skewers in water for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the potatoes in a medium saucepan and add salted water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until just tender, 10-5 minutes. Be careful not to overcook. Drain.

Combine the potatoes, beef, tomatoes, and olive oil in a large bowl. Toss to coat evenly. Thread 1 chunk of meat, 1 potato, and 1 tomato onto each skewer, piercing the tomatoes lengthwise. Set aside.

For the aioli: In a blender or food processor, puree the egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice, and garlic until smooth. With the machine running, gradually add just enough canola oil in a slow, steady stream until the mixture is thick and emulsified. Stir in the tarragon. Season aioli with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat a gas grill to medium-high. Season the skewers with salt and pepper. Place on the grill, cover, and cook until seared, 1-2 minutes on each side. Arrange 2 skewers on each of 6 small plates. Serve with the aioli in small bowls on each plate.

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