Organic heirloom tomatoes the emperor of summer ingredients at Avanti Cafe

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There are so many tantalizing seasonal ingredients to look forward to each year, starting with organic strawberries from South Coast Farms in San Juan, often picking just in time for Valentine’s Day. Then come all the beautiful greens: kale, romaine, chard and baby turnips.Next it’s cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower in all its incarnations purple, golden and the fractal incarnate: chartreuse romanesco. Once the weather warms up we begin to think of stone fruits. This year the nectarines, plums, peaches and apricots have been particularly flavorful.

But nothing compares to the arrival of the first heirloom organic tomatoes. We’d put tomatoes on every plate at Avanti Cafe if we could. Tomatoes of all shapes, colors and sizes brandywines, green zebras, black cherry tomatoes, lollipops, yellow pear tomatoes, those tequila sunrise yellow to coral beauties and of course the firm flavorful red beefsteaks and their many cousins. The flavors of locally grown organic tomatoes in season are unparalleled. When tomatoes are not in season, we slow roast organic cherry tomatoes to have on hand for salads and pizzas. But when organic tomato season hits each summer we switch over pronto to heirlooms in everything.

Our Caprese (see photo) with house smoked organic mozzarella wrapped in napa cabbage leaves and smoked with bourbon soaked oak, chamomile and tarragon is a feast for the eye and the taste buds. Adorned with housemade hearth bread, sliced shallots, Tuscan Kiss spice blend and a garnish of organic baby mesclun mix and citrus miso dressing, this hearty salad is all about the summer flavors of farm fresh tomatoes.

And we look forward each year to the return of our seasonal Pizza Margarita. Ours features the ripest red tomato slices with garlic and shallot extra virgin olive oil flavored arugula and baby spinach, more smoked mozzarella and fire roasted tomato sauce made from the very same summertime vine ripened tomatoes. It’s finished with micro basil and edible petals.

We look forward to long tomato seasons with the first arrivals shortly after Independence Day and last delivery after Thanksgiving [when we are very lucky]. We have special appetizers and entrees featuring them all season long. One of our favorites is the falafel crusted tomato slices (see photo). A simple preparation that features the tomatoes lightly cooked, but hot and glorious. And tomatoes often make it into our soups during this season. They pair so well with almost everything from celery and cannellinni beans in pasta fajoli; to lentils, corn, mushrooms, wild rice, barley, escarole, cauliflower, sweet pepper, rappini and more. The combinations allow us to swoon with creativity in the kitchen.

We have made a solemn vow to enjoy at least one organic heirloom tomato or more every single day while the vines are producing all around us.

Mark Cleveland
Tanya Fuqua